My Dad, The Gamer

“I don’t mind it so much, you know. It’s like that other one they do where you swing in the jungle.”
“You mean Uncharted?”
“Yeah, and the main guy is just like the one in that, too.”
“You mean Nathan Drake?”
“Yeah, whoever makes these games certainly knows what they’re doing.”
“You mean Naughty Dog?”
“Well, how am I supposed to know that?”
“It comes up every time you load the game.”
“Oh, well, that’s not really important, is it? As long as the game’s good.”
“And is it?”
“Yeah, it’s alright, isn’t it? It’s not bad.”

It’s a couple of weeks after Christmas, and I’m locked into a battle of wits with Dad yet again, this time over “Winner of over 200 Game of the Year Awards” nature-walk simulator The Last of Us. I’ve somehow managed to avoid having the entire thing spoiled for me, despite being almost two years late to the party, which feels like an absolute eon when the need to be ‘first!’ means traversing the internet becomes a minefield of trying to avoid people who think posting “Oh my god, I wasn’t expecting that in the latest Game of Thrones!” is vague enough that it won’t spoil the episode and ruin all the tension while you wait for the twist, if they’re not just outright telling you Dave Dorothian gets doffed in the dobber.

By some incredible miracle, I’d managed to get this far without someone spoiling the ending for me, and by the time this is published I’ll probably still have no idea, because I’m not having any fun with it at all. If I’m not just walking for minutes at a time while Naughty Dog insist you check out the pretty vistas (and hope you don’t notice the textures popping in), I’m gnashing my teeth at some of the worst stealth mechanics I’ve suffered through since Dishonored. How we can all agree forced stealth sections where being caught is basically an instant fail condition are the gameplay equivalent of cyanide, yet call The Last of UsThe Citizen Kane of Games“?

Ignoring the fact Citizen Kane would make for a terrible experience if there actually was a game of it, it seems downright fradulent the third time I fail a section because only one person paid attention to the bottle I threw, yet everybody on the map instantly ran towards my location the moment I threw a punch, and somehow manage to surround me thirty seconds later, despite the fact I’ve snuck to the other side of the building without being seen. There was actually a moment where I’d managed to dispatch all but one person on the map and pressed the “grab” prompt, only for Joel to obey and somehow… miss the scripted manouvre, causing the enemy to become alerted and shoot me in the face before the grabbing animation finished. I half-expected “Winner of over 200 Game of the Year Awards” to flash up on the screen afterwards as a final mocking gesture before forcing me back another ten minutes, where I then had to re-load the save file again because the guards nearby have suddenly refused to perform their scripted conversation, rooting them to the spot for all eternity.

My dad, on the other hand, doesn’t really seem to care about any of that. I’m not even sure if anything like that has happened to him, or if he’d even care if it did. I’ve actually had to stop talking to him about it, because he’s somehow managed to get even further into The Last of Us than I have, despite starting days after me. In the only conversation we’ve had about it since, I had to tell him the name of the Uncharted series for the umpteenth time because, despite playing every title in the series, even that Vita one nobody remembers, he still kept referring it to “that one where you swing in the jungle”, despite the fact that I’m pretty sure the second and third ones didn’t even have jungles in them. I’m almost convinced he does it on purpose to wind me up, but I daren’t confront him in case he spoils The Last of Us for me. At the same time, I’m almost certain he couldn’t if he wanted to, because that would require him to pay attention to the story. I now live in fear of Schrödinger’s spoiler, and I have no idea how rational that fear is any more.

When it comes to gaming, I’m not sure if my dad is some kind of enigma, or if I’m giving him way too much credit. After all, this is the man who introduced me to the world of gaming, bought me my first Game Boy, introduced me to the first two Monkey Island games – and I’m sure has regretted it since – and yet refuses to acknowledge that there was a twist in Bioshock. It’s not even a case where he’s forgotten in the years since he’s played it, because I asked him what he thought about it the moment he’d finished the game, he looked at me like I was simple, and then asked me what on earth I was talking about. Years later, he’d ask me to help him beat the final encounter in Bioshock Infinite, then try to walk out of the room during the end sequence because he didn’t care. After forcing him to watch it all, he turned to me, asked basic questions that characters had explained not even a minute before, then went “well, the game was alright, wasn’t it?” before leaving and never bothering to remember anything that had just happened. I’m sure he’s doing it on purpose.

