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Thursday, December 11, 2014

How to raise a gamer

This guy went about it much more systematically than I did, but to somewhat similar effect:
My son Eliot was born in 2004 — the year of Half-Life 2, Doom 3, and the launch of the Nintendo DS. By the time he was born, video games were a $26B industry.

I love games, and I genuinely wanted Eliot to love and appreciate them too. So, here was my experiment: Start with the arcade classics and Atari 2600, from Asteroids to Zaxxon. After a year, move on to the 8-bit era with the NES and Sega classics. The next year, the SNES, Game Boy, and classic PC adventure games. Then the PlayStation and N64, Xbox and GBA, and so on until we’re caught up with the modern era of gaming.

Would that child better appreciate modern independent games that don’t have the budgets of AAA monstrosities like Destiny and Call of Duty? Would they appreciate the retro aesthetic, or just think it looks crappy?

And this, for me, is the most interesting impact of the experiment.

Eliot’s early exposure to games with limited graphics inoculated him from the flashy, hyper-realistic graphics found in today’s AAA games. He can appreciate retro graphics on its own terms, and focus on the gameplay.

The lo-fi graphics in games like VVVVVV, FTL, or Cave Story might turn off other kids his age, but like me, he’s drawn to them.
Ender didn't play enough video and computer games to have turned into a super-gamer like Eliot, but I've noticed that he does enjoy playing older games like Warlords and Fantasy General rather than clickfests and twitch games. He's also a good ASL player and a decent, though not superlative wargamer, as well as being deep into the mod scene.

The skill that Eliot has developed from his early exposure, to such an extent that he's much better than his father is fascinating though, especially when I consider how Ender was similarly exposed to more military theory and strategy than the average West Pointer.

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39 Comments:

Anonymous rho December 11, 2014 4:54 AM  

Asteroids and Zaxxon cost money. Real money, you had to earn, beg, or steal and turn into quarters.

Doesn't apply.

Anonymous FP December 11, 2014 5:46 AM  

"Asteroids and Zaxxon cost money. Real money, you had to earn, beg, or steal and turn into quarters."

Oh man remember those times. Those game makers knew how to milk the quarters. You couldn't get to the change machine fast enough. Especially games like Gauntlet. Arcades had something going for them that online multiplayers just don't have.

Anonymous FP December 11, 2014 6:05 AM  

"Especially games like Gauntlet."

And Dragon's Lair. Wasted tons of quarters on that game too.

Anonymous TroperA December 11, 2014 6:28 AM  

I'm a Gen-Xer and I fear mine is the last generation that had decent exposure to pop culture from all different eras. Cable TV was just something that rich kids had back when I was a sprog. Laurel and Hardy and Charlie Chan played on TV every Sunday. PBS stations also frequently played old movies--(anyone remember Matinee at the Bijou?) Syndicated TV from the 1950's to the (then) present day received regular airtime on the three main channels (and the two UHF stations located in our area.) Everyone watched the same things: The Twilight Zone, Star Trek, the Mash Series Finale, Saturday Morning Cartoons...

Then the Internet, Video Games and the Massive Cable TV Explosion came along in the 90's and suddenly everyone could run off to their own little niche and watch ONLY the things that interested them. People who might have been exposed to new things while staring at their vacuum tube black and white TV waiting for Barnaby Jones to come on now had to rely solely on recommendations via word of mouth from friends (who shared largely the same interests they did.)

Do you think anyone below the age of 25 even knows who Barnaby Jones IS, anymore? Are children and teenagers ever exposed to older forms of media (apart from ironic, weed-fueled viewings of HR Pufnstuf and Teletubbies on one of the "classic kiddie TV" channels in their college dorm lounge?)

Thanks to Hollywood rehashing old franchises, movies like "Clash of the Titans" or "The Poseiden Adventure" are far more likely to be remembered by the young as plot-imparied, CGI train-wrecks than they are to be remembered as classic, compelling movies that relied just as much on character interaction as they had on (then) state of the art practical special effects.

It's a shame.

