Not so Private I’s

This month’s Round Table asks you to share your early experiences playing games, any games, with family. Good or bad, how did those early gameplay moments affect your approach to games now? Can you trace your current enjoyment of video games back to these memories? Or, perhaps, you didn’t play games with your family. Was it a lack that you noticed at the time? How do you feel it has it impacted your “use” of video games now?

It almost feels like cheating taking part in this month’s Round Table, considering the conversation I just posted with my mother, but I’d like to take that as a springboard into this one. I think it’s fairly obvious that my family was one that gamed together, and I have any of a plethora of memories concerning that, all the way from playing or watching adventure games, blasting Nine Inch Nails (parents bought me The Downward Spiral back in 1995) while playing 4-person Goldeneye, BBS boards, et cetera. I reiterate, we were a family that gamed together.

As my mother stated: on the one hand, she enjoyed it and wanted to share that love of gaming; on the other hand, she wanted to encourage my brother and my imaginations. There was never a shortage of recommended books, films, games (of all varieties–not just video), art, music, or encouragement to pursue these endeavors. When I told my mother my high school aspirations of being a lawyer had turned to being a Theater and English double major, she shrugged and told me it was my decision; meanwhile lamenting not being able to attend my performances. She wanted us to not only enjoy, but think beyond our world, think in a new space.

Which is what I’m finding myself doing while metagaming Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney–that is, when I’m not finding Detective Dick Gumshoe (pictured right) absolutely adorable.

During high school, it was fairly typical for me not to return home until ten or so in the evening; one of the activities that kept me away from home was Mock Trial. Again, I had aspirations of the legal profession before I realized I’m far too radical in my beliefs for the current (or likely any) system. One year we even had a trial on hazing, which, in retrospect of my college’s practices, humors me greatly. However, I enjoyed combing witness statements and building a prosecution and defense on the exact same case. The logician in me found it pure masturbatory pleasure.

For me, this poring over statements and facts was not about winning, it was about the stories I could create from either side. In fact, I was approached after one trial and a Tennessean promptly told me I needed to drop my affected English accent, I wasn’t fooling anyone. Color me surprised that my largely subdued German accent was mistaken for English (quite common in the South). I could care less about the actual winning portion of this competition. I wanted to see how others constructed their logic points into a narrative that was convincing. What portions of the story stood out to them? These were all based on real trials from past decisions, by the by.

Yet, as anyone who has played this game can tell you, the way these cases are built do not necessarily follow the legal proceedings as we would expect. Sure, the underpinnings are there, but you also play your part as a detective that reminds me of the days I watched Gabriel Knight being played and grew fond of the word Schattenjäger. What I’m finding myself doing is flexing that muscle my mother made sure I practiced daily from as early on as I can recall: imagination.

Each case, each witness, and every new piece of evidence has me constructing new theories, scenarios, and (due to my theatrical ways) imagining these scenarios with the prescribed actors. This has meant that the game, thus far, has posed no challenge to me whatsoever–but I don’t mind. Games do not have to be challenging for me to enjoy them. They just have to give me that spark, that interest, and/or make me feel I am actually doing something with the narrative or elements that are presented.

Another point my mother made in our conversation was that my family played videogames because it had us talking. My family is pretty evenly split in interests and tastes in film, literature, art, et cetera between my mother and myself versus my father and brother. Games were one avenue where we could all play, with perhaps a few outliers of personal taste here and there, and would have fun conversing about them–especially when we’d all gather around a table or computer desk. I’d love to take my brother and mother Phoenix Wright and just sit in a room to talk it out with them, gather their impressions, and have a few laughs over memorable lines.

This is also probably why I’m enjoying progressing the arching narrative strung along in each case as well. My mother and her adventure-loving gaming habits taught me to care about narrative. I cannot recall being read to very often (it happened, but I was too young to recall, and I started reading as soon as I could): instead, I recall being told many stories. While I may regret not hearing the prime sources that are my grandparents and their stories of World War II and Germany directly following, she has relayed to me countless bits of information, often weaving grand tales that seem impossible to those not familiar with my family’s knack for relaying information (we’re all storytellers).

Meanwhile, as games progress, I don’t share my mother’s view of preferring books to games more often. Don’t get me wrong, I love books (I have no shelf space left, and I acquire books as if reading is going out of fashion), but I love so many art forms and forms of expression that I cannot deny the hold videogames, comics, theater, film, art exhibitions, et cetera have over me. Especially now, with where we are. More than ever, we, the gamer, are given the tools to put forth our imaginations, build our own characters, create our own character sketches and bios, color our worlds, and share our experiences with each other.

Even while Mario jumping on Goombas isn’t terribly imagination-stoking, it still took me to another world and allowed me the freedom to escape the conventions I saw around me every day. Phoenix Wright has me doing that with my basic assumptions of how a trial works, and yet, I can’t find any fault in that whatsoever. The game is so broadly painted that all of those logical flaws just fit into the logic system of a different world–one to which I find myself readily adapting–knowing that I can probably step into any world and learn one thing: to adapt. While it is debatable on whether or not my symbolic logic course has helped me with this game at all (hint: check yes for this debater), I know without a doubt that it is this imaginative streak to envision possible steps and sketch out scenarios that has me enjoying this game far more than I should at the exclusion of others in my queue.

And hey, as a child who was asked at age five to partake in a Dungeons and Dragons campaign (even a wizard back then), was encouraged when he decided to follow the path as one of those weird ‘thespians,’ and grew up watching Mad Max and reading post-apocalyptic fiction, I’m more than a little excited to continue my love of the Fallout series at the end of this month, which I know I’ll be discussing with my brother at great length.

Please visit the Round Table’s <a title=”Round Table Main Hall” href=””>Main Hall</a> for links to all entries.


About Denis Farr

Writer interested in intersectionality, games, comics, nerdy stuff in general, theater, and how it all mixes. Graduate of Wabash College, with studies in Theater, English, German, and Gender Studies.
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