Monday, October 6, 2014

A Letter to My Son


Hey Bud.

So it's been almost five weeks now, and while you're settling in quite comfortably in your new domain, I'm still wrapping my head around the fact that when I come home and say "Hey Family!" only three of the four of us are there. It's a time of transition for all of us, and so I thought I'd take a moment, at you set about to embark upon the great adventures that await you, to reflect a moment upon the virtual adventures we've shared.



Being the son of a game programmer, you never really had a chance to not be involved in computers and games. From the time you could stand, I would stand you in the chair before me, so that you could reach the computer screen, and let you pop the brilliantly colored balloons that covered its surface. And of course you had no idea that while I steadied you with one hand, I was moving a mouse about with the other, making our own makeshift "touch" screen. It didn't matter - only that you delighted in the popping of the balloons.

It feels like yesterday. 

Your earliest games were the ones that most parents get for their kids - filled with Reader Rabbit and the similar adventures from Fisher Price and Mattel. Your favorite was that castle game with the guy that had an awesome scottish accent. We just called it The Castle Game. You were four, maybe. Do you even remember?  I had almost forgotten about it, but dug around to find a screenshot.

Time flew, as it is wont to do. Soon enough we were playing games together. By the time you were eight, we'd moved beyond kids games, and you were sharpening reading skills by sounding out words in World of Warcraft quests. Back then the quests actually printed slowly, as if the quest giver were genuinely writing them before you. While it drove adults crazy, it made fine reading material for kids. But we'll talk more about WoW in a bit.

We actually played Halo together back then - and played it on the PC. It was a good, two person game to play, and we would take turns - each of us operating the controls for a bit, while the other guided or watched. I remember to this day the time you were playing, me sitting beside you, and you reached the part in the story where the UNSC encounters the Flood for the first time. You watched with rapt interest the cinematic that took place through the poor soldier's helmet cam, as he and his platoon were overcome by the creepy crawly Flood creatures. And when the cinematic was over, you sat in silence a moment, wide-eyed, open-mouthed, and then quietly handed the controller back to me and pronounced "Your turn." If I have erred in parenting, it would certainly be that I perhaps introduced you to some imagery before it might have been appropriate.

But it was, without a doubt, City of Heroes that will always occupy a special place in my recollection of adventures together. It was the one game - the only game ever, in fact, that managed to get our entire family - even your mother - to play together. You and I made and discarded dozens of characters over the years. Early on I would lead you and your sister on adventures through Paragon City's alleyways and sewers, but soon enough you were more than capable of running and playing your own adventures. And while like all of us, you created and played many heroes over the years, it was one - Dr. Lekk - the Electric/Electric blaster, that became your favorite. Dr. Lekk had many looks during his time as a super hero, as his player grew more mature, but they always had the look of outrageousness that marked your own brazen and unafraid style of play.

It was about this time, as you grew from 8 to 12, that the transition began to take place. When, we played split screen Halo II together, it was you reviving me as often as not. When we would run missions in City of Heroes, you would run as tank, and not hesitate to lead  the group, with the family supporting you with Defender and Blaster. When you began wanting to play games that I hadn't introduced you to, because you knew now for yourself what you liked and didn't like.

It was about this time that we encountered an important turning point - when you begged me to let you play Halo II multiplayer online. I was hugely reluctant - I knew the kind of filth and vile language you would encounter online, and quite honestly the thought of my boy being subject to that kind of attitude made me cringe. You reasoned with me though - do you recall? You said "Dad - it's no worse than what I encounter each day on the 7th grade bus." And recalling myself the days of 7th grade bus rides, I could not in good faith disagree. We made a deal - you could play, but if I ever heard the kind of language coming from you that I knew you were going to subjected to, then it would be gone. And you played - and you kept your end of the deal - sluffing off the vile insults, and never returning them (yes, I did listen in).

Over the years I watched my boy slowly become a man through the games we played together - and increasingly the games I watched you play. This was especially true in World of Warcraft, yes? Ah yes, WoW. It became your tour de force through your teenage years, but it was not without its own controversy. You struggled to find the right balance of time to spend in the game versus your real-life pursuits, such as your grades. And ultimately I had to use it as a tool, to be monitored and sometimes taken away, as your mom and I, as your parents, worked to make sure that you prioritized things that were truly important over things that, to a young man, seemed more so. Like passing a test versus being there for raid night.

But it was in World of Warcraft that the student truly became the master. Though it was a world I introduced you to, you plunged much deeper into Azeroth than even I had ever dared to venture. You took on and completed challenges I never even met the requirements for. And ultimately, even when it came to things like lore, it was I that ended up asking you why the leader of the Blue Dragonflight was insane.

It has been my honor, my pleasure, and my privilege to have served as your mentor, your guide, your companion, and sometimes your student on the many adventures we have shared together. And I know that we have yet many more to encounter. But at this point of your life, when you set out on what is possibly the biggest adventure of them all, I ask that remember some of the lessons that your gamer's life has taught you so far.

Don't be afraid to lead. Remember how frustrated you would get in Alterac Valley? I do. And I remember as well the times you stepped up and took control of the situation - sometimes turning a route into a victory - sometimes not, but you gave it a good showing.  And what held true in Warsong Gulch holds true in a lab group - if no one is stepping up to take the lead, don't be afraid to do so. Remember sometimes people just need a leader.

Preparation is key. You hated it when people showed up for a raid without doing their homework. Without at least watching a video on the fight, to learn what would be needed. Keep this lesson in your mind at all times, for everything you do. Don't show up for a test without having done that preparation. No, studying for a poly sci test isn't going to be as interesting as learning the Garrosh fight, but the principle is still the same - be prepared. Do the homework. Study the fight. Be ready for it.

Don't stand in the fire. Yeah.. it's another good one. Don't stand in the fire is just a way of saying keep your situational awareness. Look about you. Are things good, or are they bad in a major way? Don't stand in the fire means being able to assess your situation, recognize when things aren't working out, and taking the steps necessary to correct them. Whether it's reducing distraction, or asking for help, but recognize when something isn't going well, and fix it. Get out of the fire.

I couldn't be more proud of you son. And as you move from one set of virtual adventures, and embark up on the very real set of challenges that lie before you, I know that you will strive, and you will succeed. Of that I have no doubt. So it seems only appropriate that I end this with a saying that became commonplace in our family, but was born out of the earliest raids I embarked upon, and that you snuck downstairs after your bedtime to watch.

Let's get this train in the water.