I was listening to a recent episode of the Gamers With Jobs podcast, and one of the fellows on the show began discussing having recently introducing his 13-year-old daughter to console gaming. He reported that when she showed an interest in playing a game that he sat down and asked her a bit about what she liked and disliked, and on that basis, determined that a story-driven RPG might best suit her tastes.
Thinking through several options, he landed on the idea of Fable II as a good option for a first serious gaming experience and then sat down to help teach her how to play. He reported largely watching her play the game for much of the time and praised Peter Molyneux and Lionhead Studios for creating a game that is not only enchanting but accessible enough for a new gamer to pick up and play due to its very clear tutorials and other teaching methods.
Listening to him talk got me thinking a bit about my own 13-year-old’s recent interest in games, my efforts to encourage that interest, and the results of having a kid who was largely disinterested in gaming grow considerably more interested in a short span of time.
I actually have three daughters, who despite my own obsessive interest in gaming, have largely not found themselves much drawn to the hobby.
My oldest daughter is 17. When she was little, I bought her some adventure games for kids, her favorites being the Putt-Putt series (a series featuring an animate car and his dog going on various adventures). She liked the art and was especially enamored with a puzzle in which Putt-Putt had to scratch a dinosaur’s back by driving over it in various spots, but she wasn’t really bitten by the bug.
She likes Rock Band and Guitar Hero and plays some pretty mean drums. However, the only things that I ever really suggest to her on occasion are strange little indie games, like Coma or Loved. She also is admittedly fairly obsessed with The Path, having played through it several times. Basically, she likes any media that is quirky and off beat. These works with their odd and creepy tones appeal to her and really only happen to come in the form of games. She’s a dancer, who is in the studio six days a week. That’s her thing, which is fine.
My youngest daughter is 10. She has come at gaming more on her own basically via social games, like Club Penguin. She likes games that you get a character, unlock outfits for them, and then just wander around and explore. She also plays the occasional flash game. That being said, her real passion is the Warrior Cats series of books, and she probably spends more time reading Wikis on the Cats and their various political systems and social structures than anything else when she gets time with a computer. Again, all good. It’s her thing.
My 13-year-old has more or less never been drawn especially to any hobby. She does play basketball, which she likes, but really, most of her time is spent playing with her youngest sister or chatting with her older sister. So, this summer when she approached me, somewhat bored I think, and said, “Dad, I want to play a video game. What should I play?” I was kind of surprised.
In retrospect, maybe I should have done the same thing our GWJ dad did by sitting down and getting a handle on what genre of games might most appeal to her. However, instead I slid my big drawer of games open and began browsing titles. After ruling out Grand Theft Auto and other suspect titles that I nevertheless admire myself, I settled on the Prince of Persia reboot.
Now, I own Sands of Time on PC, but she wanted to play a console game, and in any case, much of my own reasoning about a first experience with a game related to game mechanics and accessibility, rather than merely a great plot. Sands of Time is now classic game storytelling but has some fairly complex mechanics. Instead, I felt pretty sure that she would enjoy the premise of two fantastical characters, like the Prince and Elika of the newer version of the game, in order to save a corner of their world, but even more than that, I though that being able to perform some exciting and complicated looking acrobatic moves through what are really very simple controls (I find that the rebooted Prince of Persia resembles something like a rhythm game, in which simple visual cues guide in determining a few simple button presses) might be better than a potentially more frustrating control scheme.
At that point, I largely left her to her own devices. She didn’t ask for my help. She simply played the game for about a week and would talk to me a bit about it. She liked the art, she liked the Prince and Elika, thinking both were pretty cool, and she liked what they (and by extenstion what she) could do.
On finishing it and praising its twist ending, she said, “What else do you have that is like this?”
Sadly, I don’t think that that version of the Prince of Persia has any particularly clear correlates in gaming. So, I dug out a copy of the open world version of Spider-Man 3, thinking that it likewise featured acrobatics and spectacle, though it would also feature a slightly more difficult control scheme for her to get a grip on.
Like myself, she reported that the game was good, not great. She hated Mary Jane’s presentation in the game but liked being Spider-Man. This game did require some intervention on my part though. She got stuck on a mission in which Spidey web swings across the city with Mary Jane (and she’s right, Mary Jane is unbelievably annoying throughout that mission) and has to do so before a timer runs out. I ended up playing it for her, showing her how to speed up Spidey’s swings and quickly change altitudes. Afterwards, she didn’t need help with web swinging again. The other spot that she got stuck on was in what I believe is a story mission in which Spidey has to take on a couple dozen thugs and a mini-boss. She kept getting overwhelmed by them. I again played through that mission for her, showing her some useful combos. Once again, though, she quickly added those moves to her repertoire and finished the game herself.
As the summer wore on, the family and I went to stay at my wife’s sister’s house. While there, I picked up a tabletop dungeon crawler, an actual board game, called Dungeon Run to play with my brother-in-law who lives nearby. My daughter lingered around us as we unpacked the box, something she hasn’t really ever done before when I’ve picked up a new board game, looking at pieces and stat cards for the characters. I invited her to try it with us. She was somewhat hesitant, but agreed.
After the first game, she insisted we play another. We continued playing for the couple of weeks that we were there, usually at her insistence. She said to me at one point, “Y’know, Dad, I thought that this was going to be too complicated and too nerdy.” To which, I grinned and replied, “I hate to tell you, but it is overly complicated and definitely nerdy.” I was just kind of pleased that she seemed to have the itch.
Which has led to she and I playing League of Legends online (only bot games, she isn’t quite ready for PvP, yet, but soon I hope) together on laptops and a couple of failed attempts to play a couple other titles. She tried Molyneux’s Fable III, and while she liked getting to actually play as a female character, having a dog as a sidekick, and generally found the tone funny and charming, it just dragged on too long for her tastes. She never got into the real estate system and economic simulator that becomes rather essential to support the action aspects of the game (making purchasing equipment and saving the kingdom dependent on her income failed to appeal at all). Likewise, she tried out a more traditional turn-based RPG, Persona 4, and while she loved the themes of the game, she soon found resource management for the sake of character building and the like to be too tedious to continue.
Most recently, she asked about playing Assassin’s Creed, which despite its M rating, I felt she could handle. I did suggest Assassin’s Creed II, as the more fully featured version of the game. However, she insisted that she wanted to start the story at the beginning. Again, on the whole, she has been playing this title largely on her own. She did call for my help to find her way to Jerusalem at one point because she was having some difficulty understanding her orientation on the map. I left the controller in her hands and indicated how to use the map a bit more easily and then settled down to watch for awhile.
She entered Jerusalem and began stalking around an area that had a guard watching over it. She clearly wanted to proceed but was having trouble figuring out how to bypass the guard. “Kill him,” I said. “I don’t want to,” she replied. You’re an assassin,” I insisted, “You kill people.” “I don’t know how,” she responded. I realized that she didn’t really understand the mechanics of a stealth kill at this point and asked her to pass the controller over. I walked her through stealth killing that guard, then moved to a nearby rooftop and showed her how to take down a guard from such a vantage point before handing the controller back to her. She was soon on a gleeful murder spree throughout that holy city.
My wife called for her to take out the dog. “I can’t, Mom, I’m murder-urdling people,” she called back.
A little later on, she accidentally killed a woman that she had intended to brush away with the push button. She turned to me and said with horror, “I violated the assassin’s creed. I murdered the innocent.” Sure, enough, the game forced a reload from a save point because she had violated the code.
So, while I guess I have created yet another rather gleeful little murderer, I’m just glad that she is clearly internalizing the rules for winning the game.