The Moment My Son Played A Video Game For The First Time

My son is two years old and lives for three things: Balls, Dragons and Mario.

The whole ball thing? I think he was born to that. He’s been kicking soccer balls since before he could walk. Everyone in my family plays soccer, on all sides. We’re pretty good at it. That’s genetic. Dragons? I guess I let him watch How To Train Your Dragon one too many times. The only way I can get him to eat his dinner is by singing the theme music and pretending the fork is a dragon flying towards his mouth. Parenting is hard.

The Mario thing? That was an accident waiting to happen.

It came from desperation. I was playing Destiny while my son walked around and my wife — quite rightly — objected. Okey-dokey. Probably shouldn’t play a game about shooting sentient beings in front of a developing mind. I’ll wear that.

I chucked on Super Smash Bros.

“These people are punching each other!”

Another objection. Still don’t know if I agree with that one, but it’s not ground I’m prepared to stand and die on.

What the hell can I play while my son is around?

No-one seemed to object to New Super Mario Bros. U — despite the hellfire and destruction Mario reigns upon the poor, long-suffering Koopa-clan, my wife was fine with me playing Mario in front of our son. Perfect. Let’s get down to Koopa-murdering business.

But something strange occurred while I was busy ruthlessly jumping on the heads of my enemies: my son had wandered over. He had clambered atop our sofa, his eyes glued to the TV (or Tee-Dee in my son's parlance). He sat next to me and, for the next 15 minutes was absolutely content to simply watch me playing New Super Mario Bros. U.

I couldn’t (and still don’t) understand. What could possibly be interesting about watching me play a video game? What is going on in that little mind? What makes this more interesting than Jimmy Giggles or Peppa Pig or any of the other shows I’ve learned to know and tolerate over the last 18 months?

Slowly he learned to communicate his excitement...


I died for some reason.


That’s what he calls Bowser.


That’s what he normally says when I head-bop Bowser to a fiery, lava-induced oblivion.


That’s during his inevitable resurrection as Mega-Bowser.


I did it.

Monday through Wednesday, every week, I pick my son up from daycare at around 5pm. I sling him onto my shoulders and we walk home. As soon as the door closes behind us:


Oh, alright then. If we must.


I taught him that. It’s adorable.

Given the nature of my job, and the fact that video games will most likely always be a major fixture in my son’s life, I’ve often wondered how he would respond to games and — conversely — how I would respond when he started responding. A large part of me believed that my son would take games for granted to the point where he would be disinterested in them. A large part of me hoped that would happen.

At the moment I’m not sure what’s happening but I think what’s important is that we’re already learning to share something as father and son. That makes me happy.

Yesterday, whilst playing (we’ve moved on to Super Mario 3D World) I had to nip to the bathroom. I came back to a surprise: my 24 month-old bolt upright, GamePad in hand, doing his absolute best to wrap his tiny fingers around the controller, struggling with his little left thumb, stretched to its limit on the analogue stick. He had been navigating Mario around the overworld whilst I was taking a whizz.

“Give the controller back to Daddy,” I said.

He looked at me. He raised the controller above his head in an attempt to protect it.


It has begun.


    Haha! Amazing! I feel oddly jealous of all the experiences new parents have bonding with their kids! :D

    In ten years time, he will beat you in the current iteration of Smash Bros and then you will know that you have succeeded as a parent and that your true purpose in life has been fulfilled.

    Also, keep your precious spawn away from that Peppa Pig crap. She-devil disguised as a spit roast.

    My kids LOVE watching Mario Kart 8 in action. They can't get enough of it. I let them pick the courses, and they cheer when I win. It's AWESOME :)

    My two-year-old boy has seen a poster for Dark Souls in my den, and keeps asking me to play the game where I "hit monnkers with swords," but I haven't relented yet.

    Last edited 30/01/15 12:25 pm

      Yes Mario Kart is well loved here too. "WIIIIIN" is called out at the end of every race. Not dependent on winning. Haha.

    My son is almost 2.5
    In our house Mario's name is "Ario kart".
    And he totally knows who Link is. I can show him Toon Link, Child Link, Adult Link. Can't be fooled! So proud.

