I sat down with Jonathan and Sarah Wai, gamer siblings, over tea the other day. Here’s what they had to say about gaming as a family.
Keezy: What were your first video games?
Sarah: I assume just sneaking up to the computer one time and pressing buttons doesn’t count, because I ran away after that…I totally didn’t know how to play the game. Like “the arrow keys aren’t working!”
Keezy: It totally counts, it totally counts!
Sarah: That was Delta Force, but I don’t know if that was the first game.
Jon: That was way after I got a computer. My first…well, I guess it depends on what your definition of game is.
Sarah: It was Frogger!
Jon: Yeah, it was Frogger.
Sarah: I’m pretty sure it was Frogger.
Jon: But if we’re talking about Microsoft stuff, it was probably the Chip’s Challenge game. It took me forever to find it again! Asking like…”what’s that game with the thing, where you’re the kid, and you run around and collect different colored things that give you different abilities and open different doors”…it was weird.
Sarah: Wow, I need to look that up.
Jon: I remember playing that game really clearly. But yeah, the worst game I had as a kid was the first Half Life.
Keezy: Did that scar you?
Jon: It didn’t scar me, but I do remember the wonder of being a kid and playing a video game because you don’t know that there are limited choices and experiences. So when you first push that crystal into the laser beam it’s like “What did I just doooo?! I just messed up the experiment!”
Sarah: Yeah, I thought you messed up that part too.
Jon: Yeah, we both did. The idea of scripted events just wasn’t ingrained in our consciousness yet.
Keezy: Did you play the whole game through?
Jon: As I got older I would play through it a little bit more, but till this day I still haven’t beaten it.
Sarah: Wait, for real?!
Jon: It’s a long game!
Sarah: That’s like me saying I’ve never finished Pokemon Blue. Because I haven’t! It’s like a source of shame.
Jon: I actively got stuck on Yellow.
Jon: Yeah. Because remember, I got Pokemon Yellow and you got Pokemon Blue.
Sarah: Oh! You got stuck because you wanted Charmillion to evolve.
Keezy: What were your favorite games when you were kids?
Sarah: Yeah, Morrowind.
Jon: It’s probably like the best one.
Sarah: And it came with this video card I think. So my dad likes building computers for us, so when he built Jon’s computer, there was Morrowind on there.
Jon: It just came with Morrowind. It was great.
Keezy: Did you play games with your dad, or did he just like computer stuff?
Jon: He’s tried!
Sarah: He likes Flight Simulator! That’s the only thing I remember him playing, though.
Jon: That was when he had more time. When we were growing up he would try to play other games with me…like we tried to play Ghost Recon a few times. I didn’t understand the mechanics so I’d always get shot in the face…but yeah, he doesn’t have as much time to play video games as I think he thinks he does.
Keezy: If you could play with him now, either online or in person…would you want to?
Sarah: It depends on whether he’s familiar with the mechanics…
Jon: It would be interesting.
Sarah: I wouldn’t want him to get mad at me for not covering him or, like…because in the end it’s your dad! it’s a little easier to play with your siblings, or someone on your level.
Keezy: So do you guys play together still?
Sarah: When there are multiplayer games that allow it! Well, we have a younger brother. He misses me a lot, and he’s like “Sarah, I wish you would come home!” He wants to play with me while I’m doing my internship, since I’m not here. By the way, I should mention, he’s really good at hiding presents.
Jon: Is he really?
Sarah: That was totally sarcasm. He’s not.
Jon: He’s not, he’s horrible.
Sarah: I found out what my birthday present was.
Jon: Oh, the [game] controller.
Sarah: Yeah. I was like, “What’s this controller doing here? Why is it still in its package?”
Jon: Zero effort. Zero effort.
Keezy: Do you play together where one person is watching or helping?
Sarah: I like watching video games a lot. I do that more than Jon does. I mean…when The Last of Us came out—I’m pretty horrible with console shooters—I just left it to Jon. I was really engrossed in the story.
Jon: So we both got to experience the story, but only one of us had to deal with the frustration of playing. Some of the parts in that game are really difficult.
Keezy: Did your parents ever try to stop you from playing, or were they totally okay with it?
Jon: The bans were more out of punishment for not meeting our responsibilities rather than about the games themselves.
Sarah: It was never about what kinds of games we were playing. They know we’re good kids, but if they didn’t see us around the house or something, they’d get concerned. Like…I can see that now. I feel like it’s a weird time in middle school and high school where you come back from school, and you do homework, and then you play games and that’s like every single day and they don’t see you until dinnertime. And I look back and that was a really hepful time for me to just relax. So it’s kind of like they want to see us more, but…
Jon: They didn’t want us to depend on that to be happy, I think.
Keezy: And sometimes you just needed some downtime.
Keezy: Did you ever feel like you were gaming too much, or like you wanted to stop?
