It’s about ethics in video game parenting
December 9, 2014 3:20 PM   Subscribe

Whoa, I hit the blue. It's like 2004!
posted by waxpancake at 3:26 PM on December 9, 2014 [51 favorites]

Ethics in nerd parenting.
posted by Artw at 3:27 PM on December 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

Whoa. He beat the Hell ending of Spelunky? Dayum!
posted by brundlefly at 3:29 PM on December 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

This is a great article, and something I desperately wanted to do with my son, but my wife is very much of the "limited screen time" school of thought, so I could never really fully immerse him like this author did.

Unlike the author I didn't stick strictly to chronological progression, my son played Wii around the same time I started him with the original 8 bit games. He loves a good game of Pong, and is constantly asking for older games like "Elevator Action" so it's definitely possible for a younger child to still enjoy the old school while getting to play the new stuff. I think the key is to participate with them, and not just throw it at them and say "here play this"
posted by inthe80s at 3:33 PM on December 9, 2014

Oh admit it, Andy, you've been hitting refresh on the blue all day waiting for this to show up :-)

It's a lovely essay. I really like how it approaches video games as a canon worthy of respect. And as someone who has only gotten about halfway through Spelunky and never won it, my hat is off to your boy.
posted by Nelson at 3:35 PM on December 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm cheering so hard at this.
posted by naju at 3:37 PM on December 9, 2014

By the time he turned seven, Eliot had collected every star in Super Mario 64.

Seven? Eliot frightens me.
posted by Wordshore at 3:40 PM on December 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

Having also grown up with the proper chronological experience of gaming, I really relate to this: "But he also loves brutally difficult games that challenge gamers 2–3 times his age, and he’s frighteningly good at them. His favorites usually borrow characteristics from roguelikes: procedurally-generated levels, permanent death, no save points." YOU GET IT, 8 YEAR OLD, YOU GET IT!
posted by naju at 3:40 PM on December 9, 2014 [4 favorites]

I've been planning to do this with my son but he's still too little to hold a controller proper. He turns three in a couple of weeks and hopefully that atari flashback I'm getting him does the trick.
posted by gideonswann at 3:41 PM on December 9, 2014

By now he's old enough to enjoy text-heavy old-school RPGs. There's always time for more chronological experiments, I say.
posted by naju at 3:45 PM on December 9, 2014

"...and fell in love with the criminally underrated Rocket: Robot on Wheels."

awww... i was on the team that made rocket. it's 15th anniversary was just a couple months back, and we did a playthrough with a few of the original creators. damn. it was much harder than i remember when making the darn thing.
posted by bruceo at 3:52 PM on December 9, 2014 [20 favorites]

Spelunky is easily mechanically the best game I've ever played. Going through a session is like seeing an intricately crafted machine work. Everything fits together with a satisfying click, and once you begin to understand the meaning of each element it goes from brutally difficult to a sort of seeing-the-matrix moment. I play about 4 or 5 sessions a week, even years after first starting it in the free beta version, and it's still fun and surprising.
posted by codacorolla at 4:00 PM on December 9, 2014 [4 favorites]

Now I'm deeply curious if he's ever spent any significant time playing Hexagon, or, perhaps, Canabalt.
posted by chimaera at 4:08 PM on December 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Fantastic story. I now have additional aspirations for my future son/daughter.
posted by Room 101 at 4:30 PM on December 9, 2014

cool. i suppose this is something of a curriculum, then
posted by eustatic at 4:44 PM on December 9, 2014

I love the idea of a structured video games education that moves in chronological order -- Andy gave his son a PhD-level program in going from Asteroids to Xbox One.

I also love the parallels to something like learning to be a great surfer. I've heard lots of stories of how the greatest surfers today were forced to start on a 15ft long board that weighs 150lbs and was made from a tree, and every few months they'd get to move up a decade in surf technology and it took a few years before they got to use a modern lightweight faster board.
posted by mathowie at 4:45 PM on December 9, 2014 [6 favorites]

i think there's two schools of thought here

on the one hand, I think that playing old games trains gaming skills that bridge across games -- gaming evolution is stepwise, and builds on itself, stealing ideas and making them better.

On the other hand, i think that modern games are built to be incredibly inclusive, to draw in new players, and to get them going from step one.
posted by rebent at 5:12 PM on December 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

i totally get where you're coming from, rebent, but i don't know that i think the newer games have better pick up and play inclusion than classic nintendo, especially super mario 1, 3, and world.

andy - does eliot have any interest in "don't starve"? it seems like one of those perfect mixes of old and new that might appeal to a collect 'em all, death means death sort.
posted by nadawi at 5:47 PM on December 9, 2014

Very nice. So I've made the personal decision never to have kids, but if I wanted to have kids, I'd absolutely try this experiment. The only even remotely similar example to Eliot (awesome kid!) who I've met would be my older brother, born in the mid-70s, who was and is a gaming prodigy.

