Over the past week, I’ve been watching my 9 year old daughter play a First Person Shooter. It’s a genre of video game that she’s never expressed any interest in before. In fact, when she sees daddy loading up an FPS, she rolls her eyes and goes to find something else to do.
I’ve been playing Battlefield 1, and as much as I’ve been enjoying it, I’ve also been acknowledging the fact that the game is often crushingly boring. The repetition of the game’s moments of action, and the real-world setting, build to a crescendo of numbness. It’s when I play a game like Battlefield 1 that I start to understand my daughter’s eye-rolling over the traditional multiplayer FPS.
Here’s daddy, running up some stairs and getting shot again. Here’s daddy, getting shot off a horse. Here’s daddy, shooting a man through a window. Here’s daddy, running up stairs and getting shot again.
I’ll go further. Playing these types of multiplayer FPS games makes me feel old.
I don’t play FPS games a lot, to be honest. I’m much happier playing some quirky Japanese game, or some kind of RPG beast. But when I do load up the traditional FPS, I feel like I must look like an absolute relic to my daughter. While she creates amazing things in Minecraft, or masters complex rhythm sections in Hatsune Miku, here’s her auld da being shot off a horse again. The multiplayer FPS, as defined by Call of Duty and Battlefield, is an almost mindless pursuit – all muscle memory and instinct. There’s very little room for magic.
But what a thing Overwatch is.
When I loaded up Overwatch for the first time, just this week, my daughter’s eyes didn’t roll. They widened. Here was a bright, colourful game bursting with imagination. A game that has a creative reach that goes beyond “give tired dads some men to shoot before bedtime”.
You’ll be familiar with Overwatch by now. Coming from Blizzard, it’s an immaculately balanced team shooter with a gallery of excellent characters. My daughter saw Tracer and immediately asked “Who is she?”
“Is she British? What can she do?”
And then “Can I have a go?” Within ten minutes of seeing me run around a map with Widowmaker (my favