“Wait, crap! What happened?”
My thirteen-year-old son, Aaron, groans upon seeing his character do a virtual face plant after leaping from height in Portal 2. He is sitting next to me on the couch, Xbox controller in hand, and I glance up to his part of the split screen, just as he glances down at mine.
“Did you put your portal over mine?” he asks.
“Oh, I’m sorry, son,” I say. “My bad, my bad.”
I’m screwing around with my portal gun, trying to get a feel for the game. Aaron dismisses my mistake with a good natured chuckle. There was time when I might have had a better grasp of a game as popular as Portal 2. There was a time when, if you had come to my house, you might have found various joysticks and force feedback steering wheels clustered around my computer desk, itself piled high with the cardboard boxes of games, or plastic CD holders stacked in towers. There was a time when I was the last one up in a quiet house, my face bathed in the monitor’s soft blue glow.
Of course, that time is now no longer with us.
After the jump, the prince kills the pauper. No wait, that can’t be right . . .
“Dad, dad,” Aaron says. “Watch this.” He has recovered from his face plant and setup his portals again.
Shortly after Aaron and his twin sister were born, I found myself growing more interested in using the little spare time I had for writing. I began limiting my gaming time to online discussions of my hardware and the number of frames per second I could achieve in various games. I still bought games, but I felt less inclined to actually play them. Eventually I found myself just making up frame rates to share with my online friends. Not overly impressive frame rates mind you, just average ones. I no longer had time to get the numbers, but I still wanted to maintain relationships with my online gaming friends.
Aaron’s excitement at having apparently figured out the level is palpable
“I want you to put your red portal right here,” Aaron says. He drags the last word out like he’s talking to a five year old.
I do as he says. As he has been exploring the level, I have been trying not to break any more of his tricks. I get how we’re using the portals to traverse the level. I get the cool physics involved with using momentum or other tricks to traverse the level. But I’m still not quite sure I understand the object of the game.
“And then put your other portal over here. Now you just step forward — .”
“Just step forward?” I give him a skeptical look.
He’s staring intently at the screen, his jaw is set.
He’s a good looking kid by most any standard. Fair complexion, dark hair and eyes. He’s my height, but I still have him by about forty pounds. I got so excited when I heard about the opportunity to write game diaries for Quarter to Three. Here was an opportunity to combine one of my favorite activities with something Aaron loves. And an opportunity to connect with my online friends without making up any phony frame rates.
I nudge my controller and my online character — the tall Laurel-looking robot — steps off a cliff. I am racing toward a portal and then the screen tumbles and flips. It’s hard to say exactly what happens, but then suddenly I am standing next to Aaron’s fat Hardy-looking robot.
“You did it, Dad. You finished the level. Good job.”
Ho, Ho! The Gamer King is dead! Long live the Gamer King!
Tomorrow: Don’t count out Dad just yet, fine reader. “Mine is the wallet that says ‘Dad [Expletive]’ on it.”
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.