Hey Harvey!

Posted on Jan 19th 2018 at 08:00:00 AM by (slackur)
Posted under Gaming Philosophies, Cooperative, competitive, Sim City, Fortnight, Tetris, no more it is your bedtime yes it is look what time it is


This game taught me far more than urban planning.

When I first played Sim City, I wasn't much older than my first-born is now.  I was an even more genre-blind gamer back then, playing anything I came across.  The concept of a city-builder wasn't the most immediately appealing game concept to my pre-teen mind.  Still, I'd already played through text-based adventures, CRPGs, dungeon-crawlers, and other complex time sinks, so it wasn't an intimidating idea.  It was a video game and therefore by definition I'd give it a shot.

I will always remember it as the game that taught me a self-awareness of my addictive personality.



I played for hours on end.  I literally dreamed about city blocks and the most efficient use of space.  I brainstormed strategies at school with a few fellow nerds.  Together with a friend, we discovered the superiority of railroads and how the only downside to not building roads was a constant "must build roads" ticker message.  (It took many more years for me to understand the relationships between the political mind, world views, and game dynamics.)  I strategically crashed planes on purpose to utilize the 3X3 grid stacking technique.  I counted pixels.  I lost a few months of my young life.

And I distinctly remember looking up one night from the computer monitor.  I was setting up my current city build to run overnight at maximized profitability so that I could expand in the morning, and I realized that this whole process was not going to stop.  I didn't want to stop.  I had no incentive to stop.  I had ideas for restarts and experiments and a practically limitless horizon of obsessive pursuits tied to this one game, a game that already effected my sleep schedule, my friendships, and my grades.  In that brief moment of clarity I knew that it was now or never, and almost instinctively I turned the computer off and never loaded the game again.  I was 12.

It took over 12 more years, but I recognized that potential again when I picked up Risk for PS2.  I had mostly switched to console games and I'd already had a network adaptor for Final Fantasy XI.  I've always enjoyed Risk, and it dawned on me that I had access to unlimited opponents (I'd since run out of actual, human candidates still willing to play Risk with me) now that I could play online.  So I started it up on a Friday night, found some online challengers, and practically played straight through until Sunday.  I recognized what was happening and turned it off, never to load again.  It wasn't in reaction to having fun and dedicating a weekend to a game; it was realizing how, in those moments between matches, I couldn't find the stops, the natural barriers, the internal mechanisms that keep priorities and balance in check.  In retrospect, it was quite the ironic blessing that I couldn't get into the MMO for which I bought the broadband adaptor, yet nearly became obsessed with a half-century old board game just because I could play online.

There have been others:  I played the first DS Meteos until I was trying to rearrange tile patterns on floors and furniture, surprised and admittedly disappointed when chunks didn't rocket off.  I've had an admittedly overt fondness for Halo Wars and played constantly with friends for years, to the point of setting it up on 360 LANS everywhere we'd go.  I've learned how to live with my love for Tetris.

All of this is what was running through my mind when, on a family road trip, my oldest son turned to me and said, "Dad, what type of games do you enjoy playing most?"

I raised my firstborn right, and his gaming history includes getting to 7-2 without warps on the original Super Mario Bros, discovering H.E.R.O. as his favorite Atari game, and holding his own on Street Fighter II.  He is a master at many versions of Mario Kart and routinely romps online in Smash Bros.  Yet he is emblematic of a modern gamer; mobile and tablet games are a staple for him, and Fortnight Battle Royal is his current obsession. 

He has been clamoring for my Beloved and I to play Fortnight with him, and we have several times.  We don't get into it like he does, but it is an admittedly fun way to play together and we've all enjoyed it.  One night we played a few promised matches and my son looked over at my screen.  "Dad, aren't you going to customize anything?"

