family, mom

Tracking Towers

“Mom! Let’s play a game together!”

Even though I’ve been a parent for more than two decades, these words always make me smile. I love spending quality time with my children – individually and together – and I have a fully-stocked game closet ready at a moment’s notice for whatever game they want to play.

Their preferences have shifted a bit over the years, from the early days of Candy Land, Memory, and Chutes & Ladders, to the more complex games of Sorry, Clue, and Monopoly. We continue to play old favorites like Bumparena, Life, and Apples to Apples while adding on strategic fun with Rummikub, Monopoly Deal, and Ticket to Ride.

There is always a game to play at my house.

This morning, however, as I opened our game closet to peer inside, Caleb’s voice spoke in exasperation. “No, mom… not one of those games. I want you to play my game.”

I turned to look at my son and for a moment, time stood still. He’s not a baby anymore. No longer a child or pre-teen, he stands almost at eye-level, with a glimmer of metal shining from the braces on his teeth when he speaks. His hair, still unbrushed, reminds me of the little boy who always wanted to play with Mommy, while the legs poking out from the bottom of his outgrown pants tell the tale of a teen who will be an adult several years from now.

Time is fleeting.

Time is precious.

Play the game.

Five minutes later, I was dragging an extra chair to his computer desk. “Mom, it’s going to be a little complicated, so I’ll just explain it as I go.” I wrapped myself in a cozy fleece blanket as he joined an available server and proceeded to play one of his favorite computer games: Tower Defense Simulator.

This child of mine has never known a world without wifi and digital games. When he was two, he learned to speak from an iPad app, working weekly with a speech therapist at his daycare. Since then, he has created mansions in Minecraft and published screencasts on YouTube. He is, by all definitions, a digital-age kid.

As for his mom, yours truly, I am not a huge fan of digital games, even though I am a technologist by trade. Give me dice, a spinner, or a deck of cards any day of the week! Yet, here I sat, staring at a screen, while my boy provided a running commentary of the gaming platform he’s used for years.

We looked at the list of characters. Apparently we had to change their skins since they still displayed holiday attire. Then we had to decide which characters to use, as some had strengths that would be vital for success in defeating the zombies in the advanced level of play. We were quickly paired with random teammates around the world to collaboratively complete the mission of protecting our home base.

For the next twenty minutes, I watched and listened in awe. My son expertly navigated the trail and strategically placed items that would enable his team to work their alliance to the best of their abilities. His fingers tapped on the keyboard in a blur of movement as he quickly decided which items to purchase, upgrade, and expend. He was in the zone, never missing a beat, as he articulated exactly what he and his teammates were doing on the screen and projecting the next steps to come.

In the end, they were successful, defeating The Fallen King to save their base. There was a smile of satisfaction as he turned to me and remarked, “See? Don’t you like this game now? It’s not just a battle. It’s about working together to protect things that matter.”

Those last few words grabbed my heart.

That’s what I was doing with him – working together to protect things that matter.

I had to admit he was right.

I learned a lot from our game time together today. Caleb showed me digital figures of the game creators and shared how they built the game together, but had to pause with new releases and updates so they could finish their college courses. He showed me the programmers, the map builder, and the music producer, quickly switching to YouTube so I could hear a playlist containing different background tracks, evoking specific moods while playing.

Game Contributors

We talked about careers in gaming and how a multitude of people have to work together to create such an intricate platform. We discussed marketing. Merchandising. Even customer acquisition costs. He detailed how the website makes a profit from exclusive event items which led to a conversation about his strategy to obtain those items for free.

We chatted about digital citizenship, how he doesn’t follow other players simply because they follow him, and how he never engages with players off-site in other platforms unless he knows them in real life. “Don’t worry mom. I’m fully aware of predatory tactics.”

Whoa.

The parenting arena has shifted quite a bit since I became a parent in 1998, but I’m riding the wave the best I can. It’s been a fascinating adventure and I’m still along for the ride! The lesson learned today was simple and clear:

Don’t miss an opportunity to learn and grow in someone else’s joy simply because it’s not the same as yours.

For those who still prefer an old-fashioned game that comes in a cardboard box, I will always be here ready to play. But today I gained a new appreciation for my son’s world of gaming and all he has mastered along the way.

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