Friday, November 7, 2008

November '08 Round Table: Gaming Across the Generations

This feature is my contribution to Corvus Elrod's monthly writing invitational "Blogs of the Round Table." This month's topic asked everyone to think about their family again in order to comment on the role video games play in their current relationships. As always, comments are welcome, and I encourage everyone to join in on the Round Table with their own posts.

Video games' current role in my immediate family is largely characterized by my contribution to last month's Round Table. My brother Eric and I are the only ones who actively play games, and my parents are basically semi-interested observers (although the Wii is giving them pause to reconsider). So, although it might be cheating a little, I am going to take an optimistic peek into the years to come.

Dear Future Kids,

Some of my fondest memories are when my father introduced me things like Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and Spiderman. I was exposed to these wonderful influences before I was old enough to understand them on my own, so my dad served as a guide to a new world of conceptual understanding. I was instructed on everything from storytelling to the human condition, and the person I am today is largely a product of these influences.

Video games always seemed to be the missing fourth pillar, as the generational gap seemed a bit too wide to for my dad to jump. With you though, things will be different.

The consoles will not be dividing lines in our house, but rather activity hubs where members of the family share experiences. Our PCs will be purchased with an eye towards cost and an eye towards graphics processors. I will carry my love of games and the discussion they provoke into adulthood and I will also carry the knowledge of their educational potential.

You will have Silly Putty and Lego sets to play with, but you will also have The Sims and LittleBigPlanet. I cannot wait to see a child's utilization of the creative power these games offer. How will you work to exploit the rules and how will your imagination allow for creations I could not begin to conceive?

I look forward to exploring the creation of myths and alternate universes with the Zelda series. While the franchise has not always been heavily narrative-driven, it is a great example of iteration within a common mythical framework. While all the games convey similar messages, they use different artistic techniques to do so, and create a world open to individual interpretation.

I hope that Mario will be more of a fixture than SpongeBob, since at least the former has the good sense to stay quiet and let the action do the talking. I hope everyone's favorite plumber will give you a sense of some historical fundamentals in gaming. I have found it a particularly fruitful exercise to come back to Super Mario Bros. after playing current gen games. It always gives me a unique and enlightening perspective on the past and the present. Could the sequence between world 1-1 and 1-2 be considered a cut scene? Miyamoto really did think of everything!

Of course, having an old man into gaming will not always work to your advantage. Because I will be following the industry, I will be uniquely informed as to what consoles and which games you will be asking me to buy. Do not even think about asking me to buy Gears of War 9 if you are still in grade school: I will have already played it, and I will veto it. On the bright side though, you are probably in store for a few midnight launch release parties.

As you navigate your adolescent years, I hope that we stay on good terms. I realize from experience that it can be hard to maintain a smooth relationship, but I hope you have the time to discuss with me your take on the political and social commentary of Grand Theft Auto andBioshock. One of the few things more exciting than feeling your intellectual acumen grow is watching it happen to someone else.

Eventually you will move out and begin to stand on your own. The world can feel isolating at times, despite its billions of inhabitants. Sometimes it is hard to talk face to face, but the magic of the Internet can reinforce family ties. Take comfort in knowing that I will always be up for some long distance Halo, even if we end up doing more talking than shooting.

And maybe someday you can come home for Thanksgiving and bring your kids. Then, I can regale them with stories about the first time I played Super Mario Bros., much like my grandparents tell me about the first time they saw Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. And they can roll their eyes, but on some level, they will be aware of a connection, a bond that has been forged across the generations. A Link to The Past, if you will.

-Eventually Yours,


  1. I really enjoyed this post. I've often wondered what it will be like for the next generation. All of their parents will be cool! But I guess that's what our parents probably thought.

    I wonder if there will be something new that comes up that will divide us from our children. Will we be replaying our gaming classics and berating our kids for not understanding them? Probably not, since we evolve more consistently with entertainment now.

    Like you, I'm definitely ready for gaming with the kids, and for the discussions that will follow.

  2. I think you hit on a good point about whether the next generation will be able to appreciate the games we consider classics.

    I mean, graphics and presentation will be so advanced by the time our kids are around that it will really take some doing for them to appreciate.

    Hopefully it will be like watching a classic movie for us: even thought the dialogue, acting, and even color is different, we cans still appreciate a movie like Casablanca. I hope the same is true for my kids and Super Mario Bros.

  3. Late to the party here after a week off from the internet to play the onslaught of games I purchased last Friday...

    I personally think that for our future children to appreciate the games we deem to be classics, art direction has to become more important than it (arguably) is now. I think that if we showed our children games like Okami, The Wind Waker and perhaps even BioShock (although the more 'realistic' direction that game has could see it being out-dated eventually) then yes they will be able to understand why we regard them as classics and perhaps they may even be interested in trying them for themselves.

    Games in general though, your Gears of Wars or Halos or, to take it back a generation or two, your Jak and Daxters and Goldeneyes will be a lot harder to make them understand or appreciate because the graphics that these games have will eventually become out-dated by whatever they get to see and enjoy in their gaming time.

    Speaking personally, I know I struggle to return to older games now after seeing what we have today (a good example is Metal Gear Solid 2 and that game still looks reasonably good...) so I can only imagine what it would be like for them. I have never had a problem playing older games with brilliant art directions though and I look forward to the day I replay The Wind Waker again, or Metroid Prime or any other game that has a wonderful art direction.

    Could just be me though...

  4. I agree with Nismo on what current games will attract future gamers. I think we will still be able to respect and appreciate games like Halo II because they set the groundwork for future titles. Playing these games, which will still be fun, will be like watching a Hitchcock film. We can enjoy it and appreciate how it informs thriller/horror movies of our time.

    The games that will be interesting of their own accord however, will likely be games that stand out for another reason, that go out on a limb, be it with art direction like Okami or game mechanics like Braid.

  5. Now if only I could copy/paste your comment Jorge and pretend that I posted it before you did instead of trying to explain my point the rambling way that I did...