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.
“Dinosaur GONE. BYE-BYE DINOSAUR!”
That’s what he normally says when I head-bop Bowser to a fiery, lava-induced oblivion.
“BIG DINOSAUR SCARY!”
That’s during his inevitable resurrection as Mega-Bowser.
“YOU DID IT!”
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:
“WANT TEE-DEE. WANT MAH-REEOO.”
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.