Let’s assume your father isn’t much of a gamer. Maybe he used to climb mountains, sail, take your family on Sunday hikes. Maybe he’s the kind of guy tour-guides need to tell to stand behind a line.
But let’s also say he has played a video game. (Maybe it’s Myst, or something just as hard.) He may have… mixed opinions on time spent gaming, but he just needs the right game to prove it’s a valid medium. Or maybe three games.
This holiday, try these:
Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots
Even if you’ve never played any Metal Gear Solid, the most convoluted series ever, let alone MGS4, the most convoluted of them all, pop it in. Convince your father that the fourth entry in this hyper-Japanese series about American futuro-espionage is going to be interesting. (Hey, maybe your dad’s a history nut.) Start a new game. Immediately watch mooing, frog-legged “Gekko” mechs violently wipe out an entire platoon, before an elderly man in a skin-tight suit starts mumbling at you. Don’t try to look away after that: You won’t be able to.
Flounder through the stealth missions on the easiest difficulty, shoulder-tackling people while wearing a cardboard box. (Your dad might hate this. “Why did you do that? …Why did that work?”) Absorb the cutscenes: The drug dealer with the stealth tank and the bald monkey, a man fighting Gekkos and a vampire with a sword between his toes, the half-naked “Laughing Octopus” shack fight… It’ll look like a mess. Your dad may take to talking to characters onscreen, very reasonably considering the hero could just SHOOT THE VILLAIN LOOK HE’S RIGHT THERE.
Yet you and your father will care about the story, when you can follow it. You’ll be so dumbstruck by the oddities, the stakes, and the character development that you’ll see it’s internally consistent and oddly, achingly beautiful. It will be one of those rare times when you discover a new, bewildering, awe-inspiring world, and one of the rarer times when you get to share that with someone else.
Maybe, just maybe, this will appeal to your dad’s inner park ranger. Play through the game’s intro, one of the best and most accessible in years, with a couple friends beforehand so you know it backwards and forwards. Hand your father the controller, and only pipe in to explain controls when he, say, walks into a corner while looking straight at the ground. (He may surprise you by asking you to invert the y-axis “like a plane throttle.”) Eventually he’ll take to the game like a fish to water.
Let him struggle with early-game life decisions, and hint him towards the baseball caps and turtle when you can. Listen as he narrates his thought process to you for every conversational decision over the walkie-talkie. Appreciate his frustration with the map, compass, and amateur climbing skills of the protagonist. Be aware that you may have to explain to him why the designers chose to make cliffs at sunset purple and orange (even though “that’s not what it looks like” in the real world).
Firewatch isn’t a survival game, but you’ll both find it’s a “mood”-simulator of a certain, cozy loneliness. You’ll watch your dad get more and more isolated in his own head, more absorbed by the experience, and you won’t be sure if he’s talking to himself out loud or talking to you. Then, he may just ask you which way to go, not because he’s lost, but because he wants your opinion, and you’ll remember you’re there.
The Last of Us
Though it could put his guard up, warn your father that he may cry in the first 15 minutes. Play for him, making sure to look everywhere cinematic as the game opens. Be quiet for the sad part. (As a result of said sad part, your father may swear vengeance on someone’s “commanding officer”.) When the screen says “20 Years Later” and reveals a protagonist aged by rage, take note of your dad’s reaction.
Make your way across the city, and take in the beautiful dying world. Your dad may note, correctly, how stupid it is that a woman with little to no muscle definition can, with one arm, lift a man twice her size up a ledge. From there, start shoulder-checking random people to assert dominance, and pop headshots as fast as possible to show off, but don’t make eye contact with your dad when you accidentally crouch next to someone shooting you and get gunned down. At one point or another, your dad will probably ask, “But you’re going to shoot [the bad guy] after this [cutscene], right?”
Realize you just played 3 games with middle-aged, male protagonists. Realize you showed your dad a spy weathered by “wet-work”, an average Joe who tried running away from his problems and only took a break from them, and a survivor infamous for his grizzled coldness. Realize you may have just played through three of your father’s daydreams– not things he would ever actually do or be, but things he’s wondered if he could. Be glad that, in reality, his dreams led him to passing you the controller and telling you it’s your turn. Be glad that he enjoyed his turn, too.