I remember the first time I showed my dad WoW. He didn’t really get it. I explained that the green named people were other players. I explained that the game couldn’t be paused. I explained how we moved through the world and did quests, killing monsters. He never seemed to quite understand. He kept asking me, but what was my character’s name? Was I saving the princess? His understanding of games was narrow, and I didn’t know the correct words at the time to explain the difference.
My son, by virtue of being a game developer’s kid, has been exposed to games from the very beginning. Before he was even a year old, he watched me play things like Skylanders on our living room TV. At around 11 months, he realized for the first time that putting something on the portal of power caused the TV to change. He did this for hours. Skylanders on and off, looking up at the TV to watch the change.
The next, the real magic happened. Tiny Pittman took the portal off the coffee table, set it on the floor, then carefully stepped up on it. He looked at the TV. Of course, nothing happened. Despite the fact that I call him a Skylander, he isn’t actually. He tried a few more times, even testing the portal with Skylanders, but he couldn’t get the TV to change when he stepped on the portal. He seemed disappointed. His understanding was that anything placed on the portal appeared on the screen. Our magic for Skylanders is limited, but it wasn’t in his head.
The next time he really began to interact with games was several months later, while he sat on my lap while I played WoW. I mounted up on a flying dragon and Tiny pointed at it, then loudly exclaimed “Birdy!” I laughed and replied, yes, that was Mommy’s birdy. I kept playing, and he reached out and pressed the space bar. My character reacted by jumping in the air. His response: “WHOA!” He began pressing the space bar repeatedly. Watching intently as my character jumped around Azeroth. Finally, I zoomed in on my character, and he said “Mommy!” Yes, my character is a red headed human, so it makes sense he would recognize her as me. I nodded, and agreed. Yes, that was Mommy.
What really got me was watching him completely understand and accept, not only that my online avatar was me, but that I was also in control of her. At 1 year, and 8 months, Tiny understood that the characters on the screen were merely extensions of the people behind the keyboard.
I look forward to seeing him grow and discover virtual worlds. I also wonder what kind of expectations this will create in him. What things will he understand that will be outside of my grasp? What will those virtual worlds look like when he gets there?