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first person

Illustration by Drew Shannon

During our daily pandemic walks, my elder son often tells me about the latest aspect of the video game he likes. Bless him as he carries on determined to share, undeterred by my intermittent non-committal “mmm-hmm” responses. I will admit there has been an eye roll or a thousand over the years of listening to the minutiae of video games.

My husband and I have often worried about his obsession with computer games and all the time and energy he has invested in it. My other son also has a favourite computer game he’s been playing for a decade. At first, we begrudgingly approved and monitored their online games with caveats: making their computer screens face the room, not allowing computers in their bedrooms and setting a timer for gameplay. This was the status quo for years; I was controlling and vaguely dismissive of what they were enjoying. Now that my boys are 22 and 19, the best I can only hope for is that they will come up for air and drink a glass of water or maybe eat lunch and not play games that are too violent.

At one point in this pandemic, I got sucked into playing my sons’ sci-fi multiplayer game, Warframe. It looked intriguing and seeing the weekend stretch before me like a bad repeat of all the days of the past year, I found myself asking if I could try. Just to be clear, I had never played a video or computer game and, in the past, had been quite scathing of such a “time-wasting occupation.”

Famous last words.

Under the watchful eye of my eldest son, I tried his game using my youngest son’s desktop computer with his two screens. I felt like I was sitting in NASA mission control. My youngest son joined us; he was relegated to the coffee table next to me and balanced his laptop precariously. They talked me through the game but my progressive lenses meant I had a hard time locking onto the images dancing in front of me. They instantly jumped in to help: Turn off this button, motion blur that and – most importantly – turn off the gory bits!

I had to pick a character and then we were battling as a team. My boys had my back – covering and shielding me so I wouldn’t be shot, they guided me with their characters and would circle back to make sure I had got through the tunnel or wasn’t stuck under a gantry (That jump action is hard! You have to hit three buttons at once). They encouraged me at every turn and with each success. When I felt I had had too much, we stopped. I was drained, but I also didn’t want to stop playing even though we had gone way over the two-hour limit. Now I was breaking my own rules.

It was so much fun, dare I say the most awesome thing ever? You can’t think while you’re playing, you have to react and move your fingers in some wild gymnastics. I was living totally in the moment and free from all the cares of life.

The next day I had a go playing Minecraft, my younger son’s favourite game. I could play this one at my own speed and didn’t have to kill zombies or witches. I made buildings and felt proud of what I’d built. My son and I watched the sunset and went out in a rowboat. The bad guys (Creepers) are scary though. I understand now why he’d had nightmares as a child when he first played it.

I have learned so much in this pandemic but sharing these games with my sons is by far the highlight. My sons are just so delighted to have me with them in their respective worlds and it is a complete revelation. I saw what I have tried so hard to instill in them reflected back at me each time we played. They were patient and kind and took time to let me try and catch up. My younger son assured me, “You’ve only just started, Mom, it will take time but you’re getting better each time.” When I sank the boat my son and I were in, he didn’t shout at me. He just reminded me to “right-click” next time. My eldest noted, “You’ve made so much progress and you’re doing so well.”

I experienced for myself that an hour can flash by in a second while playing these games. And I, too, would be totally devastated if the world I’d created was wiped out (just like my youngest was once when our server crashed). The attention to detail in my eldest son’s game is amazing – the setting! the outfits! the colours! – and the thrill of a completed mission is so fulfilling.

We all need fun, now more than ever. I’ve learned that I can do new things with my kids: We can do it together, we can grow and learn. My family has had its own pandemic story and as with everyone else’s, it covers a lot of losses, both big and small. But this part of the story is about what has been gained and that is worth keeping. It is wonderful to have something so simple bring such joy. You don’t have to be good at it, you just have to try. Now that’s a hobby I can get behind!

Miranda Claire Brunt Fozard lives in Kitchener, Ont.

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