Having the coolest mom ever means I’ll never have fun. How many kids have protested, “You just don’t understand!” to their bewildered parents, who have just committed social faux pas number 2,739? But, let me tell you from experience, it is not all sunshine and rainbows when parents “get it.” Drugs, for example, were completely ruined for me by my super cool mom. In early high school when I brought up my curiosity, she said, “Whatever you want, I’ll buy, and we’ll try it together.”
She didn’t stop there. I was nine when Mortal Kombat released on consoles. I’d played it a bit in the arcades, and after the media went into a feeding frenzy over the violence and gore, I knew I had to have it. Tomorrow was zero-day, and I knew I was the only kid on the block with a chance at getting my hands on the game. My speech was prepared. Mom was a worrier, and tended to err on the side of caution when it came to media in front of which she knew I’d be drooling for hours. I went to bed rehearsing my lines: “It’s not as bad as it looks on the box”; “You only play good guys, really!”
The next morning, when I reached for the alarm, my hand brushed against something cardboard. Through bleary eyes, I read “Mortal Kombat” in bold letters, and the attached note: “I saw this and knew you would like it. Good luck beating Goro – Mom.” Wow, I thought, Mom knows about Goro! Wait… what else does she know?
This moment was my first inkling that our little hobby is quickly outgrowing its training wheels. The worlds we flitter off to for hours on end are becoming more and more mainstream. As word of mouth advertising picks up speed across the internet and the media begins to sniff out exactly how much money games generate, Mom and Dad (and in more than a few cases, Grandma and Grandpa) are more cognizant of how gamers spend their time.
Don’t believe me? Just ask. I spoke with my father, who works for the government, recently. In this conversation, I brought up EA’s business practices, specifically, how they treat their employees. He cut me off mid-rant, declaring that everyone in management looks to them as an example of what not to do. But business ethics don’t necessarily correlate to superior game knowledge. So I walked around a local Wal-Mart and accosted everyday people and barraged them with questions about the “top sellers” aisle.
I brought an empty clipboard with me, because most humans have an intrinsic curiosity which is only intensified when someone looks official. I slicked back my hair, made sure my glasses were clean, and did my best to appear as scientific and authoritarian as possible. I’d entertained putting on a white lab coat, but there’s such a thing as overkill; the odometer will roll over.
The majority of the time I spent at the retail magnate was casually watching people and looking down at my empty clipboard, trying to ascertain what it was they were buying. Much to my chagrin, no one bought Deer Hunter, a staple of Wal-Mart’s gaming revenue. However, I did see a few kids pester Mom and Dad until they picked up something out of the bargain bin. This was my chance to strike.
I introduced myself, clipboard leading the way. I explained what I was looking for, and Dad began talking about his Commodore 64 and all the great games he had for it.
“Was that the thing with the tapes?” Mom asked.
“Yeah, it took 30 minutes to get Striker to load!” Dad replied. Their children owned all three consoles, and both parents said they liked to play through at least the first few stages of any game they buy with the kids, both to bond and monitor. Dad also knew what wasn’t on the table for his boys, ten and eight respectively.
“GTA is a no-no, and Dead or Alive is a bit risqué for them. But they really love Tekken.” The eight-year-old started demonstrating a few moves, which Dad did his best to suppress.
My next quarry was an elderly man alone near the DVD rack. He had the look of a grandfather; big glasses on a big, friendly face and slept-in causal business attire. I asked him about some new releases, specifically the 5 million strong Halo 2 and vastly over-hyped Half-Life 2. He mentioned his granddaughter being verbally assaulted on Xbox Live, but also how amazed he was by the lines outside the local EB on what he later found out was release day. I asked him if his children were gamers, which they weren’t, but his granddaughter would be a social outcast if she didn’t at least have a PS2. He tries to keep up to date on future releases she might like by cruising the internet, reading previews. When I brought up the success of relatively indie titles like Katamari Damacy, his eyes dimmed. He then asked me what I thought about two different versions of Madden games.
The rest of the people I spoke with were in similar camps. They knew what their kids knew, with the exception of one woman who tossed her preteen a twenty and told him to get whatever he wanted. Despite the fact she’s what’s wrong with the gaming industry, I owed it to pollsters everywhere to approach her.
She wasn’t as clueless as my prejudice had me expecting; she only gave her son $20 because she knows the PS2 platinum list by heart, and limits him to games with a “teen” rating and below. I asked her if she played GTA; she did, and decided her boy wasn’t ready for it yet. When I brought up the chances of him playing at someone else’s home, her response was direct:
“I can’t be there for him all the time, but when I can control [his environment], I will.”
While the general public’s vast knowledge of not only what’s out, but what’s classic, might surprise some circles, it really shouldn’t. Most people in the gaming demographic are between 18 and 24. We are the echoes of the Baby Boom, which pretty much paints a massive advertising target on our backs. As the largest generation to come through in many years, PR machines loom massive over our heads and are beginning to look in our direction for the Meal Ticket. Our pastimes become relevant. Like all things pure, good hype rises. The Diablos and Halos make their way into the lives of people normally untouched by gaming’s long fingers, as the marketing machine gears up and the voice directed at us grows louder.
The not-so-clueless Wal-Mart mother I spoke with last definitely isn’t alone. Like my own mother, she listens to her children, takes the time to at least get the basics of what her children do. Whether in regard to media outcry or genuine interest, Mom and Dad more than likely know what gamers are up to these days. Our generation is the first to be truly immersed in gamer culture and these savvy parents knew what was OK and what needed to sit on the shelf for a few more years. This can only mean children beyond the Baby Echo will have an even more knowledgeable parental eye cast in their direction. My old “it’s not as bad as it looks” ploy may never be uttered again.