Or me as a six year old girl typing in DOS commands, or a seven year old girl beating all 100+ levels of Chip's Challenge on the computer and beating DOOM; I thought about taking up programming at age 12; if I had continued, or if there was more parental support for gaming in my family, who knows how good I could have become?

I've met a seven year old who keeps beating Minecraft on Hunger Games servers and that was cool. He was also the most technologically adept kid I've ever met. Parents, introduce your kids to the world of gaming.
posted by quiet earth at 6:00 PM on December 9, 2014 [4 favorites]

The kids playing Minecraft right now are going to be reaching heights none of us old folk can even dream of. I'm excited for it.
posted by naju at 6:03 PM on December 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

It's funny, I was just this weekend bemoaning with my friends that it seems unlikely The Kids Today will get to experience a leap like the amazement of going from mostly 2d games to mostly 3d games in one generation. I think the only thing comparable might be if the Oculus and Oculus-likes get major traction and become the main form of gaming within a short period of time, but I don't know if that's going to happen. In any case, the fact that this guy pretty much built that experience into his kid's exposure to videogames is especially awesome from that perspective.

While I get why he didn't want to sidetrack into it in this particular piece, I would be interested to hear more about what Eliot's response was to the games he was playing getting more and more graphically complex every year or so. Maybe Mario 64 wasn't quite as groundbreaking if you hadn't already spent the better part of a decade with 2d Mario? It still must have been SLIGHTLY mindblowing, surely?
posted by passerby at 6:21 PM on December 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have a 24 year old who grew up with Nintendo GameBoy and PlayStation 2. He plays more than a few classic text adventures and Rogue-likes. I'm so proud of him.
posted by lhauser at 6:26 PM on December 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Waxpancake - I also have a son (age 4.5) and we try to limit screen time. I've been wondering when and how to introduce him to gaming. Can you fill us in on the pros and cons of Elliot's gaming education? Did it have unexpected consequences or benefits? I could see it being good for logic and problem-solving skills. Does he like to read? Does he self-limit his gaming time and/or do you impose limits?
posted by Brodiggitty at 6:35 PM on December 9, 2014

I have a 4.5 year old who we have just started to introduce to videogames. So far she only plays a few android puzzle games and Skyrim (aka 3d flower picker with occasional wolf attacks). I am now starting to wonder if giving her access to Skyrim so early was a mistake. I may have to hold a Skyrim holiday and introduce her to some old NES games.
posted by 256 at 9:19 PM on December 9, 2014

I have long thought that my young'uns would have a hard time appreciating older systems if they started with modern games, so I've started my 3-year-old son on our Atari Flashback and simple little games that I write in LOVE. It's important that he understand that any sufficiently advanced curtain has a man behind it, so when he asks me to change a game (provided the change is small enough) I have him sit on my lap and watch me pop open a text editor and make the change.

I've been thinking we'll probably go through video games at a somewhat accelerated rate so he can catch up with reality by the time he's 10-ish.
posted by Jpfed at 10:12 PM on December 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

This is exactly like one of those old science fiction stories in which young people are experimentally raised with some advanced level technology, extra-dimensional reality, or higher mathematical concepts -- and the adults usually end up confused or terrified.

No surprise the Atari 2600 games were unimpressive. That machine was 1976 technology, and it was a coup that great programmers could implement 1980s games on it, but the results were like whittling a dinette set with a penknife.

mathowie: Andy gave his son a PhD-level program in going from Asteroids to Xbox One.

Yeah but to get a PhD you have to master the field and then contribute to it. You know what this implies.......
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 10:16 PM on December 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny.
posted by larrybob at 11:31 PM on December 9, 2014

nadawi: Yeah, he adores Don't Starve. He hasn't beaten Adventure Mode yet.

passerby: I never shielded Eliot from the existence of more modern games. He watched me play Portal when he was around three years old, as well as a number of other games, so he knew that modern games could have very sophisticated and realistic graphics. But I never really let him play any games like that. In practice, we slammed through gaming history at such a quick pace, and he was so young, that he never commented on it.