Jon: Definitely sometimes. You take a step back and think…I should be doing something more. But luckily I had other hobbies, like art.
Keezy: So what about creative stuff? Have you been inspired by video games?
Jon: Always. Always.
Sarah: I had this space where I was so into Dragon Age—this is weird, but—I think about it like a lot.
Jon: It’s not weird.
Keezy: I played it like three times in a row last fall, so don’t worry.
Sarah: Okay. But yeah, I like the idea of the characters, and being a leader, and it’s like…I did all these things I didn’t think I could do.
Jon: All these new ideas, all these designs for things…I remember drawing stuff in my notebook when I was bored during class. I have a document that’s just lists of game ideas with different mechanics.
Keezy: What are your favorite kinds of games?
Sarah: Roleplaying games.
Jon: RPGs are definitely the most interesting of the bunch.
Sarah: A lot of RPGs put you in the shoes of someone else…I’m not a big fan of them.
Keezy: You mean a specific person versus a custom character?
Sarah: At least give me the option to be a man or a woman, you know?
Keezy: So it’s really important to have the option to choose your gender in a game?
Sarah: When I’m roleplaying, I want it to be me, a representation of myself in this other world. I don’t identify as a man, and I want to be me while playing.
Jon: That’s interesting, because I actually do the opposite. I seek out games where I’m not me. The ones where…maybe it’s because as a guy, the ability to choose basically any game and play as a guy is a privelege. But I like being able to put myself in a different mindset at least. Like this person has done really bad things, that I haven’t done before. So maybe it’d be interesting. Just using RPGs to experience things—not only different crazy scenarios, but also experiencing them from a completely different perspective, like with female Shepard.
Sarah: Like in Mass Effect 2 if you’re playing female Shepard and you walk into the bar where you’re trying to hunt down Archangel, and the guy is like oh, the stripper signups are over there.
Jon: Yeah, and as a guy you’re instantly like, “Woh, that’s not cool.” How do you react to that? And just being able to see from a different perspective adds to that roleplay so I think it’s really interesting that roleplaying for you is being you whereas roleplaying for me is taking on a different perspective and seeing what happens.
Keezy: Trying on a new identity, maybe.
Keezy: So would you say gaming brought you together as siblings?
Jon: Gaming had a pretty big impact on the way we grew up.
Sarah: Having shared interests is really important for being close.
Jon: Remember when we were young? We came up with some really interesting compromises.
Sarah: Our parents got you a blaster.
Keezy: And you didn’t get a blaster?
Sarah: I wanted one. So they had to get me a blaster too.
Jon: I was insistent that you join in on what I was doing even though it wasn’t your first choice, like Counterstrike or whatever.
Keezy: What about your current favorite games?
Jon: That is a super tough question!
Sarah: Oh nooo!
Keezy: Top 3?
Sarah: In no particular order? Animal Crossing: New Leaf is totally awesome.
Keezy: Do you play it with your friends?
Jon: The villagers are your friends.
Sarah: I know several people who have it. Sometimes when he has too many perfect fruits, my one friend asks me to open my town up so he can come over…because when you sell perfect fruits in other towns you get a lot of money.
Keezy: So he’s using you.
Sarah: Yes. I do it too. But he has more pear trees than I do. When he comes over I stand outside of the train station with an ax.
Jon: I don’t know if I have a favorite game. I’m in that phase now where I actually have enough money and can buy games, so I’m trying to branch out, experience different things.
Sarah: I also like Journey.
Jon: It’s definitely one of your favorites.
Sarah: It’s too good. Oh, and Skyrim.
Keezy: If you could change anything about games, whether it’s the culture, the mechanics…what would it be?
Sarah: Can I talk about this? I talk about it a lot. I’m tied right now between whether I want the in-game representation to change, or the game culture representation, or the people making them….because there’s so many places right now where minorities and women are excluded or marginalized. There are three main places where you can find it. In the community of gamers, with the developers, and in the games themselves.
Keezy: The representation and diversity issues are big.
Jon: Making it so that every gamer is aware of that and wants that to change is really important.
Sarah: When you talk about how like…in League of Legends a lot of female human champions are just breasts and butts and there’s no need for that, and when you point that out, people are like…
Jon: You’re overacting, it’s just a game…no, it’s not.
Keezy: It is hard to even talk about it sometimes.
Sarah: Those kind of discussions are looked down upon, and it makes me not want to go out there and play the game. It’s really important to me as a gamer to have people know that these issues actually exist because the first step in solving a problem is identifying it and bringing awareness to it.
Jon: Ignorance is overwhelming.
Sarah: It pains me.
Jon: But I think gaming as a whole is still good because it gives us new way to interact with people and experience new things. Our parents were really good about teaching us stuff. Even before games there were movies. Being able to set limits and stuff, it’s really important. And even if there isn’t a lot of diversity, it’s still…
Keezy: Parents can bring context to it and help teach.
Jon: Exactly, exactly.