Category: Parenting

Video Game Companies Need to Get Smarter If They Want My Money

Video Game Companies Need to Get Smarter If They Want My Money

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Backing that up a bit, I appear to be raising several gamer kids, although of distinctly different types.

At some point, we’ve all been Halo fans, and fans of first person shooters in general. Those days are mostly over, I think. We’ve decided we’re not going to bother with the XBox One at this point for a variety of reasons, but the 360 still has a solid place in our entertainment unit. So does the PS3. The Wii (although that’s mostly for Gamecube games, and the Gamecube itself has migrated to my son’s room with an older 360). And the recently acquired Nintendo 64. There are a variety of handheld devices in the house, too. DS and 3DS mostly, but there’s also a game boy and a PSP hanging around, as well as the game potential on several iPods. I won’t rule out a new console in the future, either.

Personally, I’m fairly eclectic in my gaming (surprise!), though that usually means I don’t get really good at any one game. But it’s more about the fun, or with bigger games, the story telling. I’m not competitive, so I don’t need to be better than anyone else at something. I just need to be good enough to watch the story unfold in a reasonable time frame.

But, like I said, the offspring are all different.

Oldest appears to have migrated away from first person shooters of his “youth” to online battle arenas as his primary gaming entertainment. Not exclusively. He has a couple of handheld devices, so he’s never without games, though seems to prefer some of the classic Nintendo varieties. He’s ranked somewhere in the Platinum levels on League of Legends at this point, but plays several others, too. These are mostly too complicated for me to have time for the learning curve at this stage of life, but I like Smite as it gives you the ability to automate certain things to streamline play. We keep saying we should check out War Thunder, but haven’t managed to yet.

Youngest Daughter is a Minecraft fanatic. I admit to having been bitten by this bug (as evidenced by a previous post) and intend to allow myself an account of my own for my fast approaching birthday. She likes the Pokémon type games, too, and has a fairly extensive and eclectic collection of DS games. But Minecraft is her current love and gets the vast majority of her gaming time at the moment. Often hours per day. As many as three people in our house have played Minecraft together at the same time.

Oldest Daughter, on the other hand, is the RPG fan. She does some action-adventure games, too (like having just finished off the entire Assassin’s Creed series), but RPGs tend to hold her interest longer. For solo play, she keeps coming back to Skyrim lately, but we’ve played a couple of multiplayer games together in the last little while: War in the North, and Dungeon Siege III. Two very different games in the same general genre, but both a lot of fun. I think we probably enjoyed War in the North more, as we played through it at every difficulty level building our characters up to game maximum, but our interest did eventually die out.

And that’s the problem right now. We haven’t found another one we can play together. Most of the really good games on the shelf get passed by as single player games. We want something that allows for the two of us to play together, as in at the same time. A lot of game developers seem slow to wake up to the idea that gaming can be social, that it almost has to be and not just in an online, can’t see the other players’ faces, smack talk kind of way. (Which I personally find to be a complete turn off.)

Gaming can be family time.

For me, that’s always what it’s about. Can I play with one or more of my kids? If the answer is no, it’s probably going to stay on the shelf at the store. Now, I recognize that I’m not part of the target market of young men with more money than sense that the video game industry seem to survive on by fleecing on a regular basis. But the thing is, I should be. I have the potential to spend more money on entertaining my family.

And there are five of us.

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The Perils of Minecraft

The Perils of Minecraft

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Dig, farm, make, build, create.

Minecraft is hard to describe in only a few words. It takes place in a randomly generated, blocky, heavily pixilated world where just about everything is made out of cubes.

Okay, that’s oversimplified, but it starts to find the flavour of the game.

It’s a mostly creative endeavor, and can be either cooperative or competitive (with a heavy emphasis on the first one, which is why I like it). It’s also rather addictive if you have the right mindset for the game.

Harvest resources (mining, digging, farming, chopping, fishing, etc, etc, etc) and use them to create your own home, castle, shop, world, whatever. It’s a fun, varied, and entertaining time sink.

