My Worst Nightmare, Videogames Edition

Rock, Paper Shotgun’s Alec Meer goes home for a holiday visit and tries to teach his father how to play the classic first-person shooter Doom:

As far as he’s concerned, Doom is a whole new thing – he’s no idea whether it’s a modern game or not, but knowing that his son is somehow making a living from playing these things, he’s now developed some genuine curiosity about them. I do the decent thing, and hand him the controller.

Of course I know that controlling motion with one hand and vision with the other is an acquired skill, one that half the world doesn’t have. It’s still a shock to see just how alien it is to someone who has never, ever done it before. He struggled so, and no advice I could offer him made it any easier. Whether it’s WASD and a mouse or a left and right thumbstick, it’s basically patting your head and rubbing your stomach at the same time and, of everything in gaming, this is the ability most specific to our generation. Is it the be all and end all of game control, or will we too be staring with mixed wonder and horror at what 20-somethings are capable of once we’re 50-something? I suspect technology is so ingrained into our lives that, dwindling reflexes aside, we’ll be just fine.

For him though, even the idea of 360 degree, first-person-perspective movement pretending to be 3D on a flat 2D surface was a struggle. I’d tell him to turn to face left, and he’d spin around and around and around, not sure where he’d started from, staring with bemusement at the all-too-similar wall textures whizzing across the screen. Or he’d strafe directly left, grinding Doomguy’s invisible shoulder against the wall while he tried to remember how to face, not move.

This is actually one of my greatest technological fears: that if I stop immersing myself in state-of-the-art videogames, I’ll be left behind in some primordial level of play and unable to appreciate it when the future arrives, bringing all sorts of crazy virtual-reality microchip-implanted-in-your brain consoles. I remember trying to teach my dad how to play Super Mario Bros. and being endlessly frustrated when he couldn’t so much as squash a koopa. And while I basically share Mr. Meer’s faith in ingrained technology, I’m also alert to the ways adult life makes it harder and harder to binge out on games the way I used to. It’s not hard to imagine letting complex games fall by the wayside. I don’t want to let that happen to me.

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