How My Daughter Made Me a Better RPG Gamer
My daughter, seen here upgrading her helm.
Photo by Velia Almazan
At my heart I am an RPG gamer. As far back as I can remember my favorite time in front of a console was plugging into the most immersive and literary titles I could find. Final Fantasy, Dragon Warrior, Chrono Trigger... Give me 40+ hours of turn-based combat and Tolkien references and I was a happy kid.
Some of that was escapism. I was an odd child who grew into an even odder adult. Being a goth in East Houston led to little more than being ostracized and the ability to tell apart different bullies by their wedgie techniques. So I let little big-headed avatars fight for good and right for days at a time, and it made the world seem a little brighter.
As I've grown up, gaming has grown-up with me, and frankly most modern RPGs make me feel slightly stupid until I've gotten a considerable distance into them. It's not that something like Xenoblade is particularly complicated, it's just that somewhere in the back of my find is the template of a very simple progression and skill set from the days of 16 bit.
For instance... I've restarted Final Fantasy XIII three times and never beaten it. Never even gotten close really. The game isn't hard. If it were anymore linear it would be in 2D, and even the mildest of level-grinding makes you a force to be reckoned with quickly. No, it's leveling up your damn weapons.
See, in FFXIII you don't win money from defeating monsters, you win things like horns and teeth. I'm fine with that, it makes way more sense, but you're supposed to utilize these components in a synthesis system to upgrade your weapons.
I constantly, constantly find myself bewildered by this, charging down a wrong path and then just hitting the reset button hoping that eventually I will do the "right" path as far as acquiring the best equipment at the best level for the fewest amount of pointless farm battles.
Yes, it's OCD as hell, and it makes it real hard for me to enjoy my favorite genre. I do this with every single RPG I've played in the last decade.
Now, I have a three-year-old daughter, and I love that kid more than anything. She's bright, too. Already she's reading some words, can do basic arithmetic, is socially well-adapted, and can name all 11 incarnations of Doctor Who. I feel very proud as a parent.
Yet I have already screwed up her stats development. I just know it.
She loves the water and the pool, but refuses to duck her head under or let me guide her to basic swimming motions even while wearing an improbably large life jacket. She just wants to cling to me in the water, while other girls younger than her move like zoras in the pool.
I've let slip way too many adultisms in her hearing. Brief snappy arguments with my wife, curse words, things like that. At the end of a death-metal rendition of the theme to My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic I finished a low growl with, "Satan is Lord" because I thought it was funny. It was funny, but her some of her grandparents aren't going to see it that way. I really shouldn't have let her associate the word "Satan" with laughter and her favorite television show just because I have an affinity for over-the-top doom metal.
Worst of all, I'm not firm with her in punishments. I'm a big softie. Always have been, and sticking to my guns while people cry comes hard to me. Am I leaving her without a recognition of discipline and consequence? Am I permanently screwing up her sense of right and wrong? Should I have leveled up Lightning's initial sword or bought something better and worked from higher up on a superior weapon, and most importantly can I change any of this at all?
I worry about this a lot.
Then, the other day, I was playing Dragon Quest VIII on my PS2, a retro gift from my wife for Father's Day. In that game, your four main characters can boost their skill sets in three different weapons, bare-fisted, and in a basic character trait category like, sigh, sex appeal.
I started out my main character boosting his sword stat because that's what he began with. Didn't take long before I realized that he was much more useful as a boomerang artist. But I had already used up so many skill points on the sword! Should I start over? I'd better start over and do it rig...
No. I don't have to do that.
Strangely, raising my daughter has made me a much less nervous gamer because there's no reset on her. There's no going back and making sure that she levels up at maximum capacity. Missed opportunities are missed, and that's that. Maybe she'll swim as pathetically as her father. Maybe she'll grow up to be socially awkward and prone to blurting out inappropriate things because I didn't finish the sidequest for the Broach of Not Using Your Backward-Ass Sense of Humor in Front of a Child. Maybe her respect for authority stat will linger in the single digits.
In the end though, life's a game, and all our parameters are randomly assigned at birth. More and more she goes from my NPC to her own hero. Even if I had done everything "right" you still have to play the game at some level of competence. She'll be no different once she finishes the training demo portion of this title.
And my DQVIII main character will probably never be the best boomeranger he could be either. Let's just see how it plays out and hope for the best.
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