Some of my fondest memories are of my siblings and me gathering around the computer while my dad played games. Gaming became a family pastime; we would help from the sidelines, taking the roles of back-seat gamers. I remember the day he sat me down in front of the original Warcraft (1994) and showed me how to cast spells. My dad teaching us how to build towns and organize armies was our version of playing catch in the yard. Gaming has always been something we’ve connected over.
I decided to ask my dad about his love of video games, and I learned some things I had never considered before.
Gaming in the 70’s and 80’s
“I liked video games before there was video gaming,” my dad said.
He dabbled in Dungeons & Dragons and played in arcades as a kid. He’s familiar with the original Pong and Space Invaders, those old-school games that you can find for free now. For a while, my dad even had a home system, something that was rare back in the day (it might have been borrowed). In fact, his mom—my Nana—used to sneak in at night and play on it secretly. She says she beat the high score–is gaming inheritable? My family is on the third generation now–and had secret calluses from handling the controller.
In high school in 1980, my dad played the original Star Trek game on a floppy disk on one of the first Apple computers. In college in the 1980s, he would sign up for computer science classes, then drop them before the two-week cutoff so he could play games at the Computer Science Department’s labs at the University of Washington. He never got in trouble, though he’d occasionally get kicked out if the lab was busy. Apparently, Bill Gates did the same thing when he was a young man—and he wasn’t even enrolled at the University.
My dad might’ve become a programmer, but he says “it wasn’t very exciting back then—if I’d had graphics and games like we have now, I would’ve probably done that instead of medicine.”
So what changed with kids? First, the time. Dad quickly became too busy to play immersive games with three young kids in the house, though once we were old enough, gaming became a family activity.
Once we were allowed to game, my parents didn’t worry much about age-appropriateness. My dad’s reasoning was that if we were old enough to figure out how to play it, we were old enough to play it. The same theory went for books—if we were capable of reading complex narratives and subjects without getting bored or confused, then he wasn’t going to keep us from it. However, it was also very clear to us that if we were uncomfortable with something, we would ask him. We were introduced to most of the games by watching him play before trying them out ourselves. And, for what it’s worth, I was never scared or scarred by anything I encountered in a video game when I was young. (In fact, there were a few things that freaked me out much more: an episode of “Rugrats,” a schlocky horror movie called “The Blob” and—most of all—our “Caring for Sheep” book that featured a section on getting rid of bot flies. Why “Caring for Sheep” became my nightmare fuel while Diablo didn’t, I couldn’t tell you. Kids are weird.)
The thing my dad did worry about was online access. He was concerned about us gaming with other people, and although I was always wildly curious about it as a child, it was understood that in my house, if any online gaming were to happen, we would need permission and oversight. Thus, even though we owned Ultima Online (1997, when I was 7 years old) it wasn’t until World of Warcraft came out in 2004 (age 14) that I was allowed open access. We discussed sharing of information, how to deal with crazies, and what to do if someone was being creepy.
Advice About Family Gaming
My dad’s advice for families: encourage kids not to get involved in online chat during games. He also noted that balance is essential—”it will become your world”—and he’s had to back off of World of Warcraft when he started finding himself chained to his guild and missing dinner. However, he also mentioned that gaming has helped him with his ADHD; I can relate.
Gaming Going Forward
This Christmas I got my dad’s Steam account set up, and he downloaded a space-themed strategy game (his favorite). I’m hoping to get our accounts linked through Steam’s new family plan. In the end, what I hope families will learn from our story is that gaming doesn’t have to be a barrier to family life. In fact, it can be a bonus. And parents? You can be successful and find a healthy balance between gaming and family. Enjoy!