Brodiggitty: Great question. Since it's our main bonding activity, I don't really limit the time when we play together—it's naturally bound by my own availability. When he's playing on his own, my wife and I just feel it out. He's not great at self-limiting his own screen time, which I imagine is common, and it certainly eats into time that I'd love for him to spend on more diverse pursuits, like reading, playing music, or making his own games. Short version: we're working it out and still evolving our views on it.
posted by waxpancake at 12:00 AM on December 10, 2014 [6 favorites]

As a long-time mefi lurker and gamedev parent myself, I'm so happy to hear that your son likes Don't Starve. I will be seriously impressed if he manages to beat Adventure Mode - many of us on the dev team aren't even able to do that!
posted by krf at 12:21 AM on December 10, 2014 [7 favorites]

That's a fun experiment, and I'll ignore the grumpy part of me that wants to tell you the real list of canonical games he should have played. Although... just curious... did you try many god games? I'm thinking Sim City 2000, which is currently available for free!

My son is only one year old, but I am looking forward to sharing games with him, and I might try something a little similar to this with him. I certainly want gaming to be something we can share.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 12:38 AM on December 10, 2014

This was basically my life too, though I was born in '89, so the Atari computer system the family started with wasn't too old yet. From there: Genesis/Megadrive -> PS1 -> Gamecube -> Wii -> 360 with a sprinkle of portables along the way.

What I love about the evolution of gaming from the 80s to present is just... how logical it is, like how we went from newspaper to radio to grainy B&W film to less grainy B&W and color film/video to live color video to HD color video. Games, we went from from basic lights (or LCD frames) on screen to progressively higher resolution video and sound.

It's been an incredible 35 years in that respect, 25 of which I have lived in.

Also, the kid is probably going to excel in school, or at least I hope

Great FPP, thanks!
posted by JoeXIII007 at 5:09 AM on December 10, 2014

Four months into the experiment, with Eliot not even 4 1/2 years old, we’d jumped to the 8-bit era.

Must have been a big step up from games like Pac-Man, most of which topped out at 5 bits, or 6 at most.
posted by acb at 6:48 AM on December 10, 2014

Don't Starve: Thank you so much for mentioning this. A couple bucks, some impatient downloading, and an hour of tweaking video drivers (I use ubuntu on an ancient laptop; once I got the drivers straightened out, it ran without a hitch) so that I could stay up way way past my bedtime getting eaten by spider-looking things and what were probably grues because I could not see them. Didn't starve even once, which I suppose is a victory. (I should note here that I would have had to live a lot longer in order to starve.) Good times! Can't wait to die some more after work today.
posted by which_chick at 7:15 AM on December 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

This is a great write-up, and I've toyed with similar ideas for my own progeny. Thanks for posting, nadawi, and thanks for sharing, waxpancake.

I was born in 1981 and got to experience much of the early elements of gaming. Probably most notable is that I started learning to read through King's Quest on our IBM PC Jr. I wasn't anywhere near school yet, but you had to type commands in (e.g. climb the tree). So my mother (to her eternal credit) made sketches of the appropriate actions and then wrote the text underneath so I could play it on my own.
posted by staccato signals of constant information at 9:17 AM on December 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

I suspect us nerd/grown-up-gaming parents could have endless support meetings about trying to figure good/fair/doable limits on screen time. If any of us had any damned time, of course.
posted by phearlez at 10:36 AM on December 10, 2014

I'm incredibly neurotic because the picture showing an Atari 2600 in front of a television that is manifestly not running the terrible 2600 port of Pac-Man REALLY BOTHERS ME, right?
posted by murphy slaw at 11:51 AM on December 10, 2014

Ready, player two?

Wait a sec. Are congratulations in order?
posted by thejoshu at 8:59 PM on December 10, 2014

Ha, no. I'm player one, silly Joshu.

murphy slaw: You're not the only one to notice. It's a screenshot from the Atari 5200 port of the game. Not sure what the story is behind the advertisement, but it's part of the reason I chose it. :)
posted by waxpancake at 10:54 PM on December 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Vaguely related: I know a ten-year-old who knows and plays Race for the Galaxy (one of the best tabletop/card games ever) frighteningly well for her age. Her sense of strategy could be improved (and no doubt, it will), but still it amazes me. I had trouble explaining people the basic mechanics three times her age, to start with.

@waxpancake I would be interested if he would play/did play VVVVVV, how many tries would/did it take him to do Veni, Vidi, Vici.
posted by KTamas at 11:52 PM on December 10, 2014

I'm enjoying imagining a similar parenting project with music. "Sorry kiddo, no Nicki Minaj until you finish listening to the antiphons of Hildegard von Bingen."
posted by speicus at 1:18 AM on December 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm haven't gone all the way back yet, but my 4y/o daughter (who is still a little bit lacking in manual dexterity to manage a controller herself) is watching me play Chrono Trigger and she's having a blast. (She makes excellent monster noises when there is a fight.)
posted by murphy slaw at 8:19 AM on December 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

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