"I'm good,"  I say, and mean it.  I've never changed the defaults.  He looks at me like an eleven-year-old always looks at his aliens-from-another-planet parents, and we play.  After a few matches we move to Overwatch, another staple for my son and I.  He was shocked to look over to my screen and realize I had several unopened loot boxes.  For him, it was bizarre, unaccountable, nearly irresponsible.  His expression to my shrugged shoulders was one of abject confusion tinged with unknowable horror.  He didn't get it.

"Dad, you know you have them and you haven't opened them?  WHAT?"
"Yep.  Why, do you want to open them?"
"NO! I- well yeah, but why aren't you?  They're yours!"
Another shrug.  "They're not that big of a deal to me."

That crazy expression on his face again, as if his dad just transformed into a Lovecraftian abomination.  While he loves the game, the loot boxes are the ultimate just-one-more-game carrot to keep playing.  As is the case, of course, for many a gamer. 

"Dad, how can you not care?"
My lecture voice kicks in.  "It's like any trophy or achievement, bud.  That's not why I play.  I just play to have fun.  Those aren't a factor for me.  They're built in to keep people playing.  And it's fine if you want to keep playing, as long as you can still quit when you should, and know when you should." 
"Well, I play when you let me!" he retorts.
I smile, my dad brain in full gear.  "When a game doesn't give you a boundary to stop, you have to make one and then respect it."

Fast forward to the car ride.  "Dad, what type of games do you enjoy playing most?"  My son asks, looking up from a paused match of Smash Bros.  I mentally pocket my obsessives list and think about a current, honest answer.
"My favorite type of game is cooperative PVE.  Me and friends against an objective, usually against NPCs."
He looks genuinely confused.  "Then why don't you want to get the main game of Fortnight?" he asks, and it's a good question.
"Because, bud, I don't enjoy the freemium model in general, between the fact that most are purposefully very slow grinds, and because most of the time they don't end."  I reference many of his favorites, like Subway Surfers and several mobile games.  "They don't end, by design, and if I get too much into it I have to set my own boundaries for when I'm done.  Some games I have a tougher time with doing that than others, and I have to respect that.  But I also don't usually enjoy an endless game nearly as much as one with a definite end point."

"But you like Overwatch and Killing Floor 2 and a bunch of games that don't really end!"
"Yep, but if you'll notice, I almost always play those together with friends, usually on a team.  I'm always looking for a cooperative experience.  You enjoy jumping into an online match and being competitive.  We just enjoy different ways to play."

It's true.  I have found, after countless hours of everything from Unreal Tournament (another previous obsession) to various Battlefield games, that my best personal boundary is to base my time with them around my favorite way to play anyway: cooperatively teaming up with people I know.  I don't usually play them otherwise, as I'm just not nearly as competitive as my oldest son.

"And that's fine," I tell him.  "I'm glad you enjoy games differently than me."
He turns to his mom.  "What about you?  What are your favorite games?"

She takes a different angle.  "I mainly like RPGs and fighting games.  I don't have much time to play, and those are the ones I like most.  I play other types of games with you and dad, but usually if I pick one it is one of those types."

That's also true.  Ever since I've known her, she's been busy.  She has extremely limited free time, and if she's going to sink it into a deep distraction it is often an old-school RPG like Grandia II or Albert Odyssey, or even something newer like a Pokemon or Glory of Heracles.  But for those quick bursts of gaming, she goes to 3D fighters like Dead or Alive and Soul Calibur.  (We're mutually hopeful that the new Soul Calibur will be enjoyed by us more than the last one).  Lately she's gotten into Happy Home Designer and Style Savvy, which leads us back to the conversation.

"I never really thought about the fact that most freemium games don't really end," she says.  "It makes sense, but I can see why that doesn't fit with your gaming.  I'm actually playing a few games that don't really end right now."   
"And that's just a different preference on gaming,"  I say.  "I want to finish a game, I want to be a virtual tourist for awhile and then complete it so I can move on to a new horizon, to see a new world or experience what another game has to offer." 