And it’s somehow become a huge part of my youngest daughter’s life. She spends hours a day playing Minecraft on various servers and various game types, creative. She has friends she only sees on Minecraft. They meet up, play together, and go their separate ways to meet up again later. When not playing, she’s watching videos of other people playing. Screenshots of her play make it to Facebook. She’s thrilled to run into Minecraft, Gamer, and Youtube “celebrities” and makes sure she gets screenshots of their Minecraft characters (called skins).

So the only thing you can do in this situation as a parent is dive in.

I don’t have my own Minecraft account (although I’m considering it), but all three of my kids do. To play with my youngest, I borrow one of the others when not in use. We dig, we build, we farm. She tries to get me to play Hunger Games. I remind her that I don’t really like to kill other people. Even in Minecraft. But, we dig, build, and farm. Mostly dig and build. Actually, we dig so we can build, mainly, though it’s fun to just explore sometimes, too. Or go on expeditions to far off biomes and see what there is to see or harvest or what other people have built.

Playing with your kid, it’s best to have both computers in the same room if you can manage it. Then it becomes kind of like a social experience because you can talk to each other outside of the in-game chat. Of course, webcams can manage this for you, but where’s the fun in that?

Be careful, though. It’s addictive. You can sit down to play for an hour, look up and it’s past time to make dinner. Oh, and don’t take on an Enderman unless you really mean it.

Time to go dig!

Be well, everyone.

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Star Trek Re-Watch

Star Trek Re-Watch

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As part of the Days of Geek podcast (which, yes, I know I’m supposed to release an episode of today, but I’m not nearly finished editing it yet), I’m doing a Star Trek re-watch. The Original Series. As in, the series that originally ran before I was born.

I grew up watching Trek. One of my earliest memories is sitting in my father’s lap in that old green chair watching “The Immunity Syndrome”. As a three-year-old, the idea of a giant space amoeba eating whole planets was hard to wrap my mind around, but it was pretty cool. I watched every episode of the show over and over as a kid. As a teenager, it came on about 5 minutes after I got home from school for most of my high school years. That started to shift after The Next Generation kicked in, but it didn’t make the move to only early Saturday mornings until just before my first year of university. I kept watching.

As an adult, with cable and a science fiction network, I made it my mission to capture all of the episodes in order on VHS (a mission I’d later extend to TNG as well).

With the exception of the very first one, I’ve seen all of the feature films first run in the theatre. I have seen Star Trek: the Motion Picture on the big screen, but it was many years later in a review theatre.

You might figure out that I love the show. Honestly, Star Trek was a huge influence in my watching and reading habits as a kid and teenager, and is certainly the reason I’m a geek. It’s also at least part of the reason I developed a brain as a teenager when a lot of people around me seemed to be actively trying to avoid using theirs.

I’ve never tried to force feed my own kids the things I love. There’s a lot of variety and I want them free to choose their own path in all things, and that has always included what to watch. I’ve been far more likely to watch what they’re into than watch what I want.

My son thinks I should have made him watch more Star Trek as a kid. However, he’s seen every Trek movie in the theatre that’s released in his lifetime. And he’s watching a fair bit with me lately.

My oldest daughter claims it’s too late. She likes Fantasy better than Science Fiction. But she’ll sit through episodes if we’re watching as a family.

My youngest doesn’t mind and is happy to watch with me. She likes some of the episodes and rolls her eyes at others. I think she likes TNG better.

Thinking about getting my daughters into Star Trek, I’m a little wary of the lack of strong women in the original series. They’re there, but only one on the regular cast and she’s underused a lot of the time. It’s better in TNG and Voyager. I should give DS9 another chance for the same reason. (Never got as far into it. I felt a lot of what was being done on the show, Babylon 5 covered better. With a little time and perspective, now I think I might have missed some good storytelling, especially in the later seasons.)

But if all of my kids aren’t Trekkies, they’ve all caught the spirit of Trek: Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations, and a bright future for the human race. What more could a dad hope for?

But the re-watch. That’s where I started, right? I’m less than half way through Season One watching things in order, but I’ve also handpicked episodes for the family to watch for Spocktoberfest. My success rate is high for those. That said, my son has requested “Spock’s Brain”.

