Pikmin 3 And Me: Being A Parent Is Hard

Clunk-clunk-clunk.

My six-month-old son hates being in his car seat. He hates the click of the buckle being clipped in and the restriction of not being able to wriggle or crawl. He lets out a squawk — not a cry, more like a colossal sustained whinge. In the back seat of the car, as we move towards our destination, all I can do to soothe him is whack this empty Coke bottle against the metal bars of the car seat and encourage him to do the same.

Clunk-clunk-clunk.

When my son reaches out for something he wants his breathing shifts into an excited wheeze. An enormous gummy grin emerges. It's a recent thing and the first time I heard it I panicked. I shook my wife awake with wide frightened eyes. Why is he doing this? Is he okay? I am burdened with the constant exhaustive alertness that comes with Google parenting: Does he have asthma? Does he have asthma because we found a cockroach in our kitchen yesterday? Does he have tuberculosis? Maybe he has cholera. Maybe he has leprosy. My internet brain leaps from one apocalyptic Wikipedia entry to the next with increasing intensity. Being a parent is hard.

My son likes plants for some reason; leaves in particular. Again it's a recent thing. When we walk past one he reaches his sticky, saliva-coated hand in its direction and starts breathing like a concentrated heart attack. I had the stupid idea of ripping a leaf off a tree and putting it inside the empty Coke bottle I rattled against the metal bars of the car seat.

'He'll love this,' I thought to myself.

Clunk-clunk-clunk.


The first time I saw Pikmin I did everything except wheeze and stretch a saliva-covered paw in its direction. It seemed as delicate and balanced as a sculpted miniature garden. The text instructions rattled past as the music chimed and clunked and charmed. I remember physically nodding as the game rules were explained. This little mini eco-system was beautiful, fully realised and, above all, designed.

An exquisite little garden with exquisite little rules.

But now when I think of Pikmin, I mostly think of my wife. We'd only been going out for three months when I forced a controller into her hand and said, "you'll love this". (I do this periodically in an attempt to make her love video games but I have a low strike rate. Pikmin will forever represent the one time I knocked it clean out of the park.) As she played, her scowl relaxed to a grimace then, eventually, a smile. Before long she played with the ferocity of a jealous toddler. She wouldn't share; held the controller like a tightened vice. Obsessed.

I can't wait until my son is old enough to play Pikmin for the first time. I think he'll love it.


"It's a strong connection," says Shigeru Miyamoto.

I've just explained to Miyamoto that when I first played Pikmin I was single and then, when Pikmin 2 was released, I was with my future wife and we played together. Now I am about to begin Pikmin 3 and we have a son. One. Two. Three. Pikmin has a similar progression. In the first game there was Olimar, just one Captain. Then there were two of the little dudes. Now there are three.

My wife and I played Pikmin 2's multiplayer mode together. We played and played and played till our brains were as frazzled as walnuts. Like a pair of disenfranchised hermits we developed our own language, made our own rules and then bent them out of shape. We evolved techniques, invented counter-techniques and outsmarted each other like mischievous chimpanzees. It brought us closer together. I have no doubt of that.

I tell Miyamoto this story. I tell Pikmin's creator that his game helped me convince a girl to fall in love with me.

He just shakes his head.

"It's good that you didn't start playing Bingo Battle with her for the first time with Pikmin 3," he laughs, "because you may not have gotten married!"

I think my relationship could take the strain of Pikmin 3's new competitive mode, but maybe I'll play it safe with the co-operative mode.


"People often say games will make you stupid," Miyamoto tells me. "So with Pikmin I wanted to make a game that would make people smart."

On sunny days my parents practically had to sweep me outdoors with a broomstick. 'Why are you in the house on that computer when it's a nice day outside'. I've heard a dozen different variants of that sentence and it never changed a single thing. I remain pale. I remain pasty. Video games always felt like something your parents didn't quite understand, but that was a good thing. Maybe the suggestion that the pixels dancing around your CRT made your brains leak from your lug-holes made the whole endeavour a little more exciting.

But it got me thinking: when was the last time video games felt dangerous? Not specific games or specific genres — there'll always be some 'murder simulator' hitting headlines — I'm talking about video games themselves — as a cumulative noun. By the time my little boy is old enough to feel peer pressure video games will feel as subversive as a worn out Rubik's cube. For our generation that'll feel like a good thing — it'll probably feel like validation — but it'll drain some of the appeal for our children I suspect.

The thing that'll rot our children's brains hasn't been invented yet. But we'll know it when we see it. It will scare the living shit out of us and we'll write letters in short hand saying so. It won't be Mario. It won't be Sonic the Hedgehog with his cool red trainers and it sure as hell won't be Pikmin.


Every father has the same weird fantasy.

I remember the moment I found out that the collection of cells gestating inside my wife would someday become a little boy who likes leaves but hates car seats. There was a split second of disappointment — I always imagined having a little girl — but that feeling left as quickly as it came.

'I cannot wait to show him Indiana Jones. He'll love it.'

And Star Wars and Back to the Future. I'll take my son climbing, I'll play football with him. My kid will be ripped.

Oh, and video games. That goes without saying. Video games.


My Dad likes bird-watching. He loves birds of prey. Five years ago he actually adopted a fucking real-life buzzard. It lives in my parents' backyard to this day. I vividly remember his last-ditch final effort to coax my brother and I into sharing his enthusiasm when we were kids.

It was a bird watching centre, two hours drive from our home. We didn't want to go. Obviously. We screamed and whined the entire trip. We whinged about how we hated birds, that they were boring. Oblivious to the fact that this was important to my Dad, like the little brats we were, we guffawed and laughed about how 'stupid' the entire trip was. For two hours.

Karma is gonna get me.

