Monday, December 23, 2013

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What If My Son Grows Up To Be A Video Game Nerd? Part II

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I’ve never been into video games. I had a Nintendo as a kid, and I always got really bored playing it. I never really had the desire to play the avatar of a plumber in an imaginary world where some lizard man took my really tall girlfriend. Or understood why I would want to play as some short elf-man with a sword and poor fashion taste (green pointy hat and tights? Really?), who ran around some medieval world looking for herbs to cure my wounds. 

I had friends that played games for hours on end. In fact, my brother was one of them. He was a fat kid that would sit cross legged on the carpet in front of the TV, pale ass crack hanging out of his grey sweat pants, a Pepsi to his right resting on a game he didn’t play all that often (probably Dr. Mario or Bubble Bobble), a bag of Butter Finger BB’s to his left, and a controller in hands. If my mother weren’t home, he’d do this for hours. His complexion was pasty, his social skills were below par, and his body odor was astonishing.
I remember once seeing Ryan squirming before the TV, his face a little flustered and red, flattop moving side to side. He must have been nine or ten at the time. When I asked him what was wrong, he said, “I really need to poo.”
And when I asked him why he didn’t pause the game and take a dump, he said, “Because I am about to beat Bowser. Stop bothering me.”
He’d been playing for nearly eight hours straight. Back in the early days of gaming, games had no memory. Ryan couldn’t save a game and return to where he was. He had one option, to pause the game. And, in the case of our Nintendo, if he paused the game for more than about five minutes, the system would overheat and shut off. Beating a game was like running a marathon.
Eventually, Ryan ended up beating the game, but his satisfaction was short lived.  He ran to the restroom with his right hand pinching his chubby cheeks together. He didn’t make it in time. The house smelled like shit for hours.
Sometimes I look at Tristan playing games, and then think about my older brother, and get a little worried. This is not to say Ryan didn’t grow out of it. He is married now, with three cute kids, and he makes good money with information systems. Far more money than I make. I don’t even think he still plays games. But in elementary school and junior high, I don't think he had too many friends. There were a lot of days that I wished he’d step away from the game and live a fuller young life. I didn’t want that cooped-up video game nerd life for Tristan, but at the same time I didn’t want to be the domineering dick head of a dad that couldn’t connect with his son. 

I felt like that was the direction I was heading as a father. I felt like I was constantly telling Tristan to shut the DS, turn off the Wii, put up the iPad, and so on. And when I did, the kid sprawled out on the floor and shit a Twinkie. He told me he had nothing to do. And naturally I gave him the same lame things to do that my parents often gave my brother when they shut off his games and he shit a Twinkie: Read a book, play with your toys, play a game with your sister, or go outside. And when those ideas failed, like they always did, I ended up using the classic parent line, “If you are really that bored, I have some chores you could do.” And when that failed, like it always did, then I was forced to hand down a punishment: stick him in his room or take away games for a few days.
Tristan and I never really bonded anymore. We didn’t have much to talk about. Even at the age of six, I felt like we were already turning into very different people who enjoyed very different things. All he wanted to talk about were video games, while that was the last thing I wanted to talk about. Only once before had I tried to fake an interest in something Tristan liked, and that was Pokémon. I will admit that it went well. We started to bond a little over discussing the characters and cards. But much like video games, I was really worried that I was encouraging Tristan to become a shut-in. Most of the boys I grew up with that were really into Pokémon were nerdy shut-ins that often got wedgies or placed in garbage cans.

Tristan recently grew out of Pokémon and I recall kneeling down that night and thanking the Lord for his intervention. But it was replaced with video games. I know that gaming has become more socially acceptable in recent years, but I still saw it as nerdy and boring and would rather Tristan get outside. Furthermore, gaming was expensive. Much more so than Pokémon. For example: a pack of Pokémon cards was about $3. In contrast, Tristan’s new favorite game was Skylanders. This game required a portal, a straggly glowing rocky cylinder that connected to the Wii. It also required plastic giants that once placed on the portal came to life in the game. Just the starter kit cost $70. Tristan had to earn that money through a point system Mel generated for doing chores.
It was a lot of fun when he was trying to save up for the game. I’d offer him 100 points (about $2) to find my keys or clean the toilet, and he was all about getting things done. But once we got the game, we discovered that each character had an element (fire, water…) and players cannot get to different parts of the game with out a particular element. New characters cost $10-$20. I was a little nervous as to how much it would cost me to fake an interest in Tristan’s gaming. And I was a little nervous as to how much it would hurt him socially. 

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Clint Edwards is a tutor coordinator at Oregon State University. He is also the former co-host of the Weekly Reader on KMSU and a graduate of the MFA program at Minnesota State University. His writing has been listed as notable by Best American Essays, and has been published in The Baltimore Review, and through The University of North Dakota, Boston College, Emerson College, The University of South Carolina, and Minnesota State University.