Eliot just got the last of Mario 64's 120 stars. If you ever doubt the power of the collecting game mechanic, hang out with a 6-year-old.— Andy Baio (@waxpancake) January 26, 2011
Gamer Andy Baio made his son play through classic games chronologically before letting him near modern titles.
One of the biggest conundrums I faced after I became a father was deciding how I was going to introduce my daughter to video games. I knew I wanted to do it sooner rather than later, but I often got stuck figuring out exactly how it would happen. Should I show her a modern game, replete with HD graphics, voice acting and high quality music? Or should I start her back where I began, with the glorious simplicity of the NES? I knew that whatever I chose, it could potentially serve to shape her perceptions of video games for the rest of her life.
Facing this decision with his own child, father Andy Baio decided to enact an ambitious plan aimed at fostering a deep and historical appreciation of games in his son. Beginning in 2008, Baio spent years running his son Eliot through a chronological course of retro games starting at the age of four. “I started him with a Pac-Man plug-and-play TV game loaded with arcade classics ,” said Baio, describing the earliest days of Eliot’s gaming. “Until the moment he picked up the joystick, part of me secretly dreaded he’d have no interest in it.”
Eliot did though, and, over the course of the following years, Baio guided his son through an evolving line-up of games, moving him onto new consoles as he outgrew the old ones. After four months with the Atari 2600 he started playing the NES. From there he progressed up through the Super Nintendo and Nintendo 64 and onward into the 2000s era with the PS2 and into the modern day. It was a process that Baio feels had a definite effect on Eliot’s tastes. “This approach to widely surveying classic games clearly had an impact on him, and influenced the games that he likes now,” he said. “Like seemingly every kid his age, he loves Minecraft. No surprises there. But he also loves brutally difficult games that challenge gamers 2-3 times his age, and he’s frighteningly good at them. His favorites usually borrow characteristics from roguelikes: procedurally-generated levels, permanent death, no save points.”
While you could perhaps argue that Baio should have let Eliot naturally develop his own tastes, as someone who grew up just a few years later than Baio, it’s hard not to appreciate what he did and why he did it. As I’ve been getting older I’ve noticed myself more regularly running into kids who have never even seen an NES cartridge before, let alone played one. It’s sad because many old games offer experiences that you just don’t get from most modern titles. Perhaps Baio put it best himself: “Eliot’s early exposure to games with limited graphics inoculated him from the flashy, hyper-realistic graphics found in today’s AAA games. He can appreciate retro graphics on its own terms, and focus on the gameplay.”