Okay, so there are a few not so good episodes (although “Spock’s Brain” is interesting in its own way), but you can learn a lot from them too. Negative examples are still examples. But the good examples from the series tend to be really good, even 47 years on.

It’s all about the stories and the characters. Star Trek, The Original Series, did both of those very well.

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Fall Conventions

Fall Conventions

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We’ve been planning to go to Quinte Mini Con in Belleville since we first heard about it very early in the year. It’s the first Con in the area, and will become the closest without going to Toronto.

A small con, and a first time foray, it looks like the con organizers are going to every effort to put together something people will want to go. I don’t expect Fan Expo, and one of those is enough, really, but I expect to be impressed. Guests, events, panels, and a vendor’s room. Should be fun.

My daughters, particularly Oldest Daughter, made some friends in Vocaloid cosplay at Fan Expo (and created a FB group with them almost within minutes of arriving home). Several of them are going, so there’s an extra reason for us to go, even if we weren’t already planning to attend.

Quinte Mini Con is taking place the 9th and 10th of November. If you live within a reasonable drive and have any interest in cons whatsoever, I hope you’ll think about it.

But you’ll note the title of the post is “Fall Conventions”. The girls are trying to talk me into Frost Con, which is a 1-day event on the 14th of December. They want to go, mostly for the extra reason for Quinte: they know people going, and more than at Quinte because it’s in Toronto.

I don’t think there’s been a day in the past two weeks when someone hasn’t asked me if we can go. Officially, I haven’t made a decision, but my current schedule says I should have the day off. If I’m honest with myself, I already know we’re going, though it’s probably just the girls and me. Which is okay, except that means it’s likely to be my girls absorbed into a pack of other girls, all in similar costume, and me stalking them from a distance. Which is less okay, but a very Dad kind of thing.

Be well, everyone.

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Dice Overload

Dice Overload

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A while back, oldest daughter declared she wanted to try a pencil and paper fantasy role playing game. Of course I stepped up to the plate and offered to dust off my ancient GMing skills to run an intro campaign for her and any friends she might scrape up who were interested.

On the one hand, I’m not sure that was such a good idea as I really haven’t done the RPG thing since about my fourth year of university, and that’s longer ago than I like to think about.

On the other hand, I’m not sure that was such a good idea since she passed over pretty much every game I pulled out of a box I haven’t opened in far too many years, and instead glommed onto the game she’s heard about and even seen referenced on TV: Dungeons and Dragons. Youngest daughter joined the party at this point.

I don’t own D&D. Haven’t played it since university, and that was only sporadic among other things. That’s okay, though. I know people I can borrow stuff from, including a bunch of modules to avoid having to start from scratch. In particular, I now have on extended loan all of the hard copy core materials for D&D 4e and the pdfs for the first six modules of the “War of the Burning Sky” campaign.

IMGA0364

My remaining problem, okay my remaining hardware problem, is a lack of dice, or it was. Scouring the house, I can up with a paltry few. Where the rest have gone over the years, I have no idea. Maybe they went to visit the missing dryer socks. It doesn’t really matter. I quickly decided I needed more.

Last year at Fan Expo, I saw a booth with a bin of polyhedral dice. A small sign had the at $0.30 each or some dollar figure I can’t remember. At the time, I thought it was neat, but as yet had no idea of my daughters’ future interest in RPGs, so I kept walking.

Knowing better this year, I hoped to find the same booth. It’s a lot of the same vendors every year, right? I told myself that several times, but as we crisscrossed the floor on Thursday, I didn’t catch even a glimpse of it.

On Friday afternoon, I suddenly found myself alone and headed for the con floor with 20 minutes to myself. The first aisle I turned down, I saw it. The Bin of Dice.

30 cents each, a random scoop for $12, or as hand selecting as many as you could get in the cup for $15.

Jasper with my little finger
Jasper with my little finger

I dove in and started hand picking colours and sizes, making sure I’d get some that would please the girls, too, paying attention to things that would meet their approval for colours and sizes. $15 later, I had 67 dice of various sides, sizes, and colours including a small 6-sided die carved from blue jasper.

