Family of Me

by Daphne
Updates Mondays and Fridays

Scene 29: Changing Hobbies

(Libra is sitting at a computer, gaming furiously.)

Libra (College me): Jump, double dash, bounce… Crap!

Mom (Present me): Hey Daphne…

Libra: Hang on… Jump, double dash, bounce, dash… Darn it!

Mom: Having trouble?

Libra: I’ll get it eventually!

Mom (smiling): Of course. You can do this.

Libra (deadpan): Ha ha. Actually, let me pause for a bit — can I ask you about something?

Mom: Of course, dear. What’s on your mind?

Libra: Games, I guess. I played so many of them back in my day.

Mom: I remember.

Libra: I mean, I even used to dream of the perfect console that could play every Nintendo or Super Nintendo game in existence. I called it the “Power Surge.”

Mom: And then you discovered the power of the Internet, and suddenly you could play most of them after all.

Libra: Right! You still have access to that technology — More, in fact. A vast library of hundreds of games, and that’s just counting the ones you have in one of your three game libraries. And yet, you hardly play games anymore. What gives?

Mom: Well, a couple of things. First of all, parenting. I have a child, so I don’t have the kind of time I used to have.

Libra: Okay, but parenting doesn’t take up all your time. What about your free time?

Mom: I’m often writing in my free time nowadays. Or reading.

Libra: Hang on, reading? We read a lot as a kid, but once we grew up and gained access to more games, we played games instead. Games are more engaging! They’re tests of skill that engage us in lots of different ways.

Mom: That pendulum seems to be swinging back the other way now.

Libra: Really? Why?

Mom: Estrogen, honestly. My estrogen-dominant brain really craves emotional stimulation — before transition I wasn’t really able to engage with my emotions much, and now I can’t get enough. It really lights up the ol’ gray matter.

Libra: Nobody says that, Mom.

Mom: You say it, twenty years into your future, so there.

(Libra opens her mouth to argue but closes it a couple moments later with a pouty scowl instead.)

Mom (smiling): Regardless, the point is that video games just aren’t very stimulating in that way — at least, the kinds of games I used to play aren’t. Maybe there are exceptions, but in my experience, video games engage our emotions separately from the rest of our brain.

Libra: I don’t think that’s true! Take this game I’m playing now — it has an emotionally engaging story that’s reinforced by the gameplay. You get through a really tough level and then those feelings of difficulty or accomplishment are amplified by the story. Likewise, developments in the story are reflected in the game mechanics. They work really well together.

Mom: Yes, and the gameplay is very sharp, and the difficulty curve is very satisfying. It’s one of my favorites for a reason. But the satisfaction of gameplay building up to the story is transferred excitation — our brain only connects our accomplishment to the character’s because they happen right after each other. And the character’s feelings are *reflected* in gameplay, but they aren’t *part* of the gameplay. Our emotions are engaged separately from our platforming skill.

Libra: I thought it was handled really well.

Mom: It is! It’s excellent. But it isn’t *enough* anymore. It’s a lot of gameplay leading up to a small slice of time emotionally engaged. Whereas with a book, there is no “gameplay” and emotional engagement is continuous. I think the ideal game for me would be one where gameplay and emotional engagement are deeply intertwined; a game that engages you in both ways simultaneously.

Libra (reflective): Huh. I guess that explains why there aren’t so many modern games around here.

Mom: Right. I still play games from time to time; I still enjoy them. But these days they’re either games that I’m playing with my child or they’re little indie titles made with last generation graphics and a lot of heart. Other kinds of games don’t really excite me as much — I just don’t get much out of watching the numbers go up anymore.

Libra: I suppose that makes sense.

(Libra stares at her paused game for a moment.)

Libra: If estrogen has had that much of an effect on us, maybe I ought to try catching up on my reading too.

Mom (smiling): Now you’re thinking.

Libra: After I reach the summit. I’m really close.

Mom: Hah, I’m sure you’ll make it. Enjoy your time on the mountain.

(Libra unpauses and returns her focus to the game.)