Mother’s Day Special

kalanchoe

My mother reads my blog. I’m sure your mother does too, even if you think she doesn’t. You probably mentioned it to her once offhand, she laughed and told you what a clever name you picked, she secretly Googled the name after you left, she proceeded to read every article in your archive, she blushed at the language, and now she’s eagerly awaiting your next post. Despite your paranoia, she’s probably not doing it to keep tabs on your cyber-life; more likely, she has always thought you were a great writer, and she just wants to read some more of her beloved child’s creative output.

My mom would probably read my blog regardless of what I wrote about. It could be a blog dedicated to my favourite serial killers and she’d still come back for each new top ten list. However, because I write about video games, there’s a personal connection there for her. In addition to dabbling with Pac-Man and Pong during her university years, she’s been playing video games with and without me fairly regularly over the past few years. It’s given us a neat hobby that we can enjoy together, one that a lot of mothers and sons probably don’t share simply because there’s a generation gap there: we grew up in a time when games were incredibly popular and complex and they didn’t.

I think the very first time I watched her play a game was when I let her play the fishing minigame in Twilight Princess. It was calm, inoffensive, satisfying, and fairly easy to control, making it a good introduction to gaming for a non-gamer like herself. When she expressed desire for a deeper fishing experience, I went out and bought Hudson’s Fishing Master, which had the advantage of being a dedicated fishing game with more advanced controls and a wider variety of fish to catch (over 100 fish compared to Twilight Princess‘s 6 or so). If I remember correctly, it had a multiplayer fishing derby mode too. We played the crap out of it for a good while.

I think the first game that we played actual co-op together was Super Smash Bros. Brawl, of all things. We played through the entire story mode a few summers ago, which was pretty fun. I would take the lead while she provided support, running along behind me and beating the crap out of anything that crept up on me. Even without enemies, just making it through the treacherous platforming sections of the labyrinthine Subspace Emissary levels was a challenge in itself, and the game provided a helpful “cheater button” that would instantly warp her back to my side if she found herself stuck in a wall or falling into a bottomless pit. Although she liked Meta Knight and Pit because their multiple jumps reduced the chances that she’d land in one of said bottomless pits, Captain Falcon was her all-time favourite mainly because of his raw power.

Since she likes to exercise, I bought her Wii Fit as a Mother’s Day gift a few years back. Although we do the yoga and the strength exercises and enjoy them enough, she likes the balance board minigames a lot too. While I was at university one winter, she spent a good amount of time practicing the snowball fight minigame to the point where she owned the entire board of high scores, and even though I tried my hardest, I could not crack any of her scores. She is actually the best Wii Fit snowball fighter I have ever seen. To see her play this game is to suddenly feel great shame re: your own sluggish reflexes.

When I first started using Steam regularly, one of the first games I bought was Plants vs. Zombies. I showed it to my mom because I thought she’d find the character designs cute, and I forget exactly what happened next, but it ultimately ended up with her playing the heck out of the thing while I twiddled my thumbs and waited patiently for her to return my computer. I bought her a copy for herself, then another copy for the DS she would eventually inherit from me, then a third copy for the iPhone she would buy the next year. She still plays the game regularly, but I mean, the thing isn’t even a challenge for her anymore. She never loses. Her in-game wallet has long since stopped counting her money (it maxes out at $999,900, in case you were wondering). When I told her Plants vs. Zombies 2: It’s About Time was finally coming out in July, she was overjoyed, and she jokingly inquired about midnight launches in our area. At least, I’m assuming it was a joke.

It was in early 2011 that she began to show interest in Animal Crossing, so I gave her my DS Lite and treated myself to a 3DS preorder. I bought two copies of Wild World and told her that she could live in one town, I’d live in the other, and we could visit each other whenever we liked. Well, she got pretty good at making money pretty fast, and by the time she finally became debt-free, I was still paying off my second expansion. The thing is, she actually knows stuff about interior design, so her mansion actually looks like a coherent, smartly furnished work of art, whereas my shit shack is a glutted mess of indoor barbecues, lava lamps, and electric guitars. I’m finally on my last mortgage payment right now thanks in no small part to the fact that she likes dropping bags of money around my town, but boy, has she made me work for those Bells (she likes hiding them behind buildings, which, thanks to the game’s lone camera angle, means they’re virtually impossible to see). She once dug a ring of holes around a bag of Bells and then planted pitfall seeds in each one, creating an effective booby trap. I once visited her town only to find nearly every square inch of the place covered in Bells, almost as if she had paved the streets with her wealth in an egregious display of opulence.

