This Gamer's Life
I must confess to having been a tiny bit jealous of some of my friends who got video games and game systems for their birthdays or at Christmas. The few times I was invited over to play Super Mario Bros., Contra or Street Fighter, I did enjoy it. My parents did eventually fork out some money and bought us a Nintendo NES... nearly a decade after it was originally released. We got a Sega Genesis too, years after they were popular.
Yet, especially now, I don't fault my parents one bit for their lack of devotion to mine and my brothers' desire for video games. This desire was, for the most part, a symptom of wanting to be as "cool" as our friends. No, my parents did it right (at least this part of parenting) and instead of letting us become addicted to video games, spending countless hours mindlessly twitching our fingers on controllers; they got us hooked on a different type of game.
My father is an artist and even as he nears the big "seven-oh" (sorry dad), he's still a kid at heart. He played Dungeons & Dragons, Traveller and Middle Earth Role Playing (MERP), but it was when he was a teacher, assigned to advise an after school study hall, that he became a game designer. Instead of having the students sit around, bored out of their minds, he had them play RPGs and strategy games; most of which he created.
Rather than just saying "no" to us begging for video games, my dad introduced us to the world of table-top role-play games. I remember playing MERP with him at the tender age of eight or nine years. However, things changed a bit when my family spent the summer of my tenth birthday in a cabin out in the wilderness of Southwestern Colorado. When we weren't hiking, controlling the prairie dog population or otherwise enjoying the outdoors, we were in the cabin playing a new role-play game my dad was developing. This game would become an integral part of my life, consuming hour upon hour of free time. I introduced it to many of my childhood friends and still play it every so often, as an adult.
I've already lauded the benefits of table-top RPGs in a previous post, so I won't go into that again here. It will suffice to say that I accredit much of my own creative mind, my leadership and interpersonal skills as well as my problem-solving abilities to playing the games my father created. Now, as an adult, I also help create these games. My dad as the game master of countless sessions, taught me more through these games, than many of my secondary education classes (through no fault of their own).
I recently sat in a booth at an event and watched my father play five separate sessions of Planet Archipelago with new players, mostly young teenagers. A couple of these had never played a table-top RPG before. To watch the joy on their faces as they played, and to hear my father's familiar voice say some familiar phrases, took me on a journey down memory lane. My dad's face, perhaps the brightest of them all, looked years younger as he challenged the players to achieve their objectives and keep their characters alive.
I've gone on to being a game master myself as well as collaborating with my dad on Planet Archipelago. I now teach junior high school students and after school, a group of these students come to my classroom for strategy and adventure role-play gaming. I see in them much of the same growth and enjoyment that I had at their age. Video games can be fun and I have no doubt that some of them hold some amount of educational or character building elements. However, I have no regrets whatsoever for having played table-top RPGs as a kid rather than video games. As our culture embraces gaming (in its various forms) ever tighter, we must pause and figure out the best ways to benefit from games. Are they merely entertainment or an escape from reality? Or, when done right, can they teach us more about humanity, right versus wrong, solving problems and being real leaders, than real life by itself can do?