Thursday, May 27, 2010

Thank You Mario

My son finished up Super Mario Galaxy two days ago in anticipation of getting the sequel (he hopes) soon.
The week he's spent working on this has been a breath of fresh air after the months of relentless first person shooter action from his corner.

My son is eleven. So I have not been all that willing to allow him to just dive into a genre where 'the art' typically involves the aesthetics of headshots and the ragdoll physics of bodies subjected to rocket fire. Years ago, when he FIRST started showing an interest in FPS games it was through school chums and their talking up anything with 'Halo' in the name. Of course. At that age those boys weren't particularly good at it, and I don't think even completing the campaign games, let alone going online multiplayer, was something they worked at. They just liked to spend an hour here or there blowing shit up on Dad's cool game. All the damn toys in the store were not helping.

My son didn't get to play Halo. I didn't insist on squeaky clean games and nothing else for him, but I had enough experience in FPS games (they are a middling video game love for me) to know ultraviolence was the norm not the exception. Eventually, after some investigation, I settled on letting him be introduced to the genre with an game that emphasized exploration as much as shootin' stuff. That the violence is all against non-human (non-red blooded) foes, helped a little. He got Metroid Prime: Corruption.

Yeah, I know. Kind of complex for a grade schooler. But I got him a guide and hoped that the puzzle and exploration stuff would be something we could solve together. My son didn't really go for it. He thought the game was cool (especially the shooting), but having to figure out how and where to go next just proved overwhelming. He wanted something more straightforward. And honestly I couldn't blame him.

Enter Fire Warrior on the PS2. This is a somewhat-maligned shooter, usually put down as being simplistic or having murky visuals. I've always had a soft spot for it because of my history with GW properties. I liked the game a lot when I played through it, but that's because its immersion level (for me) overcame its faults. Subject matter-wise it doesn't get much bloodier and grim than 40K, but this being a PS2 game the lack of fidelity (next to Halo) kind of abstracted the violence a little. More importantly though was the fact that my son grew up around this imagery. When he was very little he would traipse through offices with giant posters of Warhammer or 40K battles or run through a warehouse filled with bin after bin of orc, elf, and space marine figures. As he's gotten older and has shown an interest in the GW tabletop games, he already has  understanding of the backdrop which has come through the decidedly less violent activities of painting and modelling. And the protagonist for Fire Warrior is a Tau. Probably chosen by the developer because the Tau race is probably the only one in 40K that comes close to current sensibilities. They are essentially good guys in a universe where the best you can expect from any other army would be 'uncaring' with most ranging from fascist to psychotic... again, by modern moral standards. Since my son likes to be the good guy, his chosen race for his 40K army is the Tau, so a game starring a Tau character would seem to be fate.

Right or wrong, justifiable or not, he got into FPS games through a weak link in Dad's armor. Although the game was difficult for him, he managed to get through about 75% with the occasional help from me on some bosses.

After that, he's been allowed to play Halo. I used Fire Warrior as a sort of test to see how a game that violent might affect his behavior in general. While he did play the character in live games with his sister or friends, no untoward aggression seemed manifest. Nothing apart from typical stuff boys do anyway. He also didn't appear to be desensitised to real life violence. It was only ONE game, but as a concerned parent you frequently look too hard for behavioral weirdness anyway.

He tackled the goshdamn Halo games one after the other. Almost to the exclusion of all other game playing. Because he would have the occasional restriction from games and other delays, this monotony dragged on for quite some time, and still pops up occasionally even now, as he gets reminded that Halo: Reach is a few months away. So in spite of our lack of interest, the rest of the family now know all the Covenant troop types on sight, and can hum the complete Halo theme from memory. And using his newly-honed talents he went back and completed the last 25% of Fire Warrior.

But Super Mario Galaxy. A wildly different game and one that I am extremely gratified my son still finds fun. Compulsively playable, in fact. A week ago, he said 'I don't know why I waited so long to get back to this!'. The game has the dizzying array of collectible items, opponents and levels. But it also entertained him without one drop of blood (alien or otherwise) shed. And he was just as wowed and cowed by the obstacles and bosses as anything Halo threw at him. Watching the ending, he told me he was really sorry the game was over, but he didn't get all the stars so he is still pushing at the unfinished areas.

I really don't have an excuse for not playing this game myself. I watch him do it... and my daughter is giving it a go... and I sort of hover over starting up a file for myself. I have never been into Mario games in any form. I can appreciate their quality and the milestones that some of the games represent. I played Mario's arcade games before there really was much of a home scene, but after I got a NES the various Mario Worlds just seemed like so much WORK. I'm not much of a find-all-the-hidden-shit guy. Never have been. I took a lot better to Sonic when he came along, but we all know how he's turned out (fingers crossed for Sonic 4 to be a-okay). Now my excuse is to just look at this my huge backlog and say I don't need to dig into another franchise just yet. Let's ignore the fact I'm still buying more games... at least those are genres or IPs I've been into for a long time.

My kid's being too young to handle FPS violence may also have been too young to appreciate SMG. So I should probably grow up myself and just play the damn thing.

1 comment:

  1. Your son sounds just like my 11 year old brother. Obsessed with Halo and whatever the latest FPS (or 'murder simulator'as I've taken to vitriolically branding them) his mates are talking about at school, it's as if gaming begins and ends for him with this month's charm impoverished blockbuster game that's shamelessly designed to impress young kids. But his parents, with no knowledge of games even if they wanted to exercise some form of discipline, have have no control over him, so he gets to play whatever he wants, with whatever rating it may have. I think he has all the CoD games for PS2, God of War and some other stuff like Black (good game that, actually). So he pretty much plays all the 'adult' games in the house while I'm hunched over another round of Mushi.

    Tried to getting him into the games I like but he ain't having it. He did say he wanted to buy a Wii once though so maybe I should try him on Mario see if that will get him to play something else. Nah, what am I thinking, he'll just want to get Resident Evil 4 for it.