Right now, we’ve got a few games on the go. She still plays Plants vs. Zombies often enough, but we also started Telltale’s The Walking Dead a few weeks back. She’s a big fan of the show and she already understands the lore, so this one was a no-brainer. Being an adventure game, the emphasis on story and dialogue means that we have fewer pointless action sequences to trudge through. We’ve also been playing Kirby’s Return to Dreamland, which I told her had the same basic gameplay as Brawl‘s Subspace Emissary. She’s become something of a boss-killer as Meta Knight; whenever a difficult fight comes up, I unchain her and she becomes a whirling dervish of barely contained fury while I just kind of whistle in the corner.

I’m glad that my mom has taken an interest in something that I’m deeply invested in. She sometimes worries that she’s a bad co-op partner or that she’s holding me back by dying too much, but of course that’s not what I care about. The important thing to me is that we’re spending time together, and although we have many other hobbies that we frequently enjoy together (gardening, for example), gaming always felt like one of the few things I could teach her about, rather than the other way around. I’m very grateful that she’s had the patience to play with me for these last few years, because games these days often have a high barrier of entry if you’re not already familiar with the medium. Even if, some day, we stop playing some of these games together, I can always go back and look at the perceptible marks she’s left on many of them: her high scores in Wii Fit Plus, her nametag in Smash Bros., her profile in Fishing Master (complete with dog custom-named “Hercules”). And if I want to look at something she personally did for me in a video game, I can read any of the dozens of loving, thoughtful letters she’s mailed to me in Animal Crossing, the kind that only a mother can write. I’ve saved every single one.

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Co-Op Gaming Part I: Gaming With My Sisters

You could walk up to me with the shittiest game in the world in your hand, and I’d still play it with you if it had co-op. I could only be considered a brogamer in the vaguest of senses (I think Halo‘s all right, but Gears of War and Call of Duty aren’t really my cup of tea), but I get this irrepressible urge to bump fist and five the highs whenever I see a new game that allows me to team up and kick some ass. More and more games are including it these days (which is good), although we’ve seen a shift from local to online co-op since the advent of Xbox Live (which is…well, both good and bad, depending on your preference). Despite this, most of my co-op experiences these days continue to be local splitscreen affairs.

My younger sisters were the earliest people I can remember playing games with. I broke into gaming pretty late compared to my friends (who all had Super Nintendos and Game Boys), with my parents buying me an N64 in fall 1999. My sisters were strictly passive observers of my burgeoning gaming explorations; they loved watching me play Majora’s Mask and Kirby 64, but they shied away from trying it themselves. We did play a few of the minigames in Kirby 64 and Pok√©mon Stadium together, but beyond that, I didn’t really get to enjoy the real meat of a game with my sisters until fall 2002.

In the months preceding the release of Animal Crossing, my sisters and I followed the pre-release coverage in Nintendo Power. They ran a great story where a few of their editors played it in separate towns and recorded journals while they visited each others’ homes. My sisters took to the game quite readily, and we spent about a full year taking turns playing Animal Crossing (I had a town for me and my friends, and they had a separate town for themselves). We loved visiting each other and leaving presents. If it had simultaneous multiplayer, it would’ve been the perfect game for us.

I don’t even know how we started playing Tales of Symphonia together, but it was arguably the first “hardcore” game we played together from start to finish. Unlike other games, which they usually only enjoyed for the story or the minigames, they loved Symphonia for the same reasons I did: the character interplay, the setting, and above all, the combat. I’d take the lead as Lloyd, and we had one sister in the back casting spells as Genis, with the other helping me out up front as Colette (and occasionally hanging back to cast). They were really good at it; they understood the sometimes-complicated battle strategy of certain bosses, and they knew which sequence of attacks would lead to the best combos. We’ve played it about three times now, and each time, we start off pretty rusty, but we always manage to utterly destroy Abyssion by the end of it.

Since then, their gaming tastes have been erratic and unpredictable. We played a lot of Pikmin 2 multiplayer (interestingly, the versus mode, not the co-op mode) and Mario Kart: Double Dash!! We toyed with Jedi Outcast and even Halo 2 for a while, although we had a unique way of playing it: I would roleplay a “commander” figure and give them “missions” to carry out within the Jedi Temple or Coagulation, with the winner receiving a point toward promotion, and the loser usually receiving a shotgun blast to the face (but also a point toward promotion…I didn’t really have it in me to favour one sister over the other). I bought them two Harvest Moon games which they played entirely without me (A Wonderful Life and Magical Melody); to date, they remain the only games in our library that they’ve played and I haven’t.

We haven’t been able to play together as much in recent years, mostly because we’re attending three different universities. Still, we try to game together whenever we can. They watched me finish Skyward Sword this summer and Portal 2 a year earlier, and they’re currently watching me play Majora’s Mask for old times’ sake. Four years after I first bought it, I’ve finally managed to get them to sit down and play Tales of Vesperia with me, and we’re about 2/3rds of the way through it (they love it!). Sure, we’re all pretty busy now, but that just means we’re even more grateful for what little time we can spend on playing a few games together.