October 14, 2015

Spam Spam Spam Humbug 23 - The Gamer Parent (And Thanks, Audience!)

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WtFD muses about the task of introducing his kids to computer games. Also, Spam Spam Spam Humbug crossed the 100,000 listens threshold this week, so thank you for listening.

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Intro

Ultima VI Gates of Creation by OC ReMix

New Patrons & Shout-Outs

A big thanks to Neil, who recently adjusted (upward, just so we're clear) his Patreon pledge in support of the Ultima Codex.

And I'd like to give a big, admittedly self-serving shout-out to the new podcast I just launched, Scouting Stuff You Should Know. We're only on the first episode right now; we'll be recording the second next week. Mostly, it's a chance for me to sit down and chat about Scouting — I'm kind of a big proponent of the Scouting movement, having been a youth participant therein for twenty years or so, and having been a leader for a further five years — with...well, the first episode features me and my good friend Colin, and also Brian Martin. Which makes it something of a trans-border podcast; Colin and I are involved with Scouts Canada, whereas Brian is involved with the Boy Scouts of America.

(Yes, that Brian Martin.)

And finally, and somewhat cheesily, here's a big shout-out to all of you who listen to the podcast. We just crossed 100,000 listens on Podbean, which is no trivial thing, and it's really great that you all continue to offer us your support and attention. The others aren't here this week, but I'm pretty sure I can say “thank you” on their behalf. So, thank you. 

New Followers & Ultima Dragons

Podbean: The Critical Mass Podcast, megadido, Toby Shaw, lyriclisteners

UDIC.org: Empyreal, Summer, Bitoku Kishi, ianoid, Agnostic, Deadbeat

Facebook: Jonathan, Cait, Charles, Matt, Lucy, Heiko, Donner, Sheri Graner Ray, Halldör, David (welcome back), and Zoltan...or Paul, maybe.

Podcast Topic(s)

Weirdly, for me, I actually find I agree with at least one entire paragraph in a Kotaku article: The Gamer Parent's Dilemma by Chris Suellentrop. The paragraph in question reads thusly:

We are the first generation of parents who grew up playing video games, which makes us the first moms and dads to possess the wisdom to guide our children through the world of PlayStation, Steam, Nintendo, and the like rather than the desire to merely abandon them to it. We are tasked with figuring this out for ourselves. It’s our job—our responsibility—to establish some traditions.

Now, for his part, Suellentrop bemoans what he describes as his “misspent youth” during which time he “uncritically gobbled up whatever tripe was served” to him, at least as far as video games go. I can't personally relate to that; I've spoken before on the podcast (I think), and on the Ultima Codex (for sure), about my own formation as a gamer. This process was, for the most part, shepherded by my grandfather and tolerated (at best) by my parents, and the first few games I was ever introduced to were (in roughly this order): Winnie the Pooh in the Hundred Acre Wood, Mixed-Up Mother Goose, Ultima 6, Hero's Quest (later Quest for Glory 1), and Commander Keen. Oh, and Word Rescue, Island of Dr. Brain, King's Quest 6, and Eagle-Eye Mysteries. You'll note that these are mostly PC games. True, one of my uncles owned an Atari console, and one of my friends had a Nintendo Entertainment System, and I did play occasionally on these. But for the most part, I grew up playing games on PC...and then very good games.

Until recently, I would have counted myself in total agreement with a couple more paragraphs in Suellentrop's article: 

When it comes to reading with your kids, there’s a well-trod path to follow, from board books to Sandra Boynton and Dr. Seuss to Judy Blume and C.S. Lewis. Music and television similarly overflow with possibilities. Non-digital forms of play have obvious go-to options, too—a skill tree that has served us well for decades. Where is the video game version ofCandy Land, which is essentially a game designed to teach kids how to play a board game? Of The Cat in the Hat? Of Sesame Street? Of “Old MacDonald Had a Farm”?