Set for whatever game might come up, I vowed to bring the girls back to choose a few of their own, knowing, as any father of daughters must, that though I have the best of intentions, my perceptions of the proper colours are obviously and fatally flawed in some small way and they will certainly be able to pick something better. I noted the aisle and even took a business card.

And never found it again.

Not during the remainder of Friday, not Saturday, and not Sunday. I lost the aisle and the business card disappeared from my pocket even though I have all of the rest of the ones I picked up that day. It gave me a feeling of the overused fantasy trope of Ye Olde Magic Shoppe, or in this case Ye Olde Bin o’ Dice.

Warning, not edible.
Warning, not edible.

But still, I did well, and the girls agreed, not having seen the bin themselves, that I managed to pick out some pretty cool dice. They were particularly impressed by the ones that came closest, or even matched, their favourite colours.

I brought them safely back to the hotel and eventually home in a style of box we somehow all recognize as Chinese Take Out, even though I’ve never actually seen real food come in one.

 

 

The treasure inside.
The treasure inside.

And sorting through the dice, I find this distribution:

  • 13 20-sided dice
  • 6 12-sided dice, including 1 itty-bitty one
  • 13 10-sided dice
  • 8 10-sided dice numbered 00-90 by tens
  • 10 8-sided dice
  • 8 6-sided dice
  • 9 4-sided dice, including one that doesn’t work because all of the 1s have been replaced by D’oh and at least one of the sides has been rotated so things can’t line up. It’s obviously intentional.

Add these to the five I found in the house, and we should be good for any game that comes up. I’m not fooling myself, though. If I’d found the bin again with the girls, we would have had a second Take Out box of dice to bring home, but that would have been fine, too. Maybe next year.

Be well, everyone.

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The Sadness of September

The Sadness of September

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Posting this, it’s Sunday night before the second week of the school year, and it’s still a bit of a melancholy time for me.

I don’t really like the whole BTS thing. Yes, kids need an education, but in a time when fewer and fewer of us have so called “standard” work hours, summer is better for seeing your kids.

I’m not talking about taking vacations, but all the time. During July and August, if I have the day off, so do they. If I’m working nights, they’re probably around when I get up. I get a lot more time with them, even the teenager.

When they go back to school. That changes.

Staples/Business Depot has been running an annual ad campaign for something close to two decades now based around the idea that Back To School is the most wonderful time of the year for parents, even using the chorus from that old Christmas song. And I have to wonder about the parents they’re targeting. And they’re absolutely targeting parents, because the parents in these commercials are all overjoyed that the kids are going back to school and the kids always look like they’ve just swallowed a live beetle and can still feel it moving around. See, obviously it’s a great time of the year. Look how happy the adults are at making their kids miserable by sending them somewhere they don’t like being.

I have this to say: if, as a parent, the best time of the year for you is when you get rid of your kids five days out of seven, why did you have kids? If you really don’t want them around, why did you bring them into the world?

Yes, they need an education, though I’m increasingly unsure that what the public school system is providing for them qualifies anymore, but the new school year is not a celebration. Mark it, prepare for it, understand it. Don’t celebrate it unless your kids want to. If they don’t, find something else to celebrate with them.

Bite me, Staples. Bite me.

Everyone else, be well.

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Begun, the Language Wars Have

Begun, the Language Wars Have

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My oldest daughter is learning a bit of Japanese, partly due to a desire to live in Japan one day, and mainly via anime and Japanese music. I’m encouraging this, as she’ll let me, since it’s a dream of mine to spend a year in Japan, pending my spouse being convinced, and hopefully soon enough to take all three of our children with us.

Somewhere in the anime, she’s picked up a couple of simple insults and has apparently used at least one of them on her sister. If only I were surprised.

My youngest daughter has decided she needs to learn to respond, also in Japanese. Last night, I caught her using Google Translate trying to figure out appropriate responses.

Older sister suggested that it would be funnier if she used a different language, and I think the suggestion may have been overheard.

How long before the cry of “Schweinhund!” or “Vache stupide!” is heard in our house? This could get very creative and very out of hand very quickly.

Begun, the Language Wars have.

Be well, everyone.

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