I went and did it. I dipped my toe into the world of online gaming, beginning last week. I didn’t do it out of a burning desire to be an online gamer – there is no such desire – but because I figured it was a way to share time with our youngest daughter, who is nearly 11 and growing up way too quickly.
She’s been gaming for a few years now. She used to be into game apps like Crossy Road and Escape Room, then that evolved into an extended obsession with Minecraft. Now her thing is Roblox, a mega-popular platform that lets users program games themselves and also play games with other users.
Your first order of business is to create an avatar, and then move said avatar into and around various little worlds, from shopping malls to little villages and oh I don’t know what. I named my avatar Tranemonk, after two of my jazz heroes. I figured nobody would have claimed that name, this being a game meant for kids who wouldn’t know John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk from Elton John or even Snoop Dogg. But surprisingly, some of the names I tried were claimed — Monktrane, Milesmonk, Tranemiles. This tells me it ain’t only little kids playing Roblox.
Anyway, that’s the game I decided to learn – Roblox. Our youngest daughter used to play this a lot with our oldest daughter, but then our oldest daughter became a teenager and decided her favorite pastime is going into her room and closing the door behind her (it was one of my favorite pastimes as a teen, too, so: no judgment).
Sometimes our youngest daughter plays Roblox with her cousin in California, but since there is an eight-hour time difference between London and California, the logistics are challenging.
Rather than continue watching our youngest daughter not have anyone to play Roblox with, I decided to give it a whirl. I’m a newbie, and don’t know what I’m doing.
I can’t figure out how to move the avatars around. It’s all counterintuitive – I’m trying to navigate a three-dimensional, 21st century technology using a 2D, 20th century brain.
I move my finger left on the screen and the GD avatar moves right. I try to correct that and the avatar bounces up and down, or gets stuck against a wall, or suddenly balloons in size until its head takes up the whole screen. Then I move my fingers again to fix that and all of a sudden I have a sky view of everything, or the avatar spins around like a dervish, or I go bouncing off poles or falling down inexplicably steep inclines or hurtling into corners where I get stuck and can’t FIGURE OUT HOW TO TURN THE F**K AROUND….
But my youngest daughter is patient. She laughs, sets my avatar back on the right track, and we’re back doing whatever the hell you’re supposed to be doing on Roblox, which I still can’t figure out. It seems to involve a lot of mini-games and role playing.
The other day we played a game called “Name the Logo,” which is what it sounds like. Your avatar enters a little corridor and up pops a logo, and you’re supposed to name it. We saw Facebook, Google, Nike, McDonald’s, Adidas, KFC, Twitter, Instagram – all the biggies. When you name the proper logo, you whoosh through that one like a ghost through a wall and then up pops the next logo. This, I’m convinced, is a diabolical scheme to put young people onto the path of mass consumerism.
We later played “Name the Animal.” I was very good at naming animals, but not very good at avoiding walking into walls.
Last night we played Hide-and-Seek, where one avatar hides and the other seeks. I never won at hiding, and I never won at seeking. My daughter’s avatar zipped around the various spaces with the speed and assuredness of an Olympic athlete, while I just tried to keep my avatar on a straight path, slow and steady. She’s a whiz at this game, and had a grand old time seeing how easy it was to hide from me – and to find me when I was hiding.
I figured she’d get bored, an expert like her playing with a rank amateur like me. But nah. She was just happy to have someone to play with.
I didn’t reckon on ever doing this kind of thing. The digital and computer gaming industry has been around 40-plus years, and in all that time I’ve only gravitated to three games, and only in short stretches. The whole PlayStation/Nintendo/Wii/Xbox culture completely passed me by. I’ve never owned a game console.
Back in the 1980s I did get hooked on the Galaga arcade game, the one with the space battles. The bar/restaurant I worked at had a Galaga machine (along with a Pac-Man machine), and I used to order a beer and play Galaga when my shift was over. I got pretty damn good at it, hitting a high score of over 600,000, according to my memory, which is flawless (the record high score is apparently close to 21 million, which took about 14 hours).
My Galaga Experience only lasted as long as my job, which was less than a year. I left Galaga behind for nearly four decades, but then a couple Christmases ago we got mini-Galaga and Pac-Man machines for the home. I still play Galaga on that every now and then. I think it would qualify as very low tech.
In the 2000s I got a handheld Tetris game I would play on long train commutes into and out of New York City. Again, I became an absolute rock star at this game, reaching the top of the screen by the end of the commute, according to my memory, which is flawless. That experience lasted about a year or so.
Also in the 2000s, I started playing online poker – Texas Hold ‘Em – but never for real money. I was good enough to beat the truly lousy players and learned enough to sit in at low-stakes games in Las Vegas and Atlantic City during visits to those fine, wholesome places. But then we had kids, and I said goodbye to online poker and hello to changing diapers and pushing baby strollers around the neighborhood.
Gaming aside, I have tried to be an active parent with our two girls, spending countless hours teaching them the finer points of tennis, baseball, basketball, and soccer (I know zip about soccer, but never mind). I taught them to swim. I taught them to ride bikes. I was hoping they might develop a passion for some of these pursuits, but so far, no go. But, we still ride bikes together, and Mommy takes them ice skating during the winter.
Indoor recreation has usually involved traditional board and card games – Scrabble, Monopoly, Boggle, Go Fish, certain educational games that involve U.S. states or the countries of the world. Both of our daughters play chess, and our oldest did well in a few tournaments many years ago (I taught her how to play poker as well).
Back in the USA we used to play an old-school toy baseball game where you press a button and a little ball comes out from the pitcher’s spot, and then you press another button and hit it with a little bat. That was fun. Alas, we didn’t ship it over here.
I never figured on learning any digital or computer games. Yet here I’m is, fumbling around with Roblox. I’m not good at it, and probably never will be. But we have a good time, and my daughter laughs at my ineptitude, and I laugh at her laughing at me, and we share some moments together, just us.
In the world of online gaming, that’s what you call a jackpot.
Note: Photo of Daddy taken by Youngest Daughter of Daddy. All copyrights and permissions have been observed.