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Evolution of a Gamer: Episode 1 (Classic EoG)

Back when I wrote for GoozerNation.com, I wrote this series, Evolution of a Gamer. With the site now defunct, it has disappeared from the internet. This was one of my favorite series of articles to write, where I teach my kids about video games and learn a little bit about real life myself in the process. I've decided to resurrect the series, because I've still had plenty of life lessons with my kids, but want new readers to be able to catch up. Over the next few weeks, I'll post the previous articles to get you up to speed. Without further ado, here's Episode 1, from way back in 2010! We'll catch up soon. 

I don't have a high Gamerscore for a good reason. I'm a husband and a dad. I doubt my GS will ever break a few thousand through the course of my Xbox 360 career, and that's okay. When I was a bachelor, I probably spent more time playing games than going to college classes (and I didn't skip classes, either). Now, other things take an important priority.
Gaming isn't gone from my life, though. It's in my blood. In my DNA. DNA that I have passed on to my son, now four years old. I have enjoyed watching him learn the ins and outs of video games, so I decided to start a series of articles on it. I have taught my son so many things about games; however, he in turn has taught me a thing or two.
When my son first came home, he was an adventure. Without a doubt, probably one of the easiest infants ever, but we still had to get used to new routines and introduce him to the world. My son was learning the basics of life: hunger needs food, tired needs sleep. I was learning that virtual experience points mean NOTHING compared to real-life experience points. My level 86 Final Fantasy 7 characters mean NOTHING when I start up Final Fantasy 8 for the first time, but as we prepare for another child, I think that, while unique, certain leveled experiences (I'm a lvl. 76 diaper-changer and I'd say a lvl. 27 crib-assembler) will come in rather handy when the new one arrives.
As my son got older, he wanted to know what we were doing before he could talk. So his reaction to this was to try to join in with us. I might have a group of four friends over to do some multiplayer. When my friends came for a "guy's night", my wife would watch my son, but I would NEVER bar him from the room. He would try to grab my controller, so I'd give him one...unplugged. That worked for a while, until I started seeing him yank my controller out of the port so he could plug in his. He knew that the social experience somehow involved this strange box and being hooked to it. My son learned cause and effect; I learned his love of social interaction.

One Christmas, he was introduced to Fisher-Price's GeoTrax set, a simple model railroad. We set up the world's largest track (Thanks Grandma for chipping in on THAT one) and handed him a controller. We would wiggle the stick and watch the trains go. He was interested, but didn't make the connection until a few hours later. I still remember his face: he crawled toward the trains and the controller hit the ground, moving it into reverse. Train stops and turns around. He sits up, train stops. He looked at the controller...at the train...grabbed the navigation stick...*hmm....if I do this......* The joy he saw in realizing he was in control was astounding. We couldn't get him off of the trains for the rest of the holiday season, and to this day, we still build tracks. That day, my son learned that a simple controller could affect something else, and it quickly meshed into Daddy's videogame controllers.
Then, I began trying to get my son into my hobby. He's old enough to get more involved in activities that take longer, so I head to GameStop. This was the time when they were clearing out PS1 games for literally pennies. I go to the bargain bin, and they have some Genesis games in there! As I sift, I find Toy Story and Thomas the Tank Engine for the Genesis. A happy Dad picks these up and brings them home.

I boot up Toy Story, thinking "He knows these guys, he's gonna have a blast!" He recognizes characters, is excited to see Woody, and grasps for the controller. I hand it over, but his experience so far is a forward/backward lever, and that's it. He hits jump. Woody jumps. He laughs. He hits jump again. Woody jumps. He laughs. His other thumb hits the down arrow. Woody squats. He laughs. First-time parent Ryan is trying to say "see, this makes him go this way, this makes him jump, this makes him swing his string..." He wants to jump and duck and run into bad guys and let the timer run down....for a second I get impatient, perhaps even frustrated. "This is how you're supposed to be playing!" I think.  But then I learn my lesson: as gamers, we are in a completionist mindset. We buy a game to beat it. Once it's done, we often will throw it on the shelf to collect dust and say to friends "yeah, I completed that. Had level 86 characters, final boss never even got to attack"  (happened with Sephiroth, BTW).
Here was my son, getting entertainment out of watching a guy jump. It changed my attitude toward many games: I don't have to 100% find everything unless I find it fun! How many times do we gamers do that search mission, trying to find the 100th hidden package, when about 30 packages in it stopped being fun, just to say we completed it? A video game...is a GAME, not a JOB. Thanks for the important lesson, son.

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Time goes by, and I finally get my PSP. I download my favorite old Twisted Metal 2, and he comes up behind me while I'm playing. Big construction vehicle nut, and who am I playing as? Mr. Slamm, the front loader. Bright-eyed boy says "Daddy, what's that!?!???!???" Suddenly, my Dad Radar kicks in. I may be mature enough to understand this game and not have it affect me, but maybe not him yet. I turn it off, but still he asks. I say the true "one day I'll show it to you, son", knowing it is going to be a while, but for a couple weeks he asked me daily. Not only did he teach me to watch what I do/say/play around him more than I already do, but I really reflect more on the games I choose to play now just for myself: "do I need this? do I WANT this to be in my head?" Each gamer can have his own opinion; I'm not stopping you. But my son helped me clarify what was important to me: gameplay and tight storylines, not blood and gore, nor is that even necessary to make a good game great.

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These days, my son is gaming along with me. He can officially be a contender and has beaten me occasionally at Wii Bowling. He can hold his own on Mario Kart, but has yet to understand the concept of coming in first and just likes to drive, but drives WELL. He has surfed Goozex with me and requested a couple of games. They aren't the center of his life, and shouldn't ever be. He has toys to play with, an outside world to explore, and the upcoming adventure of learning to be a big brother. Meanwhile, I've got to dust off my IRL earned XP, and look forward to the ingrained genetic gamer material coming through on another new human being.

I look forward to many new life lessons: ones I get to teach my children, and ones I learn from them. I've loved seeing my son grow up and get to know my favorite hobby. If people enjoy this article, I hope to continue writing them until my son says "geez, Dad, why do you still do this? Just let me borrow the car and stop writing already!" So if you're interested, join our site, write a comment, follow us on Facebook, and you can keep up with the Evolution of a Gamer...and his father.

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