After all, this is a man who (at least) twice gave up on GTA 4 because every time a mission started, he’d skip the ensuing cut-scene and then complain that he didn’t know what he was meant to be doing, or why. Instead of re-loading the file and, God forbid, actually paying attention to what he was meant to be doing, there was at least one occasion where I was called downstairs while he was in the middle of a mission in order to explain to him what he was meant to be doing, despite the fact I had no idea how far he was into the game and it’d been at least three years since I’d last played it.

“So, who are you doing a mission for?”
“I have no idea.”
“How far are you into the game?”
“I have no idea.”
“Okay, what are you meant to be doing?”
“I don’t know, that’s what I called you down for.”
“What did they say in the cut-scene?”
“I don’t know.”
“Why not?”
“I skipped it. So, are you going to tell me what I need to do or not?”
“Dad, it’s been three years since I played this. I can’t help you unless I have the context.”
“You’re useless then, aren’t you?”

Naturally, he fails the mission. I implore him to pay attention to the cut-scene, not just so he knows what he’s doing, but so I can help him. Niko drives to the mission location, gets out of the car, the screen fades to black and then… back to Niko walking into the car. A smirk beamed from my dad’s face. He’d skipped it on purpose. I refuse to help him, and twenty minutes later I hear start another game up. He wouldn’t touch GTA 4 again for months afterwards.

This is a man having more fun playing The Last of Us than I am. “You have to conserve ammo in this one, Dad, and besides, it attracts attention so it should really be used as a last resort,” I tell him. Later on, I hear him unload an entire clip on something. I walk in and I don’t recognise the environment. He’s further than I am now, and I can’t say anything in case I have something spoiled for me. I’m sure he’s playing it wrong on purpose, to annoy me, but I can’t know for sure.

I keep forgetting that my dad’s been playing games for far longer than I have. This is a man who would remind me to walk around and inspect the car every time in Police Quest, because the moment you didn’t would be when you’d get a flat tire and fail the game. This is the man who would tell me the answers to the Eighties trivia that awaited you every time you turned on Leisure Suit Larry, then warn the then eight year old me not to discuss the game’s content with other people, because I was too young to properly understand it. An hour later, I’d be telling one of my friends about the game where if you don’t pay the taxi driver he’d beat you up and you’d lose. We were both right, in our own ways.

This is a man who, days after getting me an N64 for Christmas, bought himself another controller so I had someone else to play with and a copy of Goldeneye 007 so he had something to play when I was supposed to be in bed. Not that it stopped me sitting next to him and that old CRT as he lay waste to the bunker, or shot someone’s hat off in Facility. I still remember when, attempting to battle his way through Silo on 00 Agent mode, he came up against a guard facing the opposite direction and shot him in the arse, causing the man to seemingly clutch his buttocks and launch himself forward in the air before collapsing to his death. I spent years trying to replicate that same shot to no avail, but I’m convinced to this day it actually happened, because the memory is so prevalent in my mind that it may as well be tattooed onto the wrinkles of my brain.

Games weren’t always something to pass the time to him, either. He used to be excited for the big releases, or criticise them if they weren’t up to snuff. Not that he was always right, however; there was that time when he tore into Diddy Kong Racing so hard during a race with me that afterwards I sheepishly put the game back in its box and asked him to trade it in for something else. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how I ended up with the barely-fun Snowboard Kids, something my dad would proceed to not even touch with a ten-foot barge pole. At least he was savvy enough to ignore my suggestion of Clayfighters 63 1/3, eh?

