I ask what they want for breakfast. They shuffle, bleary eyed, still asleep from the belly up. Eventually they arrive at the pantry, where they stare, bewildered, at the same row of breakfast cereals they see every day. When they finally do decide, I bustle around the kitchen filling bowls plates and cups, while they are magnetically drawn back to the couches to curl up in blankets and pillows. By this point, the questions have probably already started.
“So. In (insert game title here) (what is, how do you beat, how do you get) (boss, enemy, power up, mechanic)?”
The questions change depending on whatever game is currently being obsessed over, but the structure of the questions usually follow this pattern.
Occasionally, when we have talked about games too much in a given span of time I will intercept after the “So” to ask “Is this question about a game? Maybe we should talk about something else for a while.” For someone who has, and continues to talk about games for an overwhelming portion of my waking hours, it seems even I have some maximum limit.
Kids asking constant question on topics they are passionate about is not novel. As a child I was repeatedly threatened with the manufacture and employment of a rocket that would fire me into hyperspace if I didn’t stop asking so many questions. The questions were probably about star wars or robots.
Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t find this upsetting. I take full responsibility for the questions fired my way. I have both earned and cultivated them. Very little in my life gives me more joy, than talking with my children about topics that interest me. It’s all very selfish in an anthropological sort of way.
It’s not so much that they ask their mom, and me questions near constantly. It’s the content and subject of the questions I find interesting. They rarely ask anything about a show we have watched, a book we have read, or some other authored entertainment that we see. They recognise the surface meanings, and surprisingly often, some of the subtext of the story. They are familiar with the language of film, and the concepts of dramatic irony, not because we have gone out of our way to teach them these things, but because, like all of us, they are marinated in structured storytelling. Our culture, like most, eats, breathes, and bleeds storytelling. So they don’t ask me about stories, they only ask me about games.
I think it might be this. Games hinge on not knowing what will happen next. You need to use your own brain to determine an outcome. No one will author a solution for you, no one can script your course of action. Games require a random element. Another word to use would be mystery. Games offer mystery, secrets, puzzles, challenges.
Games and play are how we test our ability to predict the future. How we have, since probably before having the language to describe it, used what we know of a situation to peek past the mystery and come up with solutions. Games are how we learn to solve our problems, keep us safe, and overcome obstacles. Games are how we learn to survive.
As adults, we know that often we have to wander blindly into the unknown. There is no path planned out for us. No one else knows more about our current situation than we do. Sometimes, there are no guides. Children crave a guide. Someone to hold their hand while they attempt something they are unsure of. Someone to point out the danger spots, until they are brave enough to face them alone. They want to be assured that when they explore the unknown, you will be there to back them up.
Several times a day, from now until they decide that I’m a boring old man with nothing to offer them, I will happily field questions about fantasy worlds, secret caves, wizards, interplanetary travel, and diabolical puzzles. Here’s the thing that my kids don’t know about me. That part of me that used to risk being set adrift in hyperspace just so I could ask one more question, it has been asking all those same questions this entire time. It never stopped. I hope it never does. I hope that they don’t either.