Really, that informs most of my gaming philosophy; I enjoy collecting strategy guides because they are like tourism guides for virtual places.  Soundtracks are the music of a foreign land I once visited.  I collect physical games so I can share experiences with others and revisit them myself anytime.

(By the way, we didn't wake up our middle child during the trip's conversation. His gaming is again quite different from the rest of us; sandbox and open world, creation and expression.  The more boundaries and limitations a game has, the less likely he'll be interested.  Unless it has pretty much anything to do with Nintendo properties, of which he studies and plays like a college professor researching for a dissertation.)

Reflecting on our respective gaming habits reveals more than preferences; there are some interesting windows into our souls there.  I've never liked the phrase, "You are what you do," mainly because of all of the pull-ups and diapers I change.  Many of us "do" i.e. work, not out of passion but out of necessity.  Perhaps a better observation is "you are what you play," though of course that is also inaccurate, due to limited income, time, opportunity, etc.  Yet there is some truth there; as it is often remarked, we don't know what shape we take until we're under pressure, or outside constraints reveal inward tendencies.  Still, playing online shooters won't make one a sociopath, although you'd be given doubts if you listened to some chat streams.

Or perhaps a more important observation isn't so much what we play, or how different the preferences are, but instead how a developed medium can in fact envelop contrasting, even conflicting philosophies.  Two books may argue competing points, yet the reader is at an advantage to read both.  She may agree with one and disagree with another, even hate one and love the other, but there is value in having known more than one perspective.  As I reflected upon this recent conversation, it is easy to marvel at the breadth of our interactive medium.  I've been obsessive with some games, yet couldn't care less about digital accolades.   I may not normally be competitive, but I'll play a score contest on the 2600 version of SeaQuest with someone in the room any chance I get.  My oldest son may prefer to be competitive, but he's often my medic support in FPS games because he likes to help (and he's really good at it!).  He bounces between the simplicity of Geometry Dash and staying up all night reading about high-level Smash play mechanics.  I don't think he's ever cared about a story in a game.  My Beloved enjoys movies more than video games, and one of our favorite past-times is experiencing gaming narratives together.  She is also one of the best 3D fighting game players I know, but can't get a win in on 2D fighters.  All three of us take turns with each-other on the PS3 copy of Under Defeat, the family's favorite shmup.  Meanwhile, our middle kiddo is doing something in Minecraft that I'm pretty sure can only be understood by Steven Hawking, Timothy Leary, or possibly the Mars Volta.

The different yet overlapping circles of interest of our household gaming habits aren't just modes of individual entertainment; they are tools of visibility into our respective character.  In the modern climate of sharp divides, there are powerful methods to be alike and dissimilar while remaining at peace.  Like any technology, the very things that separate can also unite.
We are approaching these things from different angles and with different interests, but we find plenty of common ground, and we respect that gaming is definitely big enough to encompass it all.

Sorry, were we still talking about video games? 
Smiley


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Comments
 
My son is just now old enough to start playing games. I'm not forcing anything on him and letting him build his own gaming likes and philosophies. Right now he loves anything Lego and has tried Super Mario Brothers a couple times.

As for me I try to play as many games as possible but I mainly play Action Games and RPGs. I love the Dark Souls series and have already spent over 86 hours in NIOH. I find I need a good story to dive in to and use an action game or good Shoot em UP as a pallet cleanser so I don't get burned out.
 
I let my son choose his own path in his gaming habbits but I always got him for birthday's a retro compilation like Capcom games or Activision games for whichever Playstation he had at the time.
 