Don't get me wrong. I'm glad I can open Youtube or Hulu and watch on-demand classic TV that never made it to my local UHF station. I'm glad I have access to myriads of obscure silent and classic movies. And I'm glad that the Gatekeepers of Pop Culture no longer have the stranglehold over what the Average Joe and Jane can see and read (especially now since the Gatekeepers have embraced more virulent forms of leftism.) But I do miss the cultural cohesiveness that used to come with 3-5 small TV channels and Saturday Morning Cartoons. The 1990's seems to be the last time that we witnessed a cultural era having a distinct look and feel. (And the only thing I can remember about the 90's was Grunge music, wrestling, and Rob Liefeld comic books.) Everything since then has kind of been a blur of "dress how you want, do your own thing" punctuated briefly by musical fads and the occasional notable article of fashion (like maxi-dresses.)

Kids have their noses buried too deeply in their smartphones to bother getting a proper education in classic culture these days. I doubt they get half of the TV/movie references that the average Gen X-er uses. I sometimes see the occasional young-un (like the AVGN) raving about old school movies and games, but most kids don't seem to want to touch anything made before they came to sentience with a ten foot pole. Only if grown-ups take the time out to introduce them to the old stuff will they get a taste for it (and how many grown-ups have the time to do that in this day and age?)

Sorry. I'll stop yelling at clouds now....(That was a reference from the Simpsons, for those of you under 30 years old...)

Anonymous TroperA December 11, 2014 6:33 AM  

And yes, I know there are some kids today who are enthusiastic about older forms of media and music. I was just generalizing there....

Anonymous FP December 11, 2014 6:56 AM  

"Saturday Morning Cartoons..."

And the Saturday morning Kung Fu marathons then head to the arcade.

Blogger szook December 11, 2014 7:11 AM  

Troper....don't look now, but, dude, you got old.........

Blogger JP December 11, 2014 7:16 AM  

I think one of my favourite games of all time would be Sonic and Knuckles on the Sega Megadrive. The only game of recent years that was as enjoyable to play was DMC:Devil May Cry on the XBox. And I like it purely because of the game mechanics. I couldn't care less about how it looks.

Anonymous jack December 11, 2014 7:51 AM  

@TroperA

'Yellng at clouds'

Thanks; I'll add that one....

Anonymous FLDad December 11, 2014 7:53 AM  

I did no of that, and yet my daughter still loves the old games, saw her playing Loderunner the other day. Loderunner!

Blogger GF Dad December 11, 2014 8:03 AM  

This comment has been removed by the author.

Blogger Nate December 11, 2014 8:07 AM  

i would think in 2014 it would be harder to not raise a gamer.

I really don't get this mind set of retro appreciation though. Does someone have to enjoy silent movies in order to appreciate movies in 2014? I don't think so.

even still I think you're over thinking it. Games like Mindcraft and Terraria total destroy the notion that kids only care about flashy graphics. And with tablets and phones full of retro style arcade games there is no question that the simple fun bit of gaming is alive and well. LIke it or not... angry birds could have totally been in the arcade in 1986. It would've fit right in.

I just don't think its necessary. I know I never gave it a second thought with my kids and this year when I took them to this epic 5 story tall arcade full of every game you can imagine... past or present... they LOVED the retro games. From Donkey Kong to Donkey Kong... they even had a real standup version of Fixit Felix from Wreckit Ralph.

And yeah... I admit it... I was awestruck as I watched my oldest son walk up to Afterburner... hit start... and simply wipe the whole damned game. He just walked up to Afterburner.... and beat it. Boom. Done. Walked away like it was no big deal.

I still remember the first time someone finished Afterburner in my hometown arcade. People cheered and stuff. It was unthinkable.

Blogger Nate December 11, 2014 8:09 AM  

also...

EVERYONE GET OFF TROPERA'S LAWN!!!

Anonymous Sensei December 11, 2014 8:31 AM  

Do you think anyone below the age of 25 even knows who Barnaby Jones IS, anymore?

I don't disagree with much of what you said, but I'm afraid you're going to have to bump this up a few years.. I wouldn't even have known it was a TV show except for the context. The first world event I was cognizant of was Iraq the first time, because I thought the night vision AA fire videos from Baghdad on the news were cool even then.

Blogger Nate December 11, 2014 8:38 AM  

"I don't disagree with much of what you said, but I'm afraid you're going to have to bump this up a few years.. "

Yeah.. I'm 41... and I have no idea who that is.

