I remember it through glassy eyes. Christmas morning I woke up, 20 years old. Hungover.
To my Dad, as we opened presents: "whatever happened to magic of Christmas?"
"It'll come back," he replied. "When you have kids."
An egocentric hungover 20-year-old with bad skin and a chip on his shoulder, I couldn't really comprehend getting excited about someone else's enjoyment of Christmas, but fast forward to 2017 and 35-year-old Mark understands completely. Christmas might never be the visceral blur of wrapping paper and Thundercats figures it was in my youth, but you do get to relive that hysteria and it is infectious.
I didn't expect the same thing to happen with my video games.
As I watched my four year old take his first precarious steps in Breath of the Wild over the weekend I realised something: with kids I get to experience my favourite video games twice. First, through my own eyes. Secondly, vicariously through my children. Both are rewarding in their own unique way.
My son is now four. Unfortunately for me, he loves video games. Unfortunate because he talks about them constantly. Unfortunate because it's always the thing he'd most rather be doing. Chip off the old block. At first playing games with my son was frustrating — for both him and me. There are very few good games for kids, particularly on console, but it's mostly a wasteland. We've played a lot of Super Mario 3D World. Flirted with games like LittleBigPlanet and Unravel. My son frequently asks to play "Car Game" (Rocket League) and has taken a weird liking to Yooka-Laylee.
Right now all he cares about is Zelda.
Zelda's a stretch for a four year old, on a number of levels. At night, when the skeletons come out, it can get a bit scary (I'll be making a tea and he'll come hurtling round the corner, controller in hand, screaming "DADDY GET THE SKELETONS FOR ME"). But there's a lot going on there from a control standpoint. This is a first for my son in so many ways: first time maneuvering a third person camera, first time managing weapons, first time dealing with an inventory system. It's a grand leap from mindlessly jumping from level to level in Super Mario 3D World.
Like always, kids surprise you with how adept they become — and how quickly. After a couple of frustrating moments teaching my son how to switch shields, I left to do some quick chores. 10 minutes later I returned to find him freely switching between swords to protect his 'favourites'. I asked for a quick go and switched to his beloved 'Traveller's Sword'. "No daddy," he implored. "You'll break it."
Mindblowing how quickly children learn to implicitly understand complicated systems.
It's also incredible to watch. Your children: they retread footsteps you've already taken but the prints feel fresh, as though you made them yourself. How powerful is that? To watch them learn, play and take such a pure joy in connecting with these games you also loved.
A few years back I was lucky enough to interview Shigeru Miyamoto, for a story I was writing about Ocarina of Time. I asked him what he remembered most about Ocarina, how it impacted him on a personal level.
He mentioned his son who was a little older, in the upper grades of elementary school, when Ocarina was released. But his daughter was younger.
"It was the first game that my daughter sat down and played a lot of, and as a result of that she became a really big Zelda fan," explained Miyamoto,
"I remember Ocarina of Time as the game that allowed my daughter and I to start having a lot of conversations about video games."
I wonder how many conversations about video games have started just like this.
With Breath of the Wild my own conversation has just begun.