Life changing events are, possibly by their very nature, incredibly rare creatures. For one thing, they can only definitively appear once per life, else they find themselves incorrectly monikered. "Dude, I had so many life-changing events last night that I think I'm dead now." Yeah, you're not really likely to hear that any time soon, are you? (Unless you drink in some of the dives I have done in the past...) Epiphanies are so powerful purely because you don't get one per day.
When they do come along, then, it is essential to listen to them. This is the position I find myself in right now, although if I am entirely honest I am not fully sure how to deal with it.
It stems from playing a game with my son on the 360 the other night. The game in question was Dead Pixels on XBox Live Indie Games, which is 80 MS point worth of brilliance and DEFINITELY worth your money. I was pointed in its direction by Indie Gamer Chick, who, despite the atrocious site name, runs a blog that is at least noble and at times well worth reading. At the time, it sat at #1 in her Top 10, and that was what prompted me to download the trial. I have been off zombies in recent months, mainly because you can't switch a game on without encountering shambling bastards these days, so I admit that it passed me by at time of release.
Anyway, it is a very good game, being more than just the mindless wave shooter the screenshots make it out to be. There are RPG elements in there, weapon upgrades, and it has local 2-payer co-op. Any parent knows how much this adds to a game when the possibility of playing it alongside your kids exists. Sure, the subject matter may be questionable, but he's my son and I take full responsibility for the way I am bringing him up. He plays what I think he'll be able to process, and anything that I deem too much is stored out of his reach. You know, the way it should be done?
We were having a great time, except that I ran out of bullets. There were no stores to go into, and no building s to search, so I was forced to melee the zombies. This amounts to mashing the B button, doing 5 or so HP of damage, and risking getting damaged in return. Benjie saw me doing this, and decided to do the same. Despite having a shotgun full of shells, he started poking zombies in the gut and giggling about it.
To my shame, I told him not to. TO. MY. SHAME.
Here we were, my 5 year old and I, side by side against the undead hordes. Comrades in arms with a front row centre ticket to Armageddon, and what do I do? I tell him "You're doing it wrong." Which, if this were real, would be accurate. But, this wasn't real. We were playing a game.
PLAYING. A. GAME!
What kind of sick maladjust am I to tell my 5 year old how to play a game properly? When nothing is riding on the outcome beyond some quality time with my own flesh-and-blood, what in the world possessed me to try to regulate his enjoyment? So he could live longer, and not turn into a zombie himself? That is reason enough, if he was also 41 and actually gave a shit about the outcome. But, he is 5. He has his own flowchart about playing games:
Bear in mind that this is the kid who spent an HOUR on the first track of Trials Evolution, simply pressing Y to bailout during the initial downhill part, laughing his head off whilst doing so. This is the kid who keeps on loading Dorito's Crash Course up, purely to squash his avatar flat, smack it at the screen, and eventually to make the chicken sound. It is his way of playing, and he loves it, and then some big bully comes along and tells him not to enjoy himself. Some big bully spoils his fun, in order to have his own version of fun.
It was a painful moment when I realised what I had been doing.
And then I think about my partner. She likes games where you get to make things, build things, design things. The Sims was a drug, and now Minecraft is. But, she cheats. If there is an infinite money code, IN IT GOES! She practically squealed with delight when I showed her the item duplication glitch in Minecraft, which means she can more or less have as much of any resource as she likes. I have, over the years, mocked her for this, accusing her of denying herself challenge and enjoyment.
You know what? Fuck me. Fuck me and my bullshit noise.
(Amusingly, in order to do the Minecraft glitch, we needed to kill spiders to get string. Which meant that we were no longer playing on Peaceful, so as to allow the required mob to actually spawn. I do enjoy the irony inherent in having to play the game "properly" to be able to cheat at it.)
I have long fought against the kinds of spods online that inherit the playing communities and try to police them by placing restrictions on games in the name of improving competitiveness. The single best example of this mentality I can think of is to be found in the Smash Bros. community. There exists a certain type of player who frowns upon the randomness inherent in both the items that drop onto the stages, and even some of the stages themselves. They argue that the fights should only be won by the best players, and that if the Hammer spawns next to the weaker player thus giving them an advantage that all the balance is broken. The ruleset is quite restrictive. They are joined by a very vocal group of players who want to control Pokémon, by placing all sorts of clauses onto the game that purport to eliminate luck. For example, you are not allowed to use any moves that increase your evasiveness, because ... well, to be frank, I never quite bothered to listen to their reasons. Because...
Their arguments are utter bollocks. The better players can win despite the proliferation of random bonuses. I know this because I once spent an afternoon getting my arse handed to me by a guy who knew the ins and outs of every single aspect of Smash Bros., and would beat me regardless of who I played as or what I did. I then got my own back in a couple of Pokémon battles, despite not banning anything from the matches. I have actually, despite being against clauses, built a team that is "legal" for battles against any who do, but I was happy to let my friend use whatever he liked. I was confident that my understanding and cleverness would be enough to beat him, and he was just as confident in his Smash Bros. ability.
I hate that I was telling my son to play a game "properly", even though I do realise that as a parent I have a duty to teach him things. The point is, with Benjie it isn't always easy. He is such an intelligent boy, but there are things that he just does not engage in.
Yesterday, at a hospital appointment with a specialist, we were told that he probably has some degree of Asperger's Syndrome. Whilst not necessarily being an outright diagnosis, he is on the spectrum, and we need to adjust accordingly. So, today, I find myself a little confused. Part of me feels a monstrous guilt over berating him for playing the way he does, but then another part of me feels a need to make him play things like the manual says, because I do not want him to end up unable to function in society the way other Asperger's sufferers do. (Other sufferers like the friend I played Smash Bros. and Pokémon with.) My own knowledge of the syndrome is too limited, and I need to read up about it some more.
At the end of the day, all I can really do for now is to take heart from what I did learn. Which is that he is 5 years old, and my playtime with him is something that I need to squeeze every ounce of joy that I can from. And if that means exasperatedly shooting him when he turns himself into a zombie because he would rather pokepokepoke than BOOM, then so be it.