    It could be just me, but does anyone else want a sound clip of Serrels saying "lets-a-go"?

    I've played through New Super Mario Bros Wii and Wii U with my daughter when she was 3. And then recently we completed Super Mario 3D World while she was 4 (she just turned 5). Those games are AMAZING to play with your kids. They cater to such a range of skill levels, from barely being able to move and jump at the same time, to wall jumping acrobatics. The fact that you can pick up your kid and give them a shoulder ride in those games is brilliant to help them over hard jumps, or if it's really hard they can go in a bubble and float along through the tough bits. Love those games, playing through them with my daughter will remain my fondest gaming memory for all time I imagine.

    The one caveat I have is Champion's Road, the very last level of Super Mario 3D World. We've 100%ed the game, gotten every collectible and beaten every level with every character... all up to that last level. The difficulty ramps up so much higher than the rest of the game that we still can't get through it, and it frustrates her no end. :)

    I taught him that. It’s adorable.
    Father of the year.

    Last edited 30/01/15 12:34 pm

    My son is 2.5. I think he first picked up a controller when he was about 1.5... I had to move away from more violent games when he was about that age as when I got my neck bitten in The Last of Us, he decided to copy and jumped me whilst on the couch. Amusing.

    He's actually pretty good at Mario Kart now. In battle mode I've seen him get as high as a 9.

    When he feels like watching games, it's currently either demands for Trials (Daddy play motorbike) or, as of earlier this week, Grim Fandango (Daddy play Manny story). Such demands occur as early as 4am. Such is parenthood.

    If he doesn't want me to play anything else it's "no, that one too hard".

    Two years old...already sick of the Destiny grind. Smart kid.

    Do all my gaming after my boy goes to sleep.

    My wife is convinced I'll inspire him to form a terrible game habit & ruin his life even though he can't sit down for much longer than a movie.

      I've been playing video games since I was a kid and I turned out fine.

      *looks in mirror*


      Prob end up with a job at Kotaku.

        Excellent. Then all the articles can be Serrels articles.

      This is mostly how I roll, too, but the kids have accidentally interrupted some Mario Karting in the past, and now like to watch it from time to time.

      I bet he could sit longer playing a game than a movie.

        He could do anything. But unless he's sick, he'd get up & do something else.

        I was the same at his age. Actually, I was worse.
        He sits through entire movies at the cinema with minimal fidgeting.
        I used to be climbing the seats by the halfway point, was escorted out a few times by mum.

    I think this is very appropriate:

      Haha, first thing I think when he pops up on screen is "holy crap he so looks like you".

      Or at least my vague recollection, anyway :P

    My 4 year old girl found Bowser scary. I needed to stop playing if I thought a Bowser fight was coming up.

    Not sure if she still holds that opinion as she's now seen him in Mario Kart and Smash Bros, but at least at the time, she didn't like him one bit. Same goes for the final Walrus boss in DKC: Tropical Freeze.

    Last edited 30/01/15 1:37 pm

    You've just sold another WIi U (I have a 3.5 year old son). Make sure you ask Nintendo for your commission.

    I get your concern around loss of access to the controller, however, in between work and looking after the kids (I also have a 12 month old daughter) there is pretty much zero time for gaming for me anyway. I may not be able to progress in Destiny (stuck on level 6 due to said zero gaming time) but at least I'd be able to play some quality games and, as an added bonus, do it with my son (and my daughter when she's old enough). I might even be able to rope my non-gaming partner in with Mario Kart 8.

    Kudos to him for imitating thumb on thumbstick, my son for years had the habit of pinching the stick with thumb and index finger, and he had a struggle period kicking the habit. Kind of curious about this bit though...

    A large part of me believed that my son would take games for granted to the point where he would be disinterested in them. A large part of me hoped that would happen.

    Wonder why you would hope for that? So he doesnt get too caught up in them I guess? Sadly in my experience it became more a case of being spoilt for choice, found it hard to get him out of the habit of wanting something new constantly and appreciating what we already had.

