Fatherhood has completely transformed my relationship with video games. If you have kids of your own, I'm sure you can relate.
For one, I have less time to play them. That's almost a given. Before kids I could legitimately come home and be playing a video game — any video game I choose — within minutes of arriving.
Now conditions have to be right.
The kids have to be asleep. And if they're not asleep I have to play something suitable for kids to be watching. If they're watching I have to be careful not to play for too long because well... that sets a bad example right? And kids shouldn't be sitting dead-eyed in front of a television for too long... right?
Truth is I'm not too sure, but if you have kids you'll understand the quandary, and most likely you're gonna want to err on the side of caution.
Long story short, over the past couple of years I've been playing a lot of Nintendo games. I've been playing a lot of Super Mario 3D World.
First my son watched. He was around two-years-old at this point. Then he started requesting it. "DADDY WANT MAH-REEO". Soon he figured out I was controlling 'MAH-REEO' with this strange hunk of plastic. Soon he wanted to play himself. That's when the fun began.
If by 'fun' you mean intense, furious frustration.
Kids are so stupid.
First he couldn't really move. Then he figured that out. Then he couldn't jump. Then he could jump but he couldn't move and jump and the same time. Then he figured out how to move and jump at the same time, but used this knowledge for evil by running straight forward and leaping off the edge of every nearby cliff like some demented lemming. It was extremely difficult to watch.
I tried teaching, but it was a tough one. He didn't seem to really listen so I just left it. We occasionally played together, but I didn't really push the issue. He's more of a physical, almost kill himself on his scooter kind of kid anyway.
But then something strange happened. When I was in the office, and my wife was home alone with the kids, she'd often let our now three-year-old play Mario for 30 minutes of so, while she hung up laundry or answered emails. He was completely unattended during these periods, didn't have Dad barking instructions over his shoulder or sighing outwardly every time he ran headfirst into a mushroom. He was free to engage with Super Mario 3D World as he saw fit.
Then one Saturday morning I woke up a little later than normal. My son had said 'WAKE UP DADDY' but I must have swatted him away for an extra 30 minutes in bed. I stumbled downstairs and my son was already on the Wii U, playing on the GamePad screen. He was playing Super Mario 3D World of course.
I was honestly shocked by what I saw. The last time I watched him play Super Mario 3D World he was struggling to jump and move at the same time. I had to be around to push the shoulder buttons so he could go down pipes. "DADDY I CAN'T DO IT".
Now he was completing levels by himself. Now he was zipping into world 3 and world 4, completely competent and able to finish increasingly difficult levels. He had learnt how to do this completely independent of my instruction. He didn't need me to tell him where to go or what to do. He had endured, and figured this out, all by himself.
I was utterly bemused.
I thought about what it must have taken to get to this point. The sustained effort it must have taken to get from point A to point B. When I last played Super Mario 3D World with my son, he could barely complete the very first level without my help. Now he had an implicit grasp of complicated movements and game mechanics. The amount of failure, repetition and learning he must have gone through to get this far — almost unimaginable. Yet he had done that in the month or two since we last played.
Children are incredible. Not just my own three-year-old — all children. My son is not an exception, he's hardly a savant. Luke Plunkett from Kotaku US has a son the same age as mine — he's been playing (and completing) the ridiculously difficult Rosalina levels in Super Mario 3D World. My friend Lance E MacDonald has a three year old daughter that plays Portal.
"I DID IT BY MYSELF," is a phrase my son usually shouts out loud whenever he finishes a Super Mario 3D World level.
Yes you did you clever little bastard. Yes you did.