If there’s a genre I’m into, there’s a fair chance he introduced me to it. My obsessive love of point and click adventures came from those nights playing Police Quest or failing at Blackjack in Leisure Suit Larry, and were cemented the day he handed me a CD with the first two Monkey Island games on them reasoning that I’d probably enjoy them. Real-Time Strategies? I wouldn’t have given them a sideways glance if he hadn’t bought home a Command and Conquer collection with the original game and Red Alert, the latter of which consumed literal weeks and months of my life. My love of Nintendo? Well, he’s the one who bought me my Game Boy, Game Boy Colour and N64, so he’s really the one to blame, there. RPGs? He’s the one who battled the crowds at the games store nearest his work to pick me up a copy of Pokémon Blue on launch day. First-Person shooters? My love of them may have waned in recent years, but I’d never have had that initial interest without Goldeneye, and I’d never have been scared away from them for years if it wasn’t for all those bloody headcrabs in Half-Life. I had nightmares for months.

In fact, the last time I can truly recall him being excited for a game was Half-Life 2, rushing home on launch day with a brand new copy in his hand, still covered in the cellophane, only for the smile on his face to turn to apprehension and then frustration at the intrusive Steam Client that had to be activated to play the game, and crashed our computer on enough occasions that he eventually gave up trying to play it. We may take Steam for granted these days, but my dad still won’t trust it and, for all intents and purposes, it killed his love for PC gaming stone dead. He still cites it as a reason that PCs aren’t meant for gaming, and despite seeing me spend most of my evenings on mine, now views consoles as the only way to play games.

It wouldn’t be until I picked up a copy of The Orange Box for the Xbox 360 that my dad finally got to play Valve’s masterpiece from beginning to end, long after his anticipation for it had faded and it had just become another game to him. He’d worked his way through his initial excitement and disappointment at being unable to play it and treated it like another other title to be beaten, much like I’d eventually grown out of my fear of headcrabs. Poison headcrabs, on the other hand…

When it comes to gaming nowadays, he’s the sort of man who’ll criticise anything colourful as “kiddie” or “childish”, and once indirectly accused me of being gay because I’d been playing Lego Rock Band. Even at Christmas, he couldn’t resist making some kind of comment about me being an immature child because I’d asked for Kirby’s newest 3DS adventure, and later rolled his eyes at me when he saw all the Disney characters in Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 Remix. Not that there’d be any point trying to explain why it isn’t, because he probably wouldn’t listen. I’m convinced he’d probably do it on purpose.

Rather than the point and clicks and strategy titles of old, he’s no longer interested unless you have a gun and can shoot things with it. Even if, as The Last of Us dictates, you don’t have enough ammo to do that all the time. Even if, for some reason, they added in a mechanic where, when your bullets are a premium and used for last-ditch emergencies, your aim automatically sways and refuses to focus unless you go out of your way to collect pills that’ll level up your ability to aim so you don’t miss half the time.

Yet, he’s still having fun, and I’m not. He’s having fun exploring the post-apocalyptic vistas, and I’m moaning and swearing my way through it, trying to do everything in my power to enjoy it despite the myriad of flaws I can’t help but notice in its story and gameplay. I want to love it, but I can’t switch off enough to do so, while Dad breezes through and will soon have another game on his completed pile, before shortly forgetting the name of the game, who made it, but still somehow remembering that “it was alright, wasn’t it?”.

Maybe he’s right, in his own way. After all those childhood years of learning about games from my dad, evolving my opinion and becoming the gamer I am today, perhaps it’s time to take another lesson from my old man. Sometimes, I spend so much time trying to take in everything from the story to the various mechanics that I’m starting to see some games solely as their parts, rather than the sum of them. I don’t need to be a critic all of the time, and acting that way will eventually kill my love of games. If there’s anything I could learn from him nowadays it’s perhaps not to focus on the minutiae and over-analyse so much that I no longer see the wood for the trees, but to appreciate games as what they are, and remember that, at the end of the day, they’re mostly made to entertain, not change the world. I will, however, still pay attention to the cut-scenes because I’m not an absolute monster.

He won’t pay attention if there’s a story, and he probably won’t even bother to remember the name of whatever he’s playing, but he’s my dad, and he’s a gamer, whether I like it or not.

Last five articles by Edward


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