“The buttons are too complicated nowadays.”
-My dad, on why he doesn’t play games as much anymore.
(Read part one of this two-part series here.)
As my father’s gotten older and games have become more complicated, he has gamed less and less. I think the last game he devoted any sizable amount of time into was Icewind Dale in the early 2000s. The 2000s were my formative years, and thinking back, even I can see the progress and leaps made by technology compared to the consoles and games I grew up with. Gone were the games where combat would pause, a list of options would present itself, and a player would choose one with a single button-press. Games transitioned towards complexity and depth. The progress was, of course, great for gaming. The entire medium shifted to involve games with far more depth, varied gameplay options, and skill requirements. The tradeoff? Complexity, for better or worse.
Complexity and the requirements of life, as well. My father has always been a hard worker – he’s the source of my work ethic – and work always came first for him. With a wife and two teenage sons to provide for, my dad made sure to keep work his top priority, so free time tapered out. The need for rest, relaxation, and a focus on his other hobbies also took precedence, which probably wasn’t helped by games’ required time commitment.
His interest in gaming never faded, though. Dad made sure to keep his subscriptions to a few different game magazines. Every time he saw a game he thought I’d like, he’d drop a hint: “Danny, this game looks good. Come take a look.” I’d walk over and he’d show me the screenshots, then offer me the magazine. “Here, read about it, it looks right up your alley.” Some of his suggestions I did indeed take; others were of games I already tried, or that didn’t quite interest me as much as he thought they would. It almost seemed as if dad wanted to vicariously play games through my brother and me; he was fond of watching us play, whether it was Battlefield 1942 or World of Warcraft.
Dad always loved watching my brother and I play games, no matter the game. He would watch my brother playing Morrowind on the Xbox; he even played the game himself for awhile, though I think work and time took him away from that, as well. I transitioned more to PC gaming around this time, with my brother maintaining his preference for consoles. I also became heavily invested in World of Warcraft (which sucked far too much time out of my life). My dad would come over and watch (except during raids – he knew it wasn’t smart to watch me raid; I had dragons to slay, afterall!) and remark on the environments. He particularly loved the snow-filled zones; he’s always loved mountain and winter scenes. For awhile, he seemed truly amazed that I was playing with real people all coordinating and playing together, or jumping through a city . . . or killing me. Looking back, I don’t think something like massively multiplayer was ever considered a possible reality by people who grew up playing Pong. Where I took a thing like an MMORPG for granted, my dad was amazed there were literally thousands of real people representing all the characters around me.
The TV and consoles were set up in the living room where my father spent most of his downtime after work and where my brother played his games. He and my dad split their free time between the two of them; my dad would watch the news for awhile, and then tell Josh he could game when the news either became too sickening or dull for dad to handle. To be honest, I don’t know how my brother managed with dad watching his every move. Dad would (and still does) offer advice to my brother while he played. “Josh, how didn’t you see that guy hiding in the bush over there?” “Oh come on, how’d that guy snipe you? You were behind a wall!” Then again, I’ve never been one to deal well with “backseat drivers.” But my brother and dad were like a gaming duo, Josh actually playing the game and dad offering words of encouragement, remarks on the game, and, yes, sometimes cracking a joke at Josh’s expense.
I would sometimes walk by and say something inflammatory to get the both of them to argue a little. Eventually they labelled me – rightfully so – as a troll.
Imagine my surprise this past summer when my dad bought Dark Souls III. For awhile, he tried – unsuccessfully – to get me to play the game myself. He would show me articles and reviews, but I’d always tell him no. Unlike him, I understood how frustrating and anger-inducing Dark Souls games could be. I’m not the type of person capable of playing a game like that. While my nerd rage has diminished slightly in the past few years as I’ve learned to not get so angry at a game, Dark Souls would definitely have me raging. For the most part, I moved onto more casual, slower-paced games like Cities: Skylines.
Dad didn’t heed my warnings about the playstyle of Dark Souls. This past summer, he found it on sale and bought it. On one hand, I was excited at the prospect of dad gaming again. It would be fun to see him play through a game and see for himself how far along games have come. Dark Souls III wasn’t the best choice to return to gaming, though. Despite warnings from even my brother, dad fired Dark Souls III up and my brother and me waited with bated breath.
I have deep, deep regret for not filming dad’s attempt at playing Dark Souls III. Witnessing it showed me where my nerd rage came from, though. Like father, like son, I suppose. The difference between my dad and I, though, is his persistence. Watching him try to play Dark Souls made it apparent that he’s a glutton for punishment. Where I would have quit a few tries in, dad kept on trying. And trying. And dying. And trying. My brother and I were equal parts entertained and terrified.
Like I said, Dark Souls III isn’t the type of game to start playing after not gaming for years.
That seemed to be the end of dad’s reemergence into the gaming world. I figured he was relegated to watching my brother play Battlefield 1 or The Witcher 3. And then an idea struck.
