Suddenly everyone loves video games. All it took was HBO adapting The Last Of Us, one of the most critically-acclaimed games of the last decade, assembling an all-star cast and one of the hottest directors in TV, and spending a purported $100m on the 10-part series, and all of a sudden video games are the next big thing.
’m old enough to remember when they were being blamed for all sorts of problems, from childhood obesity to American gun violence (former president of the US, Donald Trump, expressed particular concern about their effects in the aftermath of two deadly shootings as recently as 2019).
For decades video games were parental bogeypersons along with under-the-bed fellows like video nasties and heavy metal, but thanks to The Last Of Us managing to adapt a great game into a great TV show, people are coming around to the idea that games are about more than run-and-gun shoot-em-ups (although it should be noted that that particular oeuvre includes some of the most profitable and high-profile franchises).
Video games are big in our house. I’m not a hardcore gamer, but always enjoyed playing them and once I had kids I was able to really indulge myself in what some would see as a waste of time.
Playing games with my kids is often one of the rare times I will sit down and be engaged in something with them and not hear the siren song of a finished washing machine cycle calling me away.
“Playing games with my kids is often one of the rare times I will sit down and be engaged in something with them and not hear the siren song of a finished washing machine cycle calling me away.”
It’s not like watching a film together, where I will say ‘tell me if something happens’ and then wander off to make dinner or empty a bin or do some hoovering. Games, by their nature, demand and control your attention. I think social media has a lot to answer for in diminishing our attention spans, but I know that playing through an especially difficult level in Minecraft Dungeons with my two youngest kids will see me having a laser focus for 90 minutes of mayhem. Even my wife knows better than to try and explain things to me when I have a game controller in my chubby paws — I may nod and say yes or no but absolutely none of what she told me will be retained.
Dinner need to be rescued from the oven? Prescriptions need to be collected from the pharmacy? Electricity bill needs to be paid or house will be plunged into darkness? None of this registers or matters when I am facing down a Redstone Golem with my little fellowship.
I’d imagine there are dads out there who spend their time with the kids teaching them how to fish or hunt or wire a plug, but I like to think that I helped hone my kids’ strategic thinking and decision-making abilities by repeatedly gunning them down in Battlefront II. I’m not the only one who sees the educational potential in games — the eldest boy has a history teacher who uses the Assassin’s Creed series of games as a teaching tool, while The Last Of Us has spawned a generation who are remarkably au fait with the ways and means of the cordyceps fungi, the source of the zombification of humanity.
During the lockdowns of 2020 and 2021, it was video games that kept the kids sane — the eldest boy played online with his pals, the youngest two played with each other, and all of them found entertainment and escapism. They have levelled up the escapism since they managed to snag themselves an Oculus VR kit at Christmas, a technology which I was deeply sceptical about, but which they all love and which makes me travel sick when I wear it — like the urban legend of the first cinema audiences shrieking and clambering over seats looking at footage of an oncoming train, my poor primitive brain can’t process virtual reality.
My obsolescence doesn’t end there — the eldest plays games with his mates now, and the co-op Call Of Duty battles we played are a nostalgic reminiscence for him. The youngest two still like beating me at FIFA or throwing me down a well on Gang Beasts, but someday not a million years from now they will move on too, and I will be back to only needing one controller.
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