“How do I do the high-five thing again?”
“Use the D-pad,” Aaron says. He is sitting next to me on the couch, staring intently into the screen. He doesn’t look over.
I look for something D shaped on the shiny black controller in my hand. One of the most frustrating things about Xbox games is the fact that you must play them with these little handheld gadgets. They are as user unfriendly as a television remotes. I feel like I need my glasses to really get a sense for what is going on in my hand. How I long for my keyboard, the simplicity of WASD.
I am squinting in the dark of the living room, holding the controller at arm’s length.
“It only goes up to B,” I say.
After the jump, Dad gets all badass and starts quoting Old Testament. Okay, not really. If he asks you to pull his finger, pretend you didn’t hear. . .
“Here Dad,” Aaron chirps. He’s such a good boy.
He leans toward me, gives a button on my controller a push, and the interface I’m looking for suddenly appears. After a few more minutes of futzing around, my robot, Laurel, gives his Hardy a high five. I grin over at my son who stops what he was doing and makes a halfhearted fist pump. Looking up at the screen, I see that I have caused our robot characters to launch into a scripted response, forcing Aaron to take a moment from his portal placing machinations to celebrate. . . What? I am no longer even sure.
I am still getting comfortable with the Xbox hardware that Aaron knows like the back of his hand. I know I sound like a cranky old timer and that’s okay with me. I may not be expert at Xbox, but I am not opposed to it either. I was the driving force for bringing this console into the house. And that is why I carry a wallet that says Dad [expletive] on it.
As a family, we had already had our GameCube phase. And then we had our Wii phase. We also had our dalliances with various portable doodads. But when it came to the Xbox and its high profile teen-rated titles, my wife had drawn a firm, hard line in the sand. My daughter didn’t seem to mind, but Aaron had outgrown those other consoles and most of his friends had long moved on to Modern Warfare, Call of Duty, and Xbox live.
My wife and I discussed it.
I can’t remember exactly what was said, but I’m pretty sure Columbine came up at least once. We were at loggerheads on the Xbox and violent video games. My wife is an incredible and exemplary parent, so I don’t like to challenge her parenting impulses. It’s just that I had always imagined I’d be the kind of Dad who played computer games with his kids. Of course, I hadn’t counted on losing interest in games myself. Hadn’t imagined gaming would become so focused on consoles. But I liked to think that sooner or later a game would come along that would rekindle my interest. That maybe one day I’d sit down and finally make the transition from keyboard to controller.
“So, how do you make him rip the other guy’s head off again?” I ask. We recently earned a new celebration that involves the robots Stan and Laurel dismantling one another as part of their scripted exultation.
“Two O’clock,” Aaron says. He’s indicating the position on the joystick I need to use.
Then, one fall night about two years ago, I was picking Aaron up from his friend’s house. He had been spending more and more time with this one boy, presumably because the child had an Xbox and my wife had compromised on our house rules to include a provision that basically said Aaron could follow the rules of the house that he visited. The “When in Rome” clause.
“Why don’t you just ask Santa for an Xbox this year,” I said. Thanksgiving was almost upon us, and he still hadn’t settled on a Christmas gift.
“Can I even do that?” Aaron asked, his eyes wide with surprise.
I felt a little bad for pulling Old Saint Nick into the issue. But I also felt a little stupid driving my son through the neighborhood and depositing him at some other parent’s house so he could get some Xbox play time under his belt. As it turned out, my son’s request to Santa added some urgency — I’d say some necessary urgency — to the ongoing parental discussions our family was having about gaming.
But it didn’t really settle anything.
As parents, we still discuss gaming at length: the amount of hours per week spent on games, the types of games played, and appropriate online behavior in the living room.
My character Stan rips the head off of Aaron’s Laurel character in triumph. But then Laurel kicks Stan in the nuts to retrieve his head. Aaron laughs. I am getting a little tired of these scripted moves, but the slapstick of a kick to the nuts is just foolish enough that it still amuses the both of us.
My daughter is passing through the living room. “You two are crude,” she says with a matter-of-fact tone. I really can’t say I disagree.
I’m a Dad [expletive]. And sometimes a Dad [expletive] is just what a family needs.
Up next: Without quoting any Old Testament, Dad really does redeem himself in “Even a broke down clock knows what time it is twice a day”.
Click here for the previous Portal 2 game diary.
Tim Elhajj lives in Bellevue, Washington. His first book, Dopefiend: A Father’s Journey from Addiction to Redemption is forthcoming from Central Recovery Press in September 2011.