My parents are notoriously difficult to buy gifts for. They both work at intensive jobs that leave them tired at the end of the day, so they have little time or energy for many hobbies. My dad loves doing yard work and home improvement, but those can lead to expensive requirements in the form of tools and materials, or become excessive timesinks (especially considering our house was built in the early 30s, so when one thing doesn’t go according to plan…).
As part of my father’s Christmas present for this year, I bought him a gift card to Tractor Supply Co. He loves the store and I know he could use the card toward something larger he would save up for. But I didn’t want a gift card to be the only present I got him; gift cards are awesome (and I prefer them), but they’re not that much fun to give. On December 23rd (I know, I know…), my brother and I set off to finish our Christmas shopping. Between shopping for my mom and dad, Josh and I set foot into seven or eight stores, with a frightening foray into Bath and Body Works in hopes of getting my mom a gift there. After finding nothing worthy of getting dad, and resigned to probably getting him another gift card or two, we stopped into Gamestop near the exit of the plaza.
I knew that Josh already bought dad the “remastered” Skyrim for Xbox One, but in browsing the shelves of Gamestop, my eyes fell upon a familiar sight: Diablo III.
In part one I talked of my father’s love of the original Diablo. I know the gameplay of Diablo is relatively simple; there’s not dozens of buttons like in World of Warcraft, another offering from Blizzard, creators of Diablo, nor is there the type of aggravation he experienced from Dark Souls III. A couple of years ago I watched Penny Arcade play Diablo 3 so as a result, I knew what the layout of the console offering of the game looked like and felt. Holding the game in my hands at Gamestop, my brother and I had a little discussion. Dad’s very staunchly religious; is Diablo something he’d still be interested in playing all these years later, and would it be alright to get him a game like that for Christmas, of all holidays? We both decided that he’d be perfectly fine with getting Diablo 3 for Christmas, and so the purchase was made. (We also bought him Dragon Age: Inquisition. He is yet to play it, so I unfortunately can’t report on how he fared playing it.)
I was a little nervous that all dad was getting for Christmas was video games, considering how long it had been since he had last played with any commitment (and taking his Dark Souls III experience into account). But Christmas came and he was surprised and excited at the prospect of playing some new games, and with our explanation for the types of games we chose for him: games with fairly simple controls, without too many complex mechanics, and with an easy-to-understand interface.
He finished Diablo 3 two days ago. While he had a couple of issues with remembering button combinations and how to access certain areas of the interface, which I attribute to how long since he’s last played any game seriously, he seemed to really enjoy playing the game. I will have to ask him for sure, but I don’t think dad’s character ever died, and the only time he seemed frustrated was in the beginning. In the game, your character has a choice between three characters to serve as your “follower,” a character that follows you throughout the game that assists you with killing monsters and beating bosses by providing damage and buffs. The first follower players obtain is a templar, a warrior that fights within melee range with a weapon and shield. When he first obtained the templar follower, my dad got annoyed with how closely he followed my dad’s character, causing him to get confused as to which character was his and which direction he was facing or moving. He eventually became accustomed to having a follower and even ended up liking the templar by the time he beat the game.
I was impressed by how well my father managed playing the game, though. With just a few hiccups, he managed to figure out the gameplay and game menus quickly and only needed a few suggestions from my brother or me at the very start of the game: quick hints such as how to assign himself newly-acquired skills or give his follower gear. I was surprised by how quickly he managed to pick up how to play the game; despite all his years of not playing games, Diablo 3 awoke the gamer within him. Dad came home from work, watched just enough of the news to be sickened and annoyed by it, and fired up Diablo 3. Both my brother and myself enjoyed watching him play the game; it was a sight neither of us had seen for awhile, and it was fun to share in an activity we all enjoyed.
Watching dad play Diablo 3 reminded me of that time all those years ago, to a simpler time, to an apartment in North Providence where I was sitting next to my dad with a controller in my hands. The cord was unplugged and I was ineffectively pressing the buttons, but I believed I was playing the game with him. Looking back at that time now, over 20 years later, makes me truly appreciate the effort my dad took in sharing his hobby with me. He could have easily told me to go play with my toys or any number of different things, but he took the time to explain the game to a boy who probably didn’t understand it at the time, and to share that hobby with him.
Those are the kinds of special moments and memories gaming can create and why I’ll always be a gamer. Those memories are also part of why I’ll always be so thankful I’ve had the opportunity to grow up with a father who loved me as much as mine has.
I’m not a father yet, but one day when I am, I fully intend on sharing my gaming time with my children. Gaming is so much more than a waste of time: it can create experiences, memories, and opportunities, especially when those experiences and memories are shared by parents as loving as I’ve had.
What are some times in your life that you’ve shared your love of gaming with someone? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter!