Back in the day, I used to be a very competitive video gamer. Yes, competitive, and you can get that grin off your face. I played Quake III: Arena online in single and team deathmatch mode, and I was one of the top 500 players in the US, sometimes cracking the top 100 leaderboard. I ran into a few truly pro gamers a couple times, and I got beat silly, but I was good enough to hang in some pretty elite circles.
So yeah, I was a geek. Laugh it up, fuzzball.
THE POINT IS that these days, I have a son. He’s 8. He began playing Halo on the Xbox a few months ago, and he was terrible. I mean, awful. I began to fear for his fine motor coordination. He would fall off cliffs, shoot rockets at his feet and kill his character, and let online opponents literally walk up, say hi, and knock him out of the game ridiculously easily. I tried to help him, but man, it seemed helpless.
Rewind to a week ago.
We’re playing a version of Halo Reach called Rocketfight, where my son and I are a team against several waves of computer-controlled bad guys. We have only 10 lives between the two of us, and if we use them before we kill all the alien scum, we lose. If we kill all the aliens before we use up our lives, we win.
I don’t know what happened, but things aren’t the way they used to be. He was suddenly awesome. I was suddenly blind and/or stupid. If you ask my son, he’d say both.
ME: Marc, watch out for the guys on the lower ramp.
HIM: I see them.
ME: No, I’ll get them for you. Hang on. (I shoot a rocket directly into the wall in front of me, instantly killing my character.)
HIM: Nice job, Dad. You shot the wall.
ME: Yeah. Thanks for the wrap-up.
HIM: You probably shouldn’t do that.
In another firefight, I had an alien bobbing and weaving, evading my rockets. It’s important to note that the rocket launcher is my weapon of choice, and back in my Quake III days I was an absolute terror with it. Now, I was a disaster.
ME: I keep missing this guy. He’s dodging.
HIM: Shoot at his feet, Dad!
ME: I’m trying! (My shots were hitting the ground too far ahead of the target, or a few hundred miles behind.)
ME: Wait for what?
HIM: Let me get rid of these nine guys with rocket launchers and sniper lasers who are on top of me and have me totally cornered in a seemingly helpless situation and I’ll come help you with your one single guy who’s actually pretty slow. (Not what he said, of course, but that’s what I heard.)
ME: No way. I got this guy. (I miss four more times.) You have your hands full.
HIM, seconds later: (Runs up to alien and bashes him off cliff edge) There you go. I got rid of my guys.
ME: Um, I had him.
HIM: (Laughs) Not really.
ME: He was fast. He was one of the fast ones, Marc. You know, the guys who, um, aren’t slow?
HIM: Okay Dad.
Another scenario: we were on the final wave with three lives left between the two of us. We only had to eliminate ten or so more aliens and we would win. This is how it went:
ME: We have three lives left.
HIM: Don’t die.
ME: No worries kid. (Literally two seconds later, I take a shot at an alien, hit a wall, and obliterate myself.) Darn it.
ME: The wall jumped at me Marc!
HIM: (Sighs) Funny. Two lives left.
ME: I’m respawning now. We got this.
HIM: Come to the roof! I need help!
ME: Hang in there. (I respawn, line up an alien, and shoot the floor near his feet, so that the rocket splash does damage. My aim is off, and the splash winds up destroying my character. Again. The only thing more embarrassing then shooting the wall is shooting the floor on which you stand.)
HIM: DAD! You’ve killed yourself twice in like 10 seconds!
ME: I don’t know what happened. I had him.
HIM: Here’s what happened: you shot the floor and cratered yourself!
ME: I know, right?
HIM: It’s not funny. (Pause) Seriously.
ME: Hang on. Respawning. (“One life remaining,” the game says ominously.)
HIM: We’re pretty much surrounded!
ME: I know. Keep your back to a wall and we can take these guys. DON’T LET THEM GET BEHIND YOU.
HIM: Dad, look ou — !
ME: (At that very moment, a guy comes up behind me and bashes me with his axe. I was alive for maybe seven seconds.) …um, don’t let them do that.
HIM: (Putting controller down) Game over.
ME: Yeah. (Pause) Just a game, dude.
ME: Play again?
ME: We had that one. We can win that level.
HIM: Maybe some other time. Is it okay if I try that level alone?
ME: Um, sure. That works.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what age-related decline looks like. Now, if you’ll pardon me, I need to have my cat spell check this blog post.