      The last part really -- we'll always have the newest stuff in our house from the minute it's released, sometimes before. I don't want him to be spoiled! Also -- I didn't grow up doing nothing but playing video games. I really want to make sure my son has balance in his life. That might be difficult when games are going to be EVERYWHERE!

      But that's where I come in I guess. Parents have to set those boundaries.

        Yeah you're definitely right, I regret not having the self discipline to keep his game access limited. I felt like I was giving my son more, but it had its repercussions. In a weird way, only having one or two games a year when I was a kid made me appreciate them (and looking back now, my mum) way more.

    I look forward to the day that my little girl can start wrapping her hands around a controller and join in on my hobby.

    As a father of a 6 month old boy I can't wait for the day when I get to whoop his little asse at mario kart or smash bros

    Can't. Handle. The. Cute.

    /heart explodes.

    im still on the fence about letting my 2 year old daughter play video games. we already notice a big change in her behaviour when she watches tv during the day, so we've had to limit her down to just playschool once or twice a day, if that.

    as someone who turned to video games when i was 4 to escape the emotional pain of my parents divorce. its always been a crutch in my life, for some good, but mostly bad, its my escape, which isnt healthy. im damn good at games too, and that fuels some of my self worth. i dont want my daughter to go down that same path of using it as an escape tool.

    ill wait till shes older.

      Out of curiosity, what change did you notice that made you cut her hours down?

        she would start getting very irritable, wouldnt listen to instructions that she normally did. extra moodiness. would get frustrated a lot quicker. she has a tell, where she sucks her thumb and holds her hair when she is in a state of uncertainty or insecurity. but with playschool, she actually stands up and joins in singing and dancing and doesnt exhibit the behaviours we consider to be undesirable.

        we have also done some reading about the effects of tv on un-developed brains. a lot of places we read about suggested not exposing children to tv before the age of 2 as when they are watching tv, i believe it alters there alpha brain waves which has an effect on behaviour and learning and such. i cant remember the exact details, its been a while since we did some research on it.

        i also realise some of the behaviour stuff we are seeing is just her growing up and testing boundaries also, but we noticed big improvements when cutting down the television/screen time.

        Last edited 02/02/15 10:48 am

          Thanks for getting back to me! It must feel very conflicting where on one hand you can't wait to share your hobby with your child, but on the other hand it could have unintended negative effects on brain development.

            its not too bad, id rather her pursue other hobbies like some type of sport. ill teach her about computers when she needs to know about them.
            although, somehow she worked out how to enable the tv remote setting on my WiiU controller yesterday and changed the channel and the volume (and ive never used my WiiU while she has been awake or in the room). not sure whether to be scared or impressed. ha ha ha

    My little one, when she was a little one used to love watching me play 'A-Zelda' Wind Waker. She sat happily on my lap as we mapped the world and I translated the text. One day I came into the room and she had penned a sea chart on her arm, bristling with sea monsters and boats and islands. It was a sleeve any pirate would have been proud to have tattooed and I was proud to have influenced. Hup!

    Nice read Mark.. I recently had a boy turned 1 month last week and I was thinking just the other day when the time will be when he'll be nagging me to play the latest Lego batman or something similar instead of me nagging my wife which she replies all you will do is tell me off for dying all the time.. I know its a few years away but i'm looking forward to it.

    Aren't kids funny? I don't have any of my own, but my nieces and nephews (especially the nephews) have become pretty passionate gamers from playing video games with me. The weirdest part? It all began with Mega Man. My nephews, aged 2 and 4 at the time, were watching me play Mega Man 9 which had just recently come out on Wii. I didn't ask or tell them to watch, I was just playing, and they were enthralled. Suddenly they were asking me all sorts of questions about Mega Man every time they saw me, wanting to know all the bosses from every game, eventually inventing their own robot masters as well (which is so awesome, because that's what I used to do!)

    Once they got their own Wii I gifted the whole Mega Man set to them, and they've played every one religiously. I have to agree with Mark, the recent multiplayer Mario games are absolute must-plays for anyone with access to kids. It's not only a fun (and G-rated!) gaming experience for them, but it's a really great bonding experience as well.

    "My son is two years old and lives for three things: Balls, Dragons and Mario."

    So, uh.... Dragon Ball?

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