How does one shoehorn family and videogames into the same sentence? In my case it’s to say that the two never were in the same sentence. As a pre-adolescent, and then as a teenager, videogames were an escape from the bullying I received while at school, and – for my parents – a welcome method of keeping me occupied for a while at home. I will admit that, as a child, I was one that demanded a lot of attention from parents and caregivers, and it was probably a happy day when they were able to sit me down with SimTower and not have to worry about keeping me occupied for an hour.
When I reached an age old enough to have my own computer (around 14 if memory serves) I began to spend entire Saturdays locked away in my bedroom playing games like the original Half-Life, Black & White, Baldur’s Gate and anything else I could pirate from friends. So it really wasn’t until last year that the phrases “my parents” and “videogames” ever really started to go together in any sentence that wasn’t an admonishment about spending so much time on my computer.
When my mother noticed how much fun my brother and I had when playing cooperatively in the Halo series of games (and how much of our focus it took away from useful and productive things like chores, eating, etc.) she declared that, it looked like fun and that one day you’ll have to show me how to play Halo. And so my brother and I introduced mum to the Halo games.
Yes, she was pretty bad at first, but she made good progress, and the fact that we played cooperatively meant it was an easy learning curve for her. The thing it made me realise, however, was just how much accumulated skill we as gamers now possess – more specifically, the ability to rapidly adapt to new control schemes and button mappings. When my brother and I played The Orange Box on Xbox 360, we perhaps took 15 minutes to become reasonably competent at the Valve variant of console shooter controls, whereas my mother with her near complete lack of previous gamepad experience still has trouble moving and looking at the same time after a number of hours playing.
So I learnt a lot from playing with family – there is such an amazing level of knowledge that we gamers take for granted. When we complain about ‘arbitrary’ control schemes, I now take a minute and think about how, well really, all control schemes are largely arbitrary to you also happen to have a similar shared gaming background. I mean, why does shoot always have to be under the right index finger? Just because that’s what we use that when shooting a physical gun? Okay, that’s a bad example because maybe there is something to be said for some button mappings, but jump as A? That’s also reasonably standard, and there is no correspondence between using your legs and pressing A with your thumb.
Thinking back to it now, when I first played Half-Life all those years ago, I had no-one to tell me about the WASD control scheme. Imagine if, instead of looking into the control mapping and thinking oh, that’s interesting, I think I’ll try that, I instead said, oh stuff that – arrow keys for me k thnx. I’d probably be horrible at modern PC shooters (in b4 “you’re already horrible at PC shooters”).
This issue of accumulated, similar experience among gamers is one that’s cropped up a fair bit in the last couple of days – Both Matt Gallant at the Quixotic Engineer and Dan Purvis at Graffiti Gamer have addressed the question of whether the ‘enthusiast’ or ‘hardcore’ gamers and press have different interests and experience to your more ‘average’ gamer (if there is such a person). I think I’m definitely on the affirmative side of the issue in question, as playing with my mother has shown me exactly how big that gap can be.