Dude, your articles always impact me.  I loved reading this.  I can identify - my parents bought me a book about video game addiction when I was a kid, because they felt like maybe I was spending too much time on the family computer.  It didn't sink in back then, I can guarantee.  Looking back at last year, I can see this addiction a little bit.  I played through Breath of the Wild twice, totalling nearly 400 hours.  Last year kind of sucked for me, and I was going through some stuff, so BotW became an escape for me, to the point where I was practically playing it every spare moment I had, to the exclusion of nearly everything else.  I have made a conscious effort to play almost no video games the last couple months, because I had been packing for a big move, and now that I'm in the new place, I'm still unpacking and setting up, so I'm trying to be a good boy, and not get enveloped into anything until I'm done with all of that.  Sure, I'm itching to get back to Super Mario Odyssey and finish the story campaign out, but it can wait until my real-world responsibilities have finally caught up.  Just like finding a good work-life balance, I'm also aiming to find a good gaming-life balance as well, so I don't just whittle my time away doing only that, when there are other things that I can diversify my time with.  Hopefully, I can strike that balance much better in 2018 than in 2017.  Thank you for an inspirational article.
 
Thank you for sharing, Jess.  I don't think I've ever had this same conversation with either of my kids.  My son always makes time to "the old stuff" featuring console games from back in our heyday, but in the end he always goes back to what he loves, mainly games that I've never been able to get into, such as Hello Neighbor and the Five Nights at Freddy games and also a fair amount of Roblox (can you imagine having access to something like that when we were kids?).  My daughter doesn't gravitate to the classics, rather like your middle child towards games she can add her own unique expression and story to, such as Minecraft and the Sims games.

Personally, I usually don't play "never ending" types of games anymore, because while I don't necessarily need a story, I really desire an ending.  I love space sims, but I'm not really interested in the "online" experience (with games such as Elite Dangerous and Star Citizen), so I like to stick with games such as the X series of games, which are also massive but not dependent on me avoiding trolls as I go about my space-themed business, and in the end I get either a narrative pipeline to the next game or some sort of conclusion.  I really want something grand, like in FF2/4, but it doesn't have to be.

Well, thanks again for sharing.
 
great article, my friend!

BTW, do you play Overwatch on Xbox One? Somehow I don't think we're friends on XBL. My username is the same as here.
 
@Addicted: I can appreciate that, sounds much like my own preferences.

@FatherJack: We're big fans of said retro compilations as well, and my son and I have played through many an arcade game that way.

@MetalFRO: Definitely had phases like that myself, where games were the escape hatch from life (for better or worse) until I stood up and faced the music.  Hope and pray this year is better for you Smiley

@bombatomba: Yeah, the ending thing is getting to be a bigger deal with me too, personally.  If it is not a game I'm playing with other people or score-contesting, I have a tough time not feeling like I'm "spinning wheels" if I can't eventually get to some conclusion in a game.  I know fun is the point, but that's just it; if I'm not working towards a tangible end-goal, I lose interest.  Puzzle games are the one exception for me; I can play certain ones (like the aforementioned Tetris and original Meteos) indefinitely, so I have to set my own playtime limits before starting.

@noiseredux: Thanks!  My tag on XBL and PSN is also the same as my user name here.  I don't pass messages back and forth much and usually chat is turned off unless I'm playing with friends, so please don't take offense if you don't hear much from me. Tongue  My oldest plays on that account as well, so I'll tell him to let me know if he sees you on. Smiley
 
Really interesting article. I don't have kids but the ways different generations play and what they want out of gaming fascinates me. It'll be fun playing games with my hypothetical future children, if I ever have them, and seeing how that evolves first hand. Thanks for sharing!
 
Fun read man!  Yeah, it seems that my family (including my wife) are all mostly into phone games.  My middle child is my biggest gamer and he loves to go up to "OUR" game room and try out different stuff. He recently got interested in my playthrough of Zelda: Link's Awakening on the Super Game Boy (something I talk about in the next Playcast) and asked if he could start his own game.  I really enjoyed hearing him ask if he could play, since my oldest child is somewhat of a perfectionist and only wants to watch for fear of "failure."  Her big thing is sports, and I'm definitely cool with that.  For my kids, it's a personality thing and I've come to the conclusion that I can't force games or even gaming on my kids and get results. Often I find that if they have interest in any types of games, it's from catching a glimpse of something that interests them.

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