Why won't my father game with me?
It's a question I am sure is echoed within the gaming community in varying forms: why won't my mother play with me, why won't my parents game with me? Variations on the same heart-rending sentiment that to some like myself serve as an overwhelming source of sadness as adulthood continues to creep in. As I continue to carve out a path for myself as a games writer, looking to turn my lifelong hobby into a self-sustaining career, I am reminded with every new achievement of my childhood, when gaming wasn't only my most passionate endeavour, but the activity that formed a stalwart bond between my father and me.
The man was the original hardcore gamer of the family: building PCs, dabbling in every form of new technology released into the wild and revelling in gadgetry and electronic advancements long before I was born. And everything he did with them from my earliest memory included me. He turned down the volume for me and let me loose with Duke. While he was slaying cacodemons, I sat behind him on my parents' bed cheering him on.
We spent our time sharing joypads and categorising shareware, searching through manuals for that elusive word to break through copy protection, and truly enjoying each other's company. We may have had differing opinions and goals with the games we either played together or took turns with, but we were always sharing the games we loved.
But that's changed. Today, his love of tech remains, but as I rumble through each new FPS or roll the dice in solo digital board games, Dad is content to occasionally spectate, but not to join in. I'll ask him to join me for a game of Gazillionaire, a game neither of us could ever conquer, but had the time of our lives trying, and it's rare he can even hear me over the music roaring from his noise-cancelling headphones.
I've resigned myself to the harsh truths of adulthood: Dad just isn't too interested anymore. He's still purchasing the occasional game and borrowing my Steam account for annotated bursts of Rage or Hard Reset, but never with me. And my mother, beyond the occasional casual game, was never interested to begin with.
I know I can't be alone. How many gamers yearn for acceptance of their favourite pastime, even if only an allowance or approval to enjoy the medium? Everyone has not been gifted with the childhood I was, where I was encouraged to delve into video games, media, or any entertainment I fancied rather than being forced into "gender-appropriate" activities. Perhaps this is what saddens me the most with this entire issue: I had the means as a child to enjoy gaming with — at least — my father for the rest of my life.
So what happened? I hate to think my own actions as a selfish child set the cogs in motion. After deliberating over the issue far longer than I would have liked to, I've come up with four reasons might be the cause of my father's overall withdrawal from gaming with me as well as other parents' refusal to even start.
Perceived Usability Issues
My father has expressed concerns that consoles and their corresponding controllers are too difficult to use, after having only been comfortable with the vanilla NES, Genesis and PlayStation. I can only surmise that others subscribe to the same method of thinking. The 360's controller, while similar to the gamepads I grew up with, seems a bit daunting for someone who has only truly used a mouse for shooters and similar outings for most of their life. At this stage in a parent's life it can be difficult to want to convert if they want to at all.
I can understand the hesitation, after sticking with the precision and ease of the mouse for so many years, especially when it comes to shooters as your favourite genre, which if my Dad's wide collection of them for the PC are any indication, he's a proud connoisseur of. Too many buttons. Too many controls to memorise. Too many ways to manipulate the camera. All my life I took to evolving with consoles and controller input methods, and if you've stuck to only one your entire gaming career, I can understand the hesitance of wanting to switch, especially when disabilities and physical impedances (such as Dad's muscular dystrophy) come into play with motion-controlled endeavours such as the PlayStation Move or Kinect.
Games Are Too Difficult Or Complicated
It might be second nature to most of us learning how to create in Minecraft or paradigm shifting in Final Fantasy XIII-2, but for some older gamers, namely parents, it can be an endeavour to learn all of the gameplay essentials needed to perform competently. Gaming is constantly evolving and despite the comprehensive tutorials and methods with which you can learn how to play most titles within the space of a few minutes to an hour, it can be overwhelming to those who can't be bothered to spare the time or thought.
Given the choice between watching a movie or learning a new skillset as a parent, it seems obvious which one most would go with. This makes the case for simple flick-gaming and touch-to-play mobile titles, and thus you have games such as Angry Birds and Cut the Rope, accessible to anyone.
Between running a household, paying taxes and the stress of raising children, there's little time for personal entertainment. And when there is time, the media of choice is usually pick-up-and-put-down sources of entertainment such as a book, movie, or TV show that takes precedence over the ordeal of starting up a game and becoming engrossed. Parents with older children who are still in the household can be so wrapped up in their own tasks and to-do lists that even a game they might enjoy takes a backseat to what needs to be done. At the end of the day when it's time to relax, after having possibly cleaned house, prepared a meal, ensured bills were paid and watched over one or more children, passive entertainment seems the way to go.
"Gaming's For Kids"
Parents who may have cultivated their children's interest in the hobby from birth may have finally grown out of it, or have harboured the (vastly incorrect) suspicion that video games are still just child's play. As ignorant a point of view it seems, it's a widespread, popular belief and while some may not vocally communicate it, there's no doubt in my mind that some parents, even the ones that enjoy tech and gadgets themselves, feel that somehow gaming is contributing to keeping their offspring from growing up or entering the "adult" world, and refusing to play will somehow combat this.
"If you're going to be such a downer because you lost a round, I'm not going to play with you any more." My father often made these empty threats when I behaved in such a manner. I didn't care. All my young mind could process was the fact that I was losing. Me, the Mario Tennis champ of the household. It was humiliating. So much that I didn't notice the hurt that briefly crossed my father's face when I threw the controller into the cushions of our sofa, screamed like a banshee and/or selfish brat, and ran to my bedroom. Sore loser indeed.
My father's words that day still echo throughout memories of my adolescence and even now, as an adult, when I realise that he has in a way made good on what I originally wrote off as an empty threat. He really doesn't game with me any more.
But when I look at the reasons listed above, I think I understand. In any case, time waits for no one. Maybe my father will want to play again soon. Despite the sadness that stems from his not being at my side like in my childhood, I'm just grateful that he is still in my life; that we have the opportunity to play together. And I'd rather not waste it.
Brittany Vincent is a freelancer who routinely eviscerates virtual opponents and tempts fate by approaching wayward Zoloms. You can peruse her archived work at PfhortheWin.com.
Top image: Kirill__M/Shutterstock.