April 26, 2009

Domestic Terminal

Earlier this year, I'm tired and sprawled out in an airport lounge waiting for a plane to take me home. Sitting nearby is a young boy who's intensely focused on the DS game that he's playing. What first gets my attention is that whatever game this is, it uses the generic "video game" sound effects that appear in every movie and TV show.

The second thing is that the kid's mother, who looks to be in her early thirties, is watching the game over his shoulder. She frequently asks him about what each enemy and power-up does. She offers suggestions about what powers her son should deploy to take care of a monster. What quickly becomes apparent about this woman is that she is really trying. Video games are not native to her, and she is learning a second language to better communicate with her son -- who, for the entire duration of this scene, never actually says a word.

I can relate to the experience of being raised primarily by a single parent, but not one that took any interest in the games that I was playing. Where I grew up, everybody over the age of thirteen seemed to consider video games a passing (and entirely incomprehensible) adolescent distraction. Nobody thought people would build their careers around video games or attend video game conferences and deliver lectures about intentionality versus improvisation, readability or iterative level design. Even us thirteen-year-olds didn't really think that stuff happened. We all ended up very surprised.

What if my parents had understood video games like I did? Would I have been able to connect with them on a deeper level, or was I actually glad to have games all to myself and my generation? If they had tried to involve themselves like this single mother in the airport, would I have bristled at the interference and ultimately not enjoyed games so much?

I don't remember that far back, but this boy probably knows, and so I study his face for clues. He's really absorbed in a jumping puzzle, though, and I can't figure it out.

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