Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Watch & Learn

Several years ago, I had to decide which new game system to purchase. As a family man, I chose the Wii and set it up on my home’s main television. My kids were not full-time gamers then, but things have changed quickly. They now play more than me by far. I am often jealous of this.

I soon found it hard to get gaming time unless they were involved. I seemed to be at a gaming plateau sure to last a few years. I didn’t see myself playing anything without Mario in the title.

Then, something amazing happened.

One of my sons held up the box for The Legend of Zelda: The Twilight Princess. I explained it was a one player game and that it might be a little too hard for them. I also explained it involved a lot of reading. They were told they could try it if they wanted.

“Can we watch you play it?” my oldest asked.

There are times in our lives when the stars align and everything changes. We have an epiphany, a revelation and something that never occurred to us before becomes so painstakingly, beautifully clear that we almost want to cry from happiness. We go forward, more sure of our place in the universe. This is the feeling I had at that moment. I was so happy I didn’t know what to do with myself.

“Sure,” was all I could say.

I spent the next several hours playing the game as they watched it like a movie. I am eternally grateful for the cinematic aspects of modern gaming. Sure, they would wander around a bit and play with other things, but for the most part, they were content to see what happened as I navigated my way across Hyrule Field. I, of course, was happy to let them watch. Perhaps a better way to put this would be to say that I was happy and thus oblivious to the fact that they were watching.

Okay, I wasn’t that bad. I slowed the action a bit to read dialogue to them and explain what half of it meant. I stopped to prepare chicken nuggets for dinner so they could eat them in front of the TV. I got them changed into pajamas and let them fall asleep on the couch as they watched my adventures, cheering me on during boss stages. I was still an attentive dad, relatively.

This was the closest I’d come to real gaming since sitting alone in the dark of my college dorm room with my copy of The Ocarina of Time. What would you have done? Don’t answer that, hypothetical question.

Well, I became hooked all over again. I was like a background dancer on Sweatin’ To The Oldies and the games were a bag of potato chips. I had to find a way to get my hands on them. We would go to Best Buy or Game Stop, and I would suggest games based on this arrangement. “This one looks pretty cool, but it’s just a one player game. Maybe you guys would like to watch daddy play it.” They rarely bit, but every now and then it paid off.

To justify it to myself, I likened my boys to rookie athletes. They could jump right in and start, but that might actually be a detriment to their learning process. Instead, a few years of sitting on the sidelines and watching a savvy veteran at the wheel could do them a world of good. They could learn from me by simply observing my technique.

Every now and then, I would have to test their progression. We could get some multi-player rounds going. Got killed by daddy again? That’s okay, just keep watching the game film and you’ll catch up in no time.

Their threshold for gore was measured as well. This game’s scaring you? Okay, you go upstairs and daddy will finish playing on his own since he already started.

I have a different system in my room now that I get time with to help with my addiction, but this technique got me through some rough times. If you have young children around and want to play more video games, I suggest you try it. Keep in mind you’ll need to research levels of adult content based on what your kids can handle and what you want to expose them to. Also, you will have to pause the game to explain what is going on or to provide a refill on the apple juice. However, if you can make adjustments to the basic outline above such that you are comfortable with it, it may just help you keep your sanity and get that gaming fix you’ve been looking for.

And when your spouse has a problem with it, just call it bonding. Who needs to get outside and throw the ball around? Sunshine is overrated, harmful UV rays and all. And as far as reading to your kids goes, didn’t I mention earlier you’ll have to read them the dialogue? It’s like a book, but way more fun…for you, at least.

I know. I’m a terrible person. It’s a sickness.


  1. You know, I think the Twilight Princess game can be used as a hack to turn the Wii into a DVD player...

  2. That just blew my mind and made me love the whole Legend of Zelda franchise even more. Is there anything Link can't do?