A Skylanders Lesson From the Kids...One Mom's Story

Posted by | April 22, 2015 | Opinion | 2 Comments
Skylanders SWAP Force

I’m not much of a video game person. I enjoy them, but mostly because they are a great way to do something other than whatever it is I’m supposed to be doing. When I need to procrastinate (and this happens a lot), I’ll play some Farmville on my computer. I love Farmville because I love to-do lists: tell me I need to feed four cows, make a scarecrow, and grow 50 ears of corn during the next five days, and I am a happy camper.

Check, check, and check.

skylanders

Who says growing vegetables can’t be fun?

My kids, on the other hand, love video games and would play them all day every day if they could. I rarely play with them on our Wii because most of the games they like require multiple button pushes and fast reflexes, neither of which are skills of mine. For one thing, I am missing all of the fingers on one of my hands, so whenever a game requires the Nunchuk, there is a whole lot of balance and contortion involved. And second, I get stressed out by all of the action—I’d much rather watch a field of wheat grow than try to jump onto a moving platform.

For this article, the folks at Pixelkin and I thought it would be interesting to ask my 7-year-old twins to teach me how to play one of their favorite Wii games, Skylanders: Swap Force. I was curious to see how my kids would do as teachers, Pixelkin was curious about whether or not I would lose my mind, and my kids were excited to destroy me at their game. Everyone’s a winner.

So here’s my experience playing Skylanders: Swap Force as an old, non-gaming, uncoordinated mom.

The game started with me telling my children to stop talking. Like their mother, they have a bad habit of wanting to answer questions by giving all of the backstory first; this meant a long string of shouted words like “Elemental,” “Greeble Blunderbuss,” and “Portal of Power.” I decided that it would be best for my mental health to live with a little mystery, and we settled into the task of helping me choose a character.

Choosing a character was, by far, the most important part of this whole deal for my kids. For days before we started playing, they would say things like, “Oh, by the way, Mom? In Skylanders? You might want to choose Wash Buckler because he’s a water element.” If I needed to relax my mind and space out for a half hour to 45 minutes, I would ask them what that meant. But I wanted to go with my gut on game day, so I waited until the last minute and picked Camo: a half-plant, half-dragon Earth element who is, most importantly, my favorite shade of green. My daughter picked Stealth Elf, a female ninja suffering from amnesia, and we were off to the races!


And by “off to the races” I mean “hold on, because these people like a backstory more than my kids do.” I don’t remember the games of my childhood having these long, elaborate introductory short films telling us why we were playing the game. I remember being plopped down in a magical forest where my job was to save a princess whose name was Zelda because that was the freaking game now stop asking so many questions and enjoy some Cheetos and some time away from your parents.

In the backstory for Skylanders: Swap Force, our heroes got stuck on a magical volcano that erupted and gave them the power to chop their little bodies in half and swap tops and bottoms with other characters. It’s super creepy. So you choose your whole character or whichever abomination of random halves you’d like to put together and your job is to defeat the bad guys. Fine.

Playing the game is pretty straightforward in that you are moving your character around beating up bad guys and collecting coins, except that there are about 400 different buttons that you’re supposed to press. My kids kept yelling at me to press B, C, Z, A, or 1 until I finally just mashed a bunch of buttons and made my character do some amazing things I could never repeat.

Though the basic gameplay is straightforward, Skylanders: Swap Force’s surrounding details make it a bizarre, patience-testing struggle. The most frustrating part of the game: Nobody ever stops talking. Every time you come near another character, the game pauses and they start talking to you. It’s like that nightmare where I’m trying to buy laxatives at the store, and I run into a woman from the PTA who wants to keep talking to me when all I want is to keep moving. I realize that the game makers do this for the kids who are playing the game so that they will have context and defined goals, but my God, Skylanders, just let me buy my laxatives and get on with my life.

Another odd part of the game is that one of your goals is to save sheep. Yes, sheep. Why would  you, in a world filled with greebles and talking pirate octopuses, add in sheep? I have no idea. But I can’t say I didn’t enjoy it. Because what kind of monster doesn’t like sheep? Not me. Also, it’s important to mention that my character’s special power is to quickly grow watermelons and then throw them at the bad guys.

Worst. Super power. Ever.

skylanders

I know we’re supposed to rescue the sheep, but that guy in the back looks a little menacing.

Much to the surprise of my kids and me, I did passably well at rescuing sheep and murdering greebles. I even won a hat, which is apparently something that you do in this game. I had to fight with my kids about this because they didn’t want my character to wear the hat. I said, “Why wouldn’t I want to be a lizard wearing a stovepipe hat?!” I mean, honestly.

The part of the game I found the most challenging, however, was jumping onto platforms. It was like Super Mario Bros. all over again. I had to hand the controls over to my son multiple times because I could not for the life of me get on top of anything. It was my one total failure. But it gave my kids a lot of joy to watch me struggle, so I’m okay with it.

Skylanders: Swap Force is a terrific game for people who are children and/or not me. It was both too fast (with tons of little green guys coming at me from all directions) and too slow (with all of the horrible talking). I was done after about half an hour. And while I’ll miss my snazzily dressed lizard, I’d rather go plant some sweet potatoes and fish for cod. Quietly. Slowly. And without chopped-up half-and-half mutants.

Meredith Bland

About Meredith Bland

Meredith Bland is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Brain, Mother; Narratively; Blogher; Time; and Parentmap among others. She also writes at her humor blog, Pile of Babies.