Moms and video games. I know there are always exceptions, but, at least for my generation, more often than not the two just don't mix. I've spent over 25 of my 31 years playing them, and my mom has spent almost as much time expressing her distaste for them, specifically, she said, “all that bloody, gory, gooey violence.” I decided to take the time to really talk to her about it; to figure out exactly why she had a tendency to turn up her nose at my hobby-turned-career, why she eventually stopped scrutinizing my pastime, and what iOS games (if any) she could even end up liking. It was interesting, to say the least.
A Bit Of The Old Ultraviolence
As it turns out, my mom's disinterest/distaste for video games stems from a fairly common issue: violence. Not just the concept behind the acts, but the increasingly realistic depictions. When I was little and playing something on my Nintendo it never really bothered her since she and my dad could simply nix anything they thought was too much for me. Not that it happened often since very little from that era was all that graphic. However, as I got older, I tended to play more violent games. I personally attribute it to the industry increasing its mainstream focus on violence as it grew into itself, along with coincidence. I mean, sure, I played Resident Evil and Silent Hill, but I also played Intelligent Qube and Jet Moto which probably wouldn’t have bothered her at all if she’d ever seen me playing them. This is when it really started to bother her. She was legitimately worried that my constant exposure to video games would alter my personality. As time went on, she realized I was doing just fine, but she still wasn't too crazy about all the gore.
Even after I graduated college and moved out of the house, video games continued to bother her. As a teacher, she had begun to notice a shift in her students as more and more of them began to make video games a larger part of their lives. “It’s much harder to keep kids’ attention,” she said. Many of them required more and more visual stimuli in order to keep their focus. She also noticed that many of the younger or more impressionable kids started to act out things they saw on TV and in video games. “It seemed like they thought they were invincible,” she told me. One group of boys she'd taught years before went so far as to murder a 25 year old cook as he walked home from work simply out of boredom; an act that some claimed was inspired by a video game. I now realize why my success at getting her to accept the medium has been so difficult.
However, she hasn't written games off entirely. She's come to appreciate the technology behind it all, and can definitely appreciate the imaginative visuals found in many of the more offbeat titles. With my increased interest in all things iOS, I've managed to have even more success in convincing her that the industry isn't all headshots and zombies. In fact, I've managed to find a few iOS games she's even curious to try on her own.
Easing Into It
First I asked her to take a look at Triple Town. I figured a turn-based game with no timer and some cute, if oversized, cartoon bears might be okay. I mean it’s a fairly adorable game with some really addictive puzzles, so why not? And I was right for the most part. She didn’t have a problem with it since the only vaguely troubling imagery is “just angry looking bears.” She also thought, “(It) sounds exciting. Build a city. ‘Plot’ against the bears. Looks like something ‘I’ may even be able to handle.”
Next up: Spaceteam. Both because it’s family-friendly fun and because I freaking love it so, so much. Although it can get pretty frantic; I wasn’t sure how well she’d respond to it. “I remember watching you and dad play this one,” she said. “It looks and sounds like a great time.” And really, who wouldn’t like to try and desperately keep a lone starship functioning by shouting commands at their friends while simultaneously trying to follow their own sets of instructions?
After that, I decided to show her Paper Titans. Since my mom has an art background and actually teaches art, I figured there was a good chance that she’d appreciate the visuals. I mean it’s flippin’ gorgeous to begin with but it also does a fantastic job of capturing the look of a paper world with paper inhabitants. I was right again. “LOVE the bold graphic style,” she said. “Looks like my kind of game; fun, colorful, sounds easy (low stress). So far (this is) my fav.”
Getting A Little Retro
I didn’t want to focus entirely on new releases, though. I also thought there might be some worthwhile considerations from the App Store’s past. Hence my next choice: Zen Bound 2. “Very, very appealing,” she said. “[The] graphics look excellent.” It’s the kind of reaction I was hoping for. The entire game is meant to be serene and calming with no timers or real possibility of failure. It’s almost more of a relaxation exercise than a game. “This is my top choice,” she enthused. “I want to wind the rope!”
Moving right along, and in keeping with the visually inoffensive, I brought up Tiny Tower. Nimblebit’s first major iOS success still has quite the following today, and it’s managed to last this long without resorting to any sort of violence. My mom liked it right off, saying, “Everyone looks HAPPY!” This is true: I’ve yet to spot a bitizen who doesn’t look like they’re having the best day of their life at all times. “My kind of game,” said mom. “I would try this one.”
After some thought, I figured I’d also show her Heads Up!. Not because she’s my mom or there’s much of a chance she watches The Ellen Degeneres Show, but because the game itself seems right up her alley. It’s a party game that requires interacting with other people, it’s goofy, and there’s a good chance that several laughs will be had. “Yes! Looks like fun,” she said. “My kind of game.”
Last, but not least, I tested the waters with a slightly more complex game that keeps things cute: Cut the Rope. I wasn’t entirely sure if the more involved gameplay mechanics would be off-putting but I was willing to bet that the adorable mascot would win her over. “Probably wouldn’t keep my interest at all,” she said. Ouch; I was totally wrong on this one.
The Heart Of The Matter
So why go through all this effort? Why try so hard to show my mom examples of iOS games that don’t fall under the rather broad viewpoint she used to view the medium with? For two reasons:
First, video games have been a significant part of my life for close to its entirety. It’s something that I’ve enjoyed immensely, but was never able to truly talk about with her due to her previous experiences. Since I began writing about them professionally they’ve become even more significant in my life, and I wanted to be able to find some way of sharing that with her. I think introducing her to the casual market is a great way to accomplish that and I’ve already found a few titles she’s interested in checking out. Say what you will about casual games, they’re still a great way to introduce non-gamers to the medium.
Second, I don't want her to keep worrying. I know she understands that I’m an adult and that none of the virtual violence I’ve taken part in over the years has had any sort of negative effect on me, but I also know there’s still a part of her that worries. Both about me and about what the industry may or may not be doing to children. I wanted to help her to understand that, despite all the media attention and tendency of AAA releases to rely on violence, it’s a very diverse field that’s grown immensely ever since I first tried to get Mario past that first walking mushroom.
I suppose in the back of my mind I’ve always been concerned that she had the wrong idea about what I do and what I write about. This was my chance to finally address that concern and I feel like we really made some progress. Granted, I doubt I’ll be excitedly discussing Star Command or Robot Unicorn Attack 2 with her any time soon. Still, I can finally, really, talk to her about one of the major facets of my life for the first time. It’s a great feeling.
[Happy Mother's Day to you, Rob's mom! --Ed.]