There is a copy of Pikmin 3 on my desk. When my son is, say, 10 years old I'm going to tap him on the shoulder, distracting him from the thing he is doing that I find utterly bewildering and maybe a little bit terrifying. I will be clutching that worn-out packaging. I'll have found it buried in a cardboard box beneath a pile of dusty old Blu-rays we no longer watch. It will be an act imbued with a history, with layers of meaning that he can't possibly comprehend but, somehow, I'll expect him to.

"He'll love this," I'll say to myself.

Unperturbed by my son's glassed-over gaze and confused expression, I'll unpack the Wii U. I'll spend an hour looking for the HDMI cable that's now obsolete and I'll plug it into a TV with a resolution so high it'll make 720p look like someone smeared a consistent veneer of Vaseline over the entire screen.

I'll make my son play with me. Or maybe I won't make him, he'll probably just feel obliged. He'll force a laugh to make the whole thing feel less awkward. I'll be old, set in my ways and lack any and all self awareness. I'll be beaming and my son will tolerate it. I'll smile through him.

He won't reach out gasping with sticky, saliva-drenched fingers. He'll be his own little human being with his own little stories. He won't remember the time I put a leaf inside an empty Coke bottle and rattled him to sleep in the car seat with a clunk-clunk-clunk.


Comments

    I'm not ready to be a parent yet.

    Although when that time hits, I'm bombarding whatever poor thing happens to be my spawn with so many childlike things I obsess over that something will have to stick. From my favourite movies to board games to Terry Pratchett - Where Is My Cow will be mandatory bedtime reading dammit.

    I'll try so hard to make my kids nerdy that they'll end up being sporting superstars just to rebel. I can't lose!

    Last edited 05/08/13 1:24 pm

      They'll play for the teams you don't support.

    So poetic. And the sense of generational progression in the article, well... almost brings a tear to my eye. Absolutely superb!

    I'm glad at least one gamer has a deeper connection with Pikmin than just the game itself - great to know. Times like this I have to double check I'm reading a video game website. So emotional... :)

    Last edited 05/08/13 1:34 pm

    My son had a go at Pikmin 3. He told me it was rubbish and went back to minecraft and CoD. Kids eh?

    Last edited 05/08/13 1:42 pm

    It's funny. As a kid you were always searching for your parents' approval for the things you did. Then when you have a kid of your own, you realise just how much you want to make them happy, and that a large part of this is gaining their approval of the things you do and show to them.

    For my son and I, this will definitely involve introducing seminal books, games, music and movies to him when the time is right. I can't imagine just how crushing the disappointment will be when he is inevitably underwhelmed by most of them. Still, if even a couple of them make an impact, it will surely be worth it.

    Same thing with football. I have probably spent the last 15 years thinking about how great it will be to take my kids with me to the football, to share the excitement with them. We're making steps in the right direction. At 2 and a half he likes watching it on TV, but cheers for the wrong team ("No Dad, yay sharks!"). He'd better get over that one quick-smart, otherwise he might be moving out of home sooner than originally planned...

    Last edited 05/08/13 1:28 pm

      At 2 and a half he likes watching it on TV, but cheers for the wrong team ("No Dad, yay sharks!").

      That would probably get them kicked out of the house for the rest of the afternoon if they said that about the Lions.

        It was already dark. And there were wolves out.

          And your backyard doesn't have any pointed sticks to fashion into a spear? What kind of household are you running?!

    I'm desperately trying not to think about that stuff, because I'm pretty sure my kids are going to hate everything that's interesting to me, just as I did with my parents. (In later years, I shared a lot of their TV and music interests, though, and they make up quite a high proportion of my fond memories with them.)

    I'm more interested in developing new interests alongside them - I think that's the more organic way to parent, and is better for my own personal experience anyway. If what I've experienced so far is any indication, the top-down approach is just asking for tears. Gonna try meeting them halfway.

    Yes, you may have guessed. All of the above indicates that I'm steeling myself against the moment when one of them (as a teen, or maybe pre-teen) picks up The Lesser Evil and flicks through it...

    Last edited 05/08/13 1:51 pm

    We missed you, you magnificent specimen.

    Don't forget to instill a love of reading in the child! Best gift my parents ever gave me. Apart from my actual existence, of course. Books are fucking rad. Vidja gaems too. Oh, and movies!

      Yeah, I hope my kid enjoys reading. Big part of my childhood that.

        I hope my daughter does Mark (she's 2), because my son sure doesn't. He might eventually grow into it, but being 12 already I suspect he just hasn't caught the bug (or games brainwashed him too early...eek!). It's a shame, because I think the written word still plays an essential part of growing up.

        ive got 2 kids 11months apart 2 and 3. I found if you want to get them interested in words never let them watch a movie without the subtitles on. They learnt to associate the word on the bottom with whats being said on screen. Like reading them a moving book.

    “People often say games will make you stupid,” Miyamoto tells me. “So with Pikmin I wanted to make a game that would make people smart.”
    I like this. Especially that it worked! Every time I totally nail a day, getting everyone to do their own thing and bring in all the fruit, totally smrt.

    Awesome piece as always, Mark.

    With my first on the way, this sums up exactly where my head is right now. thanks mark.

    this was a great read.
    base on how much my 17 month old daughter likes to play on the ipad i will be quite interested to see how "traditional" games are perceived by this generation of kids. I've noticed even with myself that the more free time i have the less i actually want to be playing games. it was always more fun when you weren't meant to be playing them. hell i got my highest ever tetris score on my TI-83 during the TEE science exam.

    i also wonder if retro will still be accurate or if it will simply be prehistoric instead.
    i know know when i got back to the n64 era some of it is positively painful. i cant imagine what that will be like in 5-10 years time.

    either way i intend to instill appreciation but we will see how it goes. at the moment she just wants to be doing whatever we are.

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