Life lessons often come from our parents. They teach us to walk, to talk, ride a bike and countless practical skills. My dad recently turned 60, it’s because of him I love games as much as I do. As a toddler he sat me down in front of the Sega Master System, put a control pad in my tiny hands and watched me play Sonic The Hedgehog. His reasoning was that it challenged my motor skills, my hand-to-eye coordination, my reflexes.
It was the beginnings of pretty regular evenings playing games. He’d take the reigns for a lot of games, like early fantasy turn-based RPG Miracle Warriors. He’d steadily introduce me to the mechanics, acting like a real-life instruction manual. By the time it was my turn to play I’d have a solid appreciation of the objectives and how to achieve them. We conquered many games together, from stunt-bike racing game Eduro Racer to the fantastic ‘Zelda-like’ Golvellius (which I still consider one of my all-time favourites). When we got a Gameboy, he’d pass the chunky handheld my way whenever he beat Tetris so I could watch the rocket ship take off.
As technology moved on, he became less interested in games. It wasn’t the games themselves but the fact his family was growing-up. I became a football-fanatic, regularly going to the park with my friends rather than playing games. My older brother bought a Playstation and locked it away in his room, protecting at all costs, it was rare anyone else got play it.
I fell back into games was when our parents bought an N64 for me and my brothers. I adapted pretty quickly to the likes of 3D platformer Mario 64 and FPS Goldeneye, but for my dad it wasn’t so easy.
He’d been playing games since Pong. 2D or top-down designs had never fazed him, and what’s more, he was good at them. But the leap to 3D left him stumped. We’d try to play Goldeneye only for him to get the directional sticks muddled and spend most of the time running in circles staring at the ceiling.
As he gave-up on games he found too fiddly I found myself more drawn into them. Building a collection of consoles and games, sharing experiences and tips with friends from school, it rapidly became a significant part of my life. Dad had lost interest though, he saw the new technology as inaccessible and didn’t see any appeal in frequently dying while he was still trying to work out the controls.
It wasn’t until recently that he mentioned he’d like to learn how to play games again. Over the years I’ve introduced a lot of people to a lot of games. I’ve helped them get started on huge RPGs like Oblivion. I taught my entire uni house to play Halo, I reminded my older brother why he loved his PlayStation by sitting him in front of updated versions of his favourite games. I saw the challenge of teaching my dad as easily conquered. I just needed the right game. Unfortunately I learned just how wrong I was.
The first thing was put a controller in his hand. No games yet, just a controller. I showed him how to hold it, introduced him to the various buttons. I put particular emphasis on the thumb sticks, explaining in as simple terms as I could.
“This one moves your character, this one looks around.” I referred to them as feet and eyes. When he seemed to grasp the concept I decided it was time to get him playing a game.
The first game I tried was Fable 2. I thought it would engage him because he always liked fantasy worlds, exploration and humour. It seemed an ideal match. The added bonus was that I could co-op with him, showing him what I was doing so he could mirror it, and there isn’t any game overs, if he got knocked down he’d simply get back up. Unfortunately it didn’t take long, in fact hardly any time at all before things started going wrong.
We didn’t get as far as combat. In fact, we didn’t even get as far as getting out first of five coins we needed during Fable 2’s intro. The first objective was simple. Follow the golden trail.
“Right.” Dad said, then proceeded to run in the opposite direction and collide with a house.
“Other way.” I told him, only for him to continue bouncing off the house. “Maybe try moving the camera, it might make things easier.” Only for the camera to end up wedged behind the wall that had become his biggest nemesis.
Deciding that Fable 2 really wasn’t working, and identifying that the problem was still the thumb sticks I decided we should try something else.
After a quick flick through my library I settled on Portal. I thought it was perfect for learning the thumb sticks. There’s no pressure, the early levels are simply getting from A-B. Dad would have all the time and space he needed.
Suddenly I was reminded of why Dad got frustrated with Goldeneye. In fairness watching him try to leave the first room showed me details of the floors and walls that I’d never noticed before. We were either looking straight up, or straight down – rarely ahead. Even when I did manage to get him settled and looking the right way his movement would take him off at an angle. I saw the problem was, as much as anything, using both sticks at the same time. It was always one stick or the other.
“This isn’t working.” I told him, “We need to get you used to using both thumbsticks at the same time.”
Exiting Portal, I started flicking through the library in search of Geometry Wars. The top-down twin-stick shooter should be perfect. No camera to move, and the only controls to worry about were the thumbsticks. Unfortunately, I realised I didn’t have Geometry Wars. I did have another twin-stick shooter though, I Maed A Gam3 W1th Zombies 1n It!!!1. I went first, just to show him the ropes. Holding the controller in such a way that he could clearly see I was only using the sticks, nothing else.
Handing him the reigns, I was convinced that this was going to work. I didn’t expect fireworks, everybody dies very quickly during their first run of I Maed A Gam3 W1th Zombies 1n It!!!1. Unfortunately the same problems emerged. He could move around no problem. He could shoot without much issue, but he couldn’t do both at the same time. He’d move, stop, then shoot in the wrong direction.
Nothing I tried worked. It was disappointing for both of us, and I couldn’t find a game that would help us get past the thumbstick issues. With a couple of hours spent, and no luck with anything, we both decided to call time. I’m still wracking my brain to think of something modern, accessible, and fun that he could get into and would act as a platform to bigger and better games. I don’t think it’s a lost cause. I do think it’s a monumental challenge.