Take me out to the video game.


The Family That Plays Together This month’s Round Table invites us to talk about our families today and the role that playing games has in our relationships with them. Whether you play video games with your children before bed, card games with your parents on the holidays, continue to meet up with your siblings for regular death matches, play couch co-op with your spouse, or argue with them all about your World of Warcraft addiction–this month’s topic is on the importance, or impact, that gaming has on your family relationships.

I don’t speak of my father often. If one is astute, one will notice that I will mention my mother specifically and sometimes refer to the nebulous term parents, but never my father specifically by himself. My relationship with him could be described as sour at best–I haven’t exchanged words with him in over three years. The last time I saw him, I meowed at him as a farewell, a habit of mine at the time that he hated. I’ve always been a bit too quirky (he would say annoying) for him.

When last we did speak there was only one safe topic for us: videogames. Simply put, we did not have much common ground in interests or philosophies, and I tended to annoy him with my bookish and theatrical ways. What we did share was a history, though. Little five year old Denis would sit on the floor next to his father in Heidelberg and watch him play Midwinter II or any of the large number of SSI Dungeons and Dragons Gold Box series. There still remains a poignant memory in my mind of being six and alternating watching him play Sid Meier’s Pirates! (the original) while pretending to be chased by a witch because I was harboring a Jewish boy my own age. As long as I didn’t correct his spelling when he played those old parsing adventure games, this was a rather amusing method for us to spend time around one another. In fact, I cannot really recall any other time I spent with him alone.

My mother and father had different gaming tastes. There was some common ground, but the shooters, military themed games, and strategic warfare type were commonly in my father’s category. I happened to have gathered all of their tastes (sans soccer simulations), so I would grow up playing both of their game preferences, and watching them rather frequently. With my mother, I would often engage in conversation after, but with my father there was this mutually agreed upon silence.

What makes this particularly curious to track is the fact that when I started high school and became involved with theater, I was commonly not home. The times I did spend home were spent writing papers, completing homework, learning lines, or playing games myself, not watching my parents. It was around this time that the relationship with my father became particularly strained–our differences were becoming more apparent without any particular common ground. Even when I read his books, there was rarely any discussion gathered from such quarters. He was very much one to enjoy a medium without any desire to further explore it beyond the instant of interaction. As I believe is apparent by the existence of this blog, he and I are of different minds.

In fact, I can only imagine his, or his family’s, reaction were he to know about this site. His feelings toward me were always mixed: disdain for a queer son, but proud that I was the first in his family to graduate with a degree; proud of my grades, but less than thrilled with my course of study; glad to see me independent, but not happy with the less-than-traditionally masculine way I went about it. Sports were never a consideration in our family; no one played them, though my father would occasionally play his soccer simulations. Therefore, the only ways I could prove myself masculine in his eyes were to play similar videogames (check!) and be straight (failed). The last time I spent any time around him, the only conversations we had consisted of either the games we were playing or his poking fun at my recently adopted vegetarianism.

Gaming became a source of tension in my family for a while. After my father left the military, it became apparent that he would prefer to spend his hours lost in a MUD, rather than work. My parents had a computer room, and my brother and I knew better than to approach it for some time. To say my father was addicted to videogames would probably be entirely too apt. It’s served as a reminder of what I cannot let myself become in my own life, even if I binge here and there.

While my first inclination when I saw this topic was to discuss how my brother and I will trade gaming stories and news via messenger, or my mother and I will discuss the sexism inherent in her treatment in MMOs still to this day, it is curious that I happened to decide to explore this particular relationship. I think I can say without any pause that were it not for videogames, my father and I would not have had any relationship of which I could even begin to think fondly. Perhaps had we either continued to play games together (with the exception of myself, my family managed to bond over a particular World of Darkness themed MUD), or had I continued to remain my silent vigil of his habits, we’d still make attempts at speech. Unfortunately, when certain events turned to rip my family apart, it was already too late–videogames or no.

Please visit the Round Table’s <a title=”Round Table Main Hall” href=”http://blog.pjsattic.com/corvus/round-table/”>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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6 Responses to Take me out to the video game.

  1. Fantastic post. You reminded me, I’m always intrigued when I’m out and I see sons and dads engaged in long silences.

  2. Denis Farr says:

    Thank you. It was quite difficult, as I tend to be a rather talkative person. As I grew up, cynicism weathered my enthusiasm somewhat, but as a young boy I was always bubbling all over the place. Ah well, at least I had my mother with whom to have lengthy discussions.

  3. Really enjoyed this post, Denis. It’s interesting to read about families that grew up together with video games as a shared pastime. I’ve always fantasized about that situation, but of course my fantasy involved gaming with family members as a utopia where we were all brought together and all conflict disappeared.Apparently sharing that hobby isn’t a cure-all for family disputes and judgment. I appreciate you giving us a look into your relationship with your father and how it relates to games.

  4. Corvus says:

    This can’t have been an easy post to write and I thank you for sharing. I know I have difficulty discussing my paternal relationship and it sounds like we have a lot in common there.

  5. Great post! The idea of a communal language that can be shared in a video game where no other one exists is a really powerful one. Did you game much with your Mom?

  6. Denis Farr says:

    @dhalgren2882: Don’t get me wrong, the moments where I gamed with my family are also rather special to me. For a while my father, brother, a female neighbor, and I would all play Goldeneye 007 every weekend for months. It was a bonding moment, and great fun. However, if it becomes an obsession or addiction, it can create great rifts when other things fall apart and it becomes an escape which cannot be left behind.@corvus: Thank you for the topic. My father is an issue with which I have dealt in many ways, so the only reason for not speaking of him here before is trying to not get too negative. While I may be all right with events that have transpired now, that does not mean I have forgiven.@l.b. jeffries: It is very curious. It happened throughout my family, and still does. The last time I visited home, I would watch my mother play Guild Wars or Sims 2, and she would watch me play whatever game I was on at the moment (I believe it was something on the DS).I also still play many games with my mother. She, my brother, and I all played Guild Wars at launch. We’ve already started excitedly anticipating our co-op games in Diablo 3. Multiplayer games with her tended to not be shooters though, so they weren’t as common until games like Diablo and MMOs. We would often play Sierra’s The Realm together, for instance.

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