December 2011, I’m flicking my WiiMote around in order to make my onscreen character – Link – defeat Ganon. The game I’m playing is Skyward Sword the swansong for the Wii console, and a fitting game for me to play to completion. The game concerns Link’s ongoing efforts to save the land of Hyrule from the main bad-guy, the aforementioned Ganon.
My almost-one-year-old son has been avidly watching me play it, which is fine as it’s a fairly cartoony, non-violent game (well, there are monsters to kill, but they aren’t gruesome kills, and there’s no blood). His big eyes follow my every move and, when I nip for a cup of tea, or to the toilet, I often return to find him waving the WiiMote at the screen. It’s a great moment when I finally defeat Ganon and give my son a cuddle, knowing I’ll never forget this moment.
Jump forward to 2017, my son is now 6-and-a-half and has his own gaming system, the Wii’s successor, the Nintendo WiiU. I say it’s his, but I bought it for myself, so he’s effectively stolen it from me, in that way that kids do. I don’t mind though, because I’ve bought myself a Nintendo Switch (which he will inevitably steal from me one day down the line). The one thing these two systems have in common? Zelda: Breath Of The Wild.
In a move that apes Nintendo’s previous one, this game is the swansong for the WiiU, but also a launch title for the Switch. It’s also an incredibly bonding experience for me and my son. He’s now of an age where he can play these games and understand most – if not all – of the game mechanics. Some of it is lost on him – the reams and reams of text detailing the various quests clearly go over his head. But that’s where daddy comes in.
As I am playing the game at the same time as he is – and am further ahead too – I’m always on hand to offer him guidance when he gets stuck. He talks about it nonstop, from the moment he wakes up, till the moment he goes to bed. I personally have no problem whatsoever with this, but it can wear on his mother’s nerves, as he is effectively speaking a different language to her when he talks about the game.
It’s incredible how far he’s come since those days back in 2011, when he was merely an observer. Indeed he’s even teaching me a few tricks; it’s like having a mini co-pilot. These games aren’t released very often, so I’m savouring it, trying to make it last. I can see he wants to rush through though, but thankfully his lack of grasping the finer details means that I can slow the pace down.
His time on the game is monitored (I fully believe that he would play it from sun-up to sun-down if he could) and it’s taken away if he misbehaves. I’m a parent who believes that gaming, in reasonable doses, is not only a positive thing for kids but beneficial too. Gaming is much more interactive than just watching a film, or a TV series. It also enhances hand-eye coordination and improves fine-motor skills.
I love the discussions we have, the thousand-and-one questions he hurls at me every day, the many, many drawings he does, of the many, many characters in the game. He’s even created pictorial books – yes, books! – detailing the adventures he’s undertaken in the game. When he himself runs out of steam, or finds a certain character a bit too difficult to draw, then he calls on me to aid him (I’m OK at tracing but have no real natural talent, my son does though, he has a certain style that I think is fantastic).
It’s a fantastic thing to see, his big eyes shining with awe as he talks about his latest run-in with one of the game’s baddies. The many fist-bumps we share with each other when one, or the other, solves a riddle, or defeats a particularly troublesome baddie. He’s got a lot of patience too, for a six-year-old, I’ve yet to see him get angry. Whenever he gets defeated – even if it’s for the 20th time – he simply dusts himself off (metaphorically speaking) and gets stuck right back in.
It won’t be long though before we meet Ganon, and defeat him, bringing this fantastic game to an end. This time however we won’t only do it together, but also together: he on his system and me on mine.
Then it will just be a case of waiting another 5 years or so for the next instalment…then I’m fairly sure he will be the master, and I the apprentice…