Blogger YIH December 11, 2014 8:47 AM  

rho:
Asteroids and Zaxxon cost money. Real money, you had to earn, beg, or steal and turn into quarters.
Google ''MAME emulator''

Blogger Iowahine December 11, 2014 8:47 AM  

Do you think anyone below the age of 25 even knows who Barnaby Jones IS, anymore?

. . . and I have no idea who that is.

He's the guy from Beverly Hillbillies.

Anonymous Anonymous December 11, 2014 8:50 AM  

Personally I think it's easier playing the old arcade games than it is playing some of the first generation 3D fps. Golden Eye being a prime example, man those graphics suck. I remember hooking up my dad's atari (2000?) To the only tv it would work on in the house and playing missile command, and having a great time. You just can't compare those older games to new ones like Skyrim or even the GTA series, especially with modding on PC.

JAKE

Blogger Iowahine December 11, 2014 8:55 AM  

. . . and the Wizard of Oz.

Anonymous Sensei December 11, 2014 8:56 AM  

I really enjoy how multigenerational this blog is, though, from Millennials/Y to Silents. And we'll have Z's before long. I wasn't much older than them when I started reading here after seeing Vox on WND and realizing he was actually writing things he thought were true and intellectually consistent and not trying to be a sort of Republican Puritan.

Anonymous Athor Pel December 11, 2014 9:39 AM  

" TroperA December 11, 2014 6:28 AM
...
Do you think anyone below the age of 25 even knows who Barnaby Jones IS, anymore?
"


"SenseiDecember 11, 2014 8:31 AM
...
I don't disagree with much of what you said, but I'm afraid you're going to have to bump this up a few years..
..."



" Nate December 11, 2014 8:38 AM
...
Yeah.. I'm 41... and I have no idea who that is.
"



My gut reaction to this kind of exchange is to mourn for the younger generations and then I wake up from my TV induced stupor and remember that television PROGRAMMING is exactly that, PROGRAMMING and completely devoid of any real cultural merit.

Please don't worry about young folks not knowing much about early television programs, worry about them not knowing much about classical literature, meaning our real cultural heritage. Worry about them not knowing what is actually written in the Bible rather than what someone told them was written there.


It sounds like Tropera is about as old as I am and I do know who Barnaby Jones is and Marcus Welby M.D. and that Randolph Mantooth was on Emergency! before he was on Sons of Anarchy. All totally useless pieces of information. About the only somewhat useful thing I learned from decades of media consumption is ease of trope identification and how much it differs from real life.

When I'm shaving I sometimes see white hairs growing out of my nose but that does not mean I'm old. Dammit.

Anonymous jamsco December 11, 2014 9:44 AM  

Ender, fifteen years from now, on the psychologist's couch: "There was one time when my dad called me 'not superlative', to the whole internet!"

Anonymous hausfrau December 11, 2014 11:05 AM  

So do you limit video games sharply when they are small (as mom would say, it rots your brain just like tv!) or do you let them use it just like any other toy? I imagine there's some learning value in it or I hope there is. We had to put a passcode on the computer finally because after checking the search history we found our 5 year old got up at 130 am to play shooting games until we got up at 630 am.

Anonymous JN December 11, 2014 11:21 AM  

Ender, fifteen years from now, on the psychologist's couch: "There was one time when my dad called me 'not superlative', to the whole internet!"

At work. Had to leave the room for that one.

Anonymous Michael December 11, 2014 11:40 AM  

Most modern big-budget software is all show and little go. I don't want to interact with a CG movie, I want to play a good video game. Retro games on average had far more intuitive and precise gameplay, not to mention better design and more replay value. Art goes over so much better than CG and leaves more to the imagination. Retro game soundtracks were far superior to the 'we're-trying-to-sound-like-a-movie' banality of today. Finally, what would gaming be without cheats, codes and hidden stuff up the wazoo? If you want extra content in modern software, better break out the credit card because now they slap a surcharge on top.

Blogger Bogey December 11, 2014 11:59 AM  

Steam and the availability of game engines to the general public has been a real boon to gaming (I don't know much about console gaming these days though, the Playstation network as well?). You can circumvent the gate keepers much like self publishing on Amazon. And the creativity has been amazing. Look at Limbo and the Trine series.

Anonymous RafterManFMJ December 11, 2014 12:01 PM  

Ah, Warlords, Armada2525, - memories.

Blogger Brad Andrews December 11, 2014 12:16 PM  

I've noticed that he does enjoy playing older games like Warlords and Fantasy General rather than clickfests and twitch games.

That is my problem with games today. I am not much for the twitch games and very little has the tactical and strategic thinking of the older games.

Anonymous clk December 11, 2014 12:21 PM  

"....angry birds could have totally been in the arcade in 1986." .... it was .. there were levels in the orginal Mario Brothers that feel just like angry birds.

"...epic 5 story tall arcade full of every game you can imagine"... Disney Quest ?

Anonymous Jack Amok December 11, 2014 12:31 PM  

deep into the mod scene.

Same with my son. I think it's a natural instinct for boys to tinker with things, and they want to tinker with things their friends actually use.

Blogger The Deuce December 11, 2014 12:49 PM  

Heh, this is exactly what I plan to do with my son too, albeit using emulators on a 100-inch projector screen, and the original controllers for the various systems hooked up via USB adapters.

Blogger LibertyPortraits December 11, 2014 1:33 PM  

Vox, a question from a parent to be. I'm concerned with my child becoming addicted to screens or video games, have you (or I guess any of the Ilk) ever been concerned by this, or is your general relationship with your children a strong enough bond so that they have no need to sit at a game all day as some children seem to? I note that in the article you linked Elliot's father bonded with his child through the games, by sharing the experience, whereas I had spent most of my game time with my brother or alone. Is this something to be concerned about, or is the addiction like most others, some form of self-medication because of something that happened to the person or a lack of something?

Anonymous Daniel December 11, 2014 1:41 PM  

Ironically, the article makes no mention of Baby Pac-Man. If the kid whipped that game...then I'll be impressed!

Especially if it was one of the ones with a broken flipper.

And yeah... I admit it... I was awestruck as I watched my oldest son walk up to Afterburner... hit start... and simply wipe the whole damned game. He just walked up to Afterburner.... and beat it. Boom. Done. Walked away like it was no big deal.

I still remember the first time someone finished Afterburner in my hometown arcade. People cheered and stuff. It was unthinkable.


My jaw would have dropped. Now, admittedly, I haven't seen Afterburner in 25+ years. Still. That's pretty cool.

Anonymous dw December 11, 2014 3:43 PM  

@Jack Amok

My friends and I used to create insanely difficult mods for Halo PC back in our early teens. There was a mod program where we could alter virtually everything in the game, so one day we just substitued every enemy with Elites and Hunters and armed them all with fuel rods just to see how far we could get. It was about the hardest thing ive ever played, and we got almost nowhere, but changing the game up was a blast.

Blogger CM December 11, 2014 5:26 PM  

My son is 5 and has been exposed to the latest as well as Sega classics and arcade games.

We didn't do it systematically, but he has much less care for video quality than his mother (I started playing morrowind in 2002).

His dad plays a lot of the old stuff with him.

Blogger BigFire December 11, 2014 5:34 PM  

Speaking of raising a Gamer, Vox, have you seen this: http://www.breitbart.com/Breitbart-London/2014/12/11/GamerGate-Anti-Bullying-Campaign-cost-Gawker-over-a-Million-Dollars

#Gamergate is costing Gawker millions, and Denton is quitting Gawker.

Anonymous Jack Amok December 11, 2014 11:23 PM  

#Gamergate is costing Gawker millions, and Denton is quitting Gawker.

Excellent.

Blogger Emmanuel Mateo-Morales December 11, 2014 11:28 PM  

Whatever happened to trying to make a racing game that could allow you to drive from one end of the US to the other... without randomly generated content?

Anonymous Michael December 12, 2014 9:16 AM  

Bogey, "You can circumvent the gate keepers much like self publishing on Amazon. And the creativity has been amazing. Look at Limbo and the Trine series."

There is an abundance of independently produced software available, but most of it doesn't have the same appeal to me as games such as Strider, Castlevania and Metroid.

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