It’s one of the most difficult questions for a parent, how do you introduce your children to video games?
As a father of a 5-year-old, I’ve found that video games will find the kid, there’s no way around it. With all the tech floating around, they’ll play games before they even know it’s a game.
But what I’m talking about is “real” video games. Games that matter (but not really). I’m totally behind the games that help my kid learn to read, write, sort, and so on…they have really helped my child grow. But what about the games that help you grow culturally?
With all the video game options today, where do you start? Do I start my child with an Atari 2600 game? Nintendo? One of the plug-n-play Pac-Man games? Or just start in current times with some dancing game?
I think it’s only natural to want your child to have an experience like the one you had and remember so fondly. For me, that started with the Nintendo so I decided to start there. In many ways it was perfect. Not just because it’s nostalgic for me but because it’s simple. The games are simple, the controller is simple and there’s no internet or extra technology needed to play – it just works.
So to help complete the authenticity of things, I went to the thrift store and got myself an old television. Putting an original NES deck onto a modern flatscreen just looks like crap, plus with a CRT we can play the zapper gun games too – bonus!
Then came the big question – what game?
Super Mario, right? That’s where most of us started. It’s simple and cute and even has a princess, which got my daughter’s attention. I turned it on and showed her and she lost interest before the first pipe.
She walked over to my crate of games and said, “can we play this one?”
In her hand was the gold The Legend of Zelda cartridge. Man, what a great looking cart. Such great marketing.
“Sure!” I said.
I then went on to explain the game to her, talking about the princess, the fairies, the ghosts, gems, monsters, dungeons…and she was ready to invest. I even had an old guide book for Zelda so that helped supplement my pitch.
My intention was to have her control the game and I’d just help and guide, but she had other ideas. She gave it a shot but then said, “you do it, daddy.”
But this wasn’t about me playing and her watching. So we negotiated a partnership where I would do the controls and she would tell me where to go. It was magical.
Given Zelda’s big world, every screen had something different to offer and show her.
“Get the jewels!”
“Catch the fairy!”
“Where’s the princess?”
That last question was asked a lot throughout our first adventure. I told her she was in the Level 9 dungeon and that we needed to start at Level 1. Surprisingly enough, it was a great way to educate her on numbers and progression. Same with collecting gems and buying things we needed. It was fascinating.
She also told me where to go. I would just keep Link on the same screen until she gave me a direction. There was a lot of “go left” followed by “go right” followed by “go left” again but she finally got it. I thought the guide map would be more interesting to her like it was to me when I was young but that didn’t quite click.
Nonetheless, she guided me around the world of Hyrule and it was wonderful. Despite not having played Zelda for many years, I still remembered where some of the secrets were and tried to nudge to certain spots and ask her things like what we should do if we wanted to make a hole in the wall to find a secret. Bombs!
Past attempts at playing video games had her playing something like Pac-Man or her watching me playing something else. Co-op games didn’t work as the controls usually gave her trouble. But here was the perfect balance of everything.
We could play together but the game was self-paced so we could stop and talk and figure stuff out (or just get completely distracted). Yes, I was doing most of the “playing” of the game but she was not just passively watching me. She watched and interacted with vested interest…and she really wanted to see that princess.
As I told her more of the story and which things we’d need to find the princess she got more and more interested. Here’s a child that rarely stays interested in one thing for more than 15 minutes but that afternoon we played The Legend of Zelda for 3 hours straight.
But perhaps the most amazing thing was that she asked to play again a few days later and we’ve continued our quest for that darn princess. I don’t know if she’ll stay interested long enough to actually finish the game but she’s stuck with it a lot longer than I expected.
The experience also reminded me of something I’ve always known and truly believe…the technology of the game does not matter. Period. If there’s a hook, there’s a hook and that’s all you need. For her, the hook was a story about princesses and playing with dad.
The technology limitations of Zelda and the NES actually made our adventure a lot better compared to something with 12 buttons, 1080p graphics and lots of moving parts. She has games on her iPad that are far more complex and visually interesting, but this 30-year old game had her learning and more interested than anything she’s seen on a touchscreen.
I don’t know if my child will grow up to enjoy video games. I don’t really care. I’d selfishly love to see her experience the fun and magic of games like I did but even if that doesn’t happen, for one afternoon we bonded a bit playing The Legend of Zelda and it’ll be a moment I’ll never forget.