Saturday, March 07, 2009

The Royal Wii

[formerly titled, Family Time with the No-Friend-O]

At some point recently, I mentioned that I wish I had more time for video games. It was a lie. Well, not a lie, but not really true either. I crave the opportunity for distraction, but I'm ambivalent to offer up yet another hour of my precious breathing time to the unflinching gaze of the big glass basilisk in my living room (the one in my office is obviously another matter), not unless it's entertaining enough to face addiction over. My relationship with gaming is sporadic--now and then something will grab me and I'll immerse myself in that virtual world at some extended leisure--but the finitude of experience hangs over me like a gigantic fantasy sword. Games feel like a healthy distraction for a while, and, if it's the right kind of game, good enough, the pleasure turns to a sincere focus, and then, before very long really, it's an unrelenting quest to probe the pixellated secrets of the game writers, and with enough time and nervous lip-trembling sweat, I can find gratitude, satisfaction of the weighted sort that leaves my sorry person spent and more than a little bit disgusted at the wasted hours, and chastened, packing away the whole damn console to moulder unloved into a couple generations of obsolescence before I start to miss the experience again. So yeah. Gaming.

I am, of course, in the middle of a binge right now, which is just one reason for the posting lull. I find myself scouring the world of Hyrule for its hidden elfin treasures for the second time in 20-odd years. Twiffer will tell you that the original Legend of Zelda was the perfect video game, and it's hard to disagree with take on that. Zelda had exactly the right combination of scope, pacing, charm, engaging puzzles and amusing cartoon violence. I have fond memories of taking contested turns on my buddy's (Jay's) NES, pushing imaginary boulders and striking out with a pudgy sword at bats and monsters, stinking up his family room with popcorn farts and unwashed teenage B.O.. (Good times.) Zelda is still going, and the newest Nintendo console gave us Twilight Princess three years ago, and it's like I'm playing the exact same game, but now with incredible backgrounds and smooth 3-D effects (on a TV screen worthy of a spoiled modern adult), surprisingly intuitive control from those silly Wii remotes (swordfights!), and a complicated and fun assortment of gizmos to address the many minor-league brain teasers. It even has red-assed monkeys, and I think we'll all agree that there is no higher humor to be found in the natural world.

Now you may think that video gaming, taking on a single-player quest epic, is a selfish act. Not so. Most of my hobbies (playing music, blogging) are annoying to the other people in the house, representative of supsiciously independent thought, which must be relegated to my private hour or two a week, driven off to the porch or to the after hours, or else stolen. When I pick up Zelda, however, it's different. The family hushes as I swagger over to the front of the screen, and unfold my chair placing in the middle of the empty space, carefully aligning my position with the sensor bar. C. scuttles over to the gadget basket and fishes out the remote, enjoying a second of interaction, calling up the game screen, loading the file, before she relinqueshes it to me. I think she's the only one that gets the tinge of injustice from this situation, and it's transitory. Well, she's the only other one. I feel like a self-conscious king in the middle of the room, propped up in my throne, waving my arms around like a buffoon, dressed up in robes and displayed for entertainment. My wife pours a glass of wine and sets it at my side. As one, we breathe deeply and accept the warnings against seizures. It's not like they've gotten us yet.

C. is the least inhibited, and has a gift, if you want to call it that, for color commentary. Normally she goes through her day tamping down that monologue that's flying by at ninety miles an hour even when she's not speaking, and when Link starts jogging across the screen, she turns into my little John Madden, complete with non-sequiturs, obvious points, savoring her own contribution, and nostalgia for the game (which we've been playing for all of two weeks now). "Oh Daddy, do you remember when I said you'd get two claw shots? Remember when I told you where to look for the heart container? Ha ha. That was good. Lookout daddy, lizard men! Aww, he hit you..." She gets genuinely sad when the cartoon avatar falls off the bridge for the tenth time in a row. As for my wife, I turn to her and ask if she really wants me to play. She nods affirmative, every time. I realize it's entertainment for her too, but when she's yelling at the screen, it's not at some football player in another state, it's me, right here. "You going to let him hit you like that? Move! Go there!." It reminds me a lot of driving, actually. My other child, M., cracks jokes. I love her.

Zelda is as fun as ever, but there's an awful lot of pressure to perform, and it's thrusting me square in a role I've spent my adult life understanding the injustice of. It hypnotizes my children, makes my wife yell at me, and makes my ass hurt. And yeah, I know what I'm doing when I get home. I can sense C. batting her eyes at me even now. "Daddy, will you play Zelda tonight?"


Bite oftheweek said...

You reminded me of our early (poorer) years of raising children. My cute husband bought a nintendo system "for our son" (who was 1 year old at the time).

We splurged buying 5-6 games a year. I watched him play Zelda all the way through the quest. I even played a bit, but not much. I was your daughter, the coach.

Anyway, sounds like things are well with you. Things are well with me.


artandsoul said...

Zelda was my husband's favorite video game too (after conquering Mario on the original NES).

We spent many happy hours - him playing, me watching. It's funny when you find yourself humming the song - and you aren't even the gamer!

We've upgraded the systems and await the next Zelda!

Keifus said...

Hey, Bite! Glad you're doing well. I'm not doing so bad--this time of year, the perspective usually starts coming back.

Now, as for both of you, and for my family too (who aren't reading but let's get it on paper), I don't fully understand this "happy-to-watch" thing. Even with the performance pressure, I'd still rather be steering. And this business of sitting on the throne while the wife sits quietly beside and the kids gather my slippers--man, that just ain't right.

twif said...

twilight princess is loads of fun.

i do understand the watching aspect though. perse & i do it all the time, particularly as there is a very limited number of local co-op RPGs.

artandsoul said...

LOL! Throne and slippers -- I never quite put that image with two grown ups sitting on a sofa in the kitchen playing a video game!

I'm more prone to think (gratefully) how lucky are we that we really never do have to grow all the way up!!

My kids all prefer Wii (they're 20, 21 and 22) and I have the three wireless controllers sitting on the counter for them whenever they come home. Because they all like to steer too!

My husband is always calling on one kid or another (depending on the needed skill) to work through a monster - they have loved that growing up.

My computer game skills run more toward Tetris ... where I was the first one in the family to score over a million in a single game.

This is some life, eh?

Thomas Paine said...

I guess I am just to old to have caught the video game bug -- beyond perhaps the occassional game of solitaire or freecell on my PC. But our daughter recently bought a wii for my wife -- mostly for the wii-fit. I do find I use that -- especially the yoga and balance games. I do note considerably improved flexibility and balance as a result, and it shows up in improved performance while skiing.

Keifus said...

Twif, of course I remembered your comment about the original Zelda. I guess I could watch if I eventually got my turn.

Thomas, I'm pleased that your picture matches my mental image almost perfectly. I think the "active" video game is a great idea. (Although I have some complaints about some of the sports games. I don't care if it's easier to flick your wrist, but it's annoying that if I do actually execute something like a tennis swing then the thing goes buggy.)

art: I bow to your tetris mojo.

Bite oftheweek said...

Not sure I did the "gather slippers" thing, but I did enjoy the backseat driving and armchair quarterbacking of his games.

Got Wii a few months back. I proudly kicked my 22 year old son's butt in boxing. Then I had to rest for about 15 minutes. That is some SERIOUS gaming!

PS Twif, hope you and your family are doing awesome.

artandsoul said...

Bite- watch out for Wii-shoulder and Wii-elbow.

They are killer.