Back Seat Gamer Mum

If I had listened to my parents, I would have put my head more often into books than in front of a screen. It might not have been the same as running and rolling on fresh (city) air, but at least it would have been the journey inside my head where imagination lives and horizons get expanded. Meaning: dead texts.

Only decades later the world was beginning to accept video games as a cultural thing, was starting to analyse and question them, grasping their effects and contexts. And so was I, my enthusiasm unbroken, not even by the scepticism of my parents.

That is, scepticism was only part of the reason why I never could really share my hobby with them (something I am surely doing differently with my hypothetical children). Mainly it was the fact that video games—truth be told—are the most inaccessible media of entertainment. From language over usage to acquisition and last but not least the stigma: They just cannot compare to the easy access of a book, a movie or even a music record.

But it just took talking and writing about it for years until that one feeling kicks in that can conquer barriers: curiosity. In my case my mum’s curiosity. And so she and I are sitting on my couch on a Sunday afternoon, with me on the controller and my mum in observation mode, eager for knowledge and full of questions about the fascination of video games.

Portal, I recon, is well suited for being an entry point due to its clearly divided sections and dimensional oversight. In a way it is imitating reality and on top of that there is no shooting. What I don’t see is that the concept of micro wormholes is a brain twister. So my mother first compares those portals to mirrors, then questions the whereabouts of up and down and asks me why I would not get a headache right now. At least GlaDOS insane comments amuse us equally. But after a “I think now something clicked“ comment I get the feeling, my mum starts getting it.

Untitled Goose Game follows and I hope it will ease things out with its slapstick and natural causalities. It becomes clear to me how vicious that bird actually is while my mum develops real empathy with the gardener who I make suffer for not wanting to be fucked with. Because the logic of the game is so clearly laid out my mum not only puzzles along with me but also sometimes know what will happen next in foresight.

Rocket League is supposed to be the bridge between single adventure game and competitive kind-of-sports game. Getting the game concepts seems pretty easy and while I score superbly in the matches my foremother asks how people actually come together to play simultaneously. I begin to stutter and just say “Internet”, which is not fundamentally wrong but yet a very incomplete explanation. Apart from the fact that uncounted data packages are pushed through the cables I really do not know very much about the actual technicalities nor how I could explain them in simple terms.

Eventually I like to introduce my mother to the main trend of recent gaming history: Open worlds. Breath of the Wild is a game that balances accessibility and gameplay depth and thanks to its intuitive sandbox mechanics also creates a connection to the real world. “Wow, I guess you could spent hours in this“ my mum reckons, after I spent some minutes collecting bugs and fruits and almost got killed by Lizalfosses while exploring a sandy beach. As I then sneak around a couple of enemies, reflect an Octorok projectile back to its owner and set a bramble on fire to cut a path to a shrine, I can almost hear my mum’s mind sparkling. “That’s just like in real life” she says but does not mean the world of Hyrule in particular but the logic on which it is built. She contemplates about metaphors and learnings for real life and I would claim she feels a decent wave of immersion.

After all this years, getting to know a new perspective on video games through showing someone else a little piece of these worlds does make me curious too (and not only me, also successful YouTubers are documenting interesting insights by observing so-called non-gamers). People with no or little gaming history are experiencing in a way that my bubble would never know about. I ask myself where a growing gamer would loose their heart to if they started from scratch today. How fast and in what way would they build up skill, is that even a concept and does age making a difference. Fortunately, there is now a way for me to find out.

This post is also available in: German