I was going to write about Bastion today, but right when I sat down at my desk I got a call from one my good buddies telling me that he just found out his fair lady is ~5 months along with a little baby boy. So this one goes out to you, Evan: The games I’d want to raise my child with. Congratulations, homie.
1. Earthbound (SNES)
This one goes on pretty much any list ever, but I think it’s particularly relevant to the topic of child-rearing–starting with the name of the series, of course, which is “Mother”. But I’m putting it here because it’s so good at presenting a game as a series of places to explore, and it regards the task of saving the world as something children have to do, rather than something adults do with their adult affairs (that tend to get in the way). And they should be able to count on their Mom and Dad to make them their favorite Steak/Pizza/Sushi/Candy whenever they come home. (And maybe give them a few bucks when they need it to buy a new Yo-Yo.)
2. Mother 3 (GBA)
Earthbound would be great for a little kid, especially because it’s the kind of game that grows with you. (I never realized the abortion final boss subtext until I played the game as an adult.) Mother 3 I would want to save until they were beginning their teenage years–a reminder, if you will, that no matter how rough the high school ages are, they’ll always have a dear old Mom and Dad that love them.
Mother 3 struck a chord with me because I also lost my mom at a rather young age, and I haven’t found a game, book, or movie yet that can communicate the pain and melancholy that comes with losing a parent, and how hard it can be out there for a single father. I do think, though, that Claus and Lucas also portray some of the emptiness (which can be masked as precociousness) that a child feels when they’re raised by a single parent without two strong adults in his life to fill in each other’s gaps. Hopefully Mother 3 might one day help my little ones understand their Dad’s blind spots, and forgive them.
3. Capcom vs. SNK 2
Okay, enough with this crap about feelings and nurturing. Life is good, but life is also suffering, and rest assured my children will learn that firsthand from their old man. But why CVS2 and not any other fighting game?
CVS2 is unforgiving. It took me over a year of playing Eric Choi on an almost-daily basis before I was able to take a single game off him in casual play. It gives you an incredibly deep roster and mixes six different “grooves” in there so you can design a completely personalized, individual team that no one uses. You can spend days in training mode learning the ins and outs of your team, your setups, your matchups, and working on your execution. And despite all that, you will still get crushed by years of experience. Because those years of experience are the difference between hitting that roll cancel and not hitting it, throwing that dodge attempt and not throwing it, etc. Playing CVS2 with my son or daughter will tell them “Child, you may think you are smart. One day, you will think you are smarter than your old man. And you will be wrong.”
4. Starcraft 2 (multiplayer-only)
I forget which book this was, and whether it was meant to be an autobiographical story or not, but there is a Daniel Pinkwater book somewhere where his characters talk about obsessing over chess. Two young men found their way to the game and became utterly consumed by it, discussing openings and theory and playing all the time. Then one of them woke up, realized what he was sacrificing to devote himself to chess, and left. The other just looked at him blankly and continued to play.
I think everyone needs this. Everyone needs to encounter a pure form of competition, the kind that taxes every single neuron in your pathetically underused brain, and feel it take over. How they choose to respond to it–whether they become consumed by it, whether they avoid it, or whether they negotiate it into a balanced place in their life is, of course, part of their process of defining who they are as a young person.
See, our society has a love-hate relationship with competition. Youth sports are either too-competitive or not-competitive-enough. We are urged to work hard so we can be faster, stronger, and smarter, but rarely are we encouraged to beat someone else–as if the fact that a game can only have a winner and a loser is an unfortunate fact, rather than the entire fucking point. So scrubby kids like Nate and Alex feel like it’s okay to dick around with Smash Brothers or Starcraft or whatever, and stop playing when they get their ass handed to them by someone who’s doing the work required to win because that’s what makes the goddamn game fun.
Starcraft is the purest essence of competition on the market right now. GTFO with your campaign and your silly custom games. My children need to know what it feels like to engage in an activity where the only source of fun comes from grinding someone underneath your heel. I don’t care whether they like it or not–the point isn’t to start training a pro gamer early. Rather, the point is to understand what competition is (and how it makes them feel) early on, rather than shy away from it as though it were something to be avoided until they turn 18 and find out how the world works.
5. Final Fight
You know what a Real Dad does when his daughter gets hassled by a bunch of good-for-nothing thugs? He loses the shirt, grabs a pipe, and goes to got-damn work. That’s what he fucking does. Mandatory playing for any daughter of the Miller family.
Oh man. If we have kids, I’m gonna be the best Dad ever.
Honorary Mention: Minecraft.
Every child needs to know the joy of building something. Something pure and good and only for them.
Wait, fuck that. If my children want to build something, they can go play with some Legos. They don’t need to build something in a game. I know what they can build. They can build some goddamn Supply Depots on 10 and 16 so they don’t get supply-blocked trying to go for some scrubtastic two rax on Xel’Naga TvZ. You think you’re gonna get into Grandmasters with that hotness, kid? I think you got switched up on us at the hospital.