My Dad Doesn't Get Videogames

By Gus Mastrapa in Pretension +1
Friday, July 8, 2011 at 9:00 am
My dad doesn't get videogames. He was more in touch in the '80s. I remember him bragging about safety testing the early consoles, like those wood-paneled Pong machines, when he worked at Underwriter's Laboratories. And I have fond, fuzzy memories of playing Air-Sea Battle with him on the living room floor. But I think his knowledge or interest in games stops there. 

It makes sense. The guy is about to turn 70. He lives on a plot of farmland in a Puerto Rican rainforest. That means no land line, spotty mobile reception and zero access to the Internet. That also means very little contact with his son and daughter. I've devoted the last ten years of my life to writing about videogames and I can't say for sure that my father has read a single word of my output.

I'm done trying to convince him I haven't been wasting my time.

My folks split when I graduated high school. But they'd been separated much longer. Dad always lived in far-off places like Cairo and Santo Domingo. I spent a lot of time paying visits to these places -- roaming around foreign cities or just cooling my heels in my father's Spartan living quarters while waiting for him to come home.

When I was in my late teens I spent the entire summer in Puerto Rico, watching MTV and reading my dad's collection of dog eared science fiction novels. I was bored out of my skull most of the time. And completely isolated. Somewhere in the condos where my dad lived there was a kid with a Nintendo. I never saw him playing. I only heard the sounds of Super Mario Bros. 3. echoing through the green courtyards, a frequent reminder that I was friendless and far away from home.

I did the math once. Since high school my father has only come to visit me once. He didn't make it to my wedding. And he was a no show when my sister got her Ph. D. So a couple years back when my dad said he'd be coming to see me in Minneapolis I was more than a little floored. Deep down I knew that he was dropping by because it was convenient -- I was pitstop on the way to a hunting trip in Wisconsin. But I let myself believe that he was actually interested in seeing where I lived and what I do. 

One evening I turned on my Xbox and showed him a bit of Mass Effect. My dad remains a voracious reader of science fiction. He introduced me to Asimov, Heinlein and Herbert when I was very young. And for a good part of my youth I kept a huge collection of his second-hands as a kind of shrine in hopes that he'd someday return to read those books again.


Mass Effect didn't seem to make an impression on him. I thought he'd pick up on the hints of Syd Mead design in there. Or just the fidelity of the world. Something. Anything. But he didn't have anything to say about the game. At all. He sat silently as my Shepard picked her way through a gaggle of Geth bad guys. I explained how the Geth were a race of synthetic, creatures -- an embodiment of out of control AI.  He seemed totally disinterested so I turned the TV off and suggested that we go get some dinner.

Maybe its better that he kept his mouth shut. Once, when I told him about one of my first publication in The Comics Journal, he told me that comic books were pointless, not worth analysis or examination. I tried to argue with him, citing important works and paraphrasing Scott McCloud. He wasn't hearing any of it. It was the same with music -- pretty much any culture that I appreciated. If it wasn't a sci fi novel or a Jose Marti poem he wasn't listening.

Soon I will travel to Puerto Rico to go celebrate my father's birthday. I had considered bringing a copy of Kill Screen with me, to let my father read the story I wrote about suffering panic attacks and playing Everquest. But part of me knows better. I'm nearly forty years old and there are two things in this world that make me feel like a kid any more -- videogames and my father. Games offer a familiar feeling of escapism and achievement. I'm not sure I could live without them. Dad just makes me feel small -- like I haven't grown an inch since him and mom were still trying to make it work. I know how to live without that.

Pretension +1 is a weekly column by Gus Mastrapa that explores the ragged intersection between videogames and our lives.

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