One thing I won’t do: Take the bananas approach prescribed by Andy Baio in Medium for his son. He methodically required his offspring to play through each generation of video games as he experienced them, in chronological order, from the arcade age to Atari to Nintendo (Famicom to Super to 64 and beyond) to Sega and Sony and Microsoft.

There’s a certain logic to wanting to start at the beginning. It’s more difficult for a kindergartener to manipulate a gamepad than it was for me to use its training-wheels equivalent, an Atari joystick.

Just because of e.g. personality types, we've had to enforce some pretty strict limits on “screen time” with the kids, and most of the games they've been introduced to are on the modern side. My eldest is now (probably) ready for Winnie the Pooh in the Hundred Acre Wood, which actually has a pretty steep reading requirement. And I've tried introducing her to it a couple of times, in fact...but it doesn't really click with her. Nor can I blame her for that; when you're used to playing modern, colourful games with a crisp audio and lots of interactivity:

eden-ios.jpg

...it's difficult to grok a game that's very static in its presentation, throws paragraphs of text at you, and has about four colours in total:

winnie-the-pooh-in-the-hundred-acre-wood

That isn't to say that my wife and I haven't tried to curate the games the girls are exposed to. They still play the heck out of Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse (the 2013 remake) on my wife's laptop, and in fact she played it through with them the first time around. And they really dig the iOS games that Toca Boca puts out (some of which, I have to admit, I greatly enjoy as well). Even the youngest, just over two years old, will happily throw together a jam session in Toca Band and then dance around the living room to the music. I did introduce them to the VGA remake of Mixed-Up Mother Goose, which they also enjoy greatly, but outside of that I haven't done much with introducing them to older games...games I grew up with.

Of course, I'm rethinking that now, in light of a couple recent events. The first took place when we took the kids out to Moose Lake (how Canadian is that?), where my wife's uncle volunteers his summers at a Ukrainian Orthodox Church youth camp. He sets up a big trailer there for the entirety of the season, and mostly volunteers with cooking-related tasks (which means lots of tasty treats from a wood-fired oven for his guests). And for the last couple of summers, we've headed out there and spent a weekend enjoying some time at the lake...and at the camp (my kids love the obstacle course there).

This year, though, the weather was a bit inclement, so we spent at least part of one afternoon in the trailer playing games. Card games, board games...and then my wife's uncle hauled out his Jakks Pacific Pac-Man retro arcade TV game. I don't know if that's what it's called, exactly, but that's still a decent enough description; it's this little box that basically has a joystick and two buttons; you hook it up to a television, and you can play about a dozen different Namco Bandai classic video games.

Which my kids just ate up, Pac-Man especially. And Bosconian.

And then, a couple of weeks back, I was working on one of the computers at home and my eldest asked me what one of the icons — Commander Keen — was. So, I showed her...and since then, she has asked to play it at least once every few days. I really should indulge her curiosity at some point, because she's not unfamiliar with platformers. Although I daresay that learning to grasp how Commander Keen handles (which, let's be reasonable, is wonky as all get out) is very different from learning how to handle the (much smoother and more refined) controls of Mega Run.

So when I put together a small PC for the living room — we had previously set up a space for my wife to dock her laptop, but she doesn't really do that anymore — I made sure to load it up with a few old games. Not Commander Keen, though; I think I might start them with Word Rescue, which is somewhat similar in design and handling...and does a bit of light literacy teaching.

At the same time, I don't think I'm going to go full Andy Baio (although I am contemplating getting one of those Jakks boxes). I continue to curate games — for PC and mobile alike — that are age appropriate for them, and probably I'll try to present them with a mix of new and old games. Not the Ultima games just yet, though; I figure if I can step my eldest into that by about age eight, that should be just right.

Of course, I'll be starting her on Ultima 6. Because why wouldn't I?

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Ultima VI Gates of Creation by OC ReMix

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