I talk about my niece a lot. She is precocious and pithy and imaginative, and I love to tell the whole internet about her. Sometimes I need the hive mind to decipher what she’s saying, and sometimes I just think everyone needs to know about it immediately. Just lately, though, I’ve realized that I don’t talk as much about her older brother, my nephew. Partly that’s because for most of the year, he’s in school during the day and I don’t see him as much. Partly it’s because he’s a quieter person than she is. But I am prodigiously proud of him. He’s smart, patient, and good natured, and I think I learn something every time I talk to him. He absorbs every detail about things that interest him.
He also plays a lot of video games. In fact, that’s the only time he’s not patient. He’s still good natured, but he’s fiercely competitive, and he will gleefully roll right over anyone whose skill or investment in expertise is less than his. He’ll encourage you to play with him, but he will not accommodate your weaknesses. It’s infuriating and hilarious, and I love to see the confidence in him when he’s talking about his home territory. This past week, when Phil was here, I finally got to see the two of them play some games together, and it was glorious.
My initial interest when I started playing video games was twofold: I wanted something I could fall into as immersive relaxation therapy after hard work, but more importantly I wanted a vocabulary and a skill set that would let me bond with my nephew. A few years, a lot of rabbit-hole conversations with Phil, and many game experiments later, I’ve learned enough to know what I look for in a game I’ll really enjoy. I have the vocabulary to listen to my nephew and to occasionally even be able to offer him advice or suggestions.
So it’s a pretty sweet part of my day when he sidles up next to me and his serious small face cracks a missing tooth smile and he boasts his latest triumph – conquering a tough board in Mario, or outwitting Enderman, or his newest dinosaur acquisition in Jurassic Park. I like to get the update while we’re dropping the day’s shipping off at the post office, or unloading the dishwasher together. Sometimes we talk strategy. Sometimes we debate how much real life money is reasonable to spend on what is essentially a picture of a dinosaur. Sometimes we talk about how he interacts with other gamers. Sometimes he just wants me to watch him play so he can show off his mad skills.
And sometimes I bribe him to do the hissing Dilophosaurus thing on camera by telling him he can use my iPhone to play a game. It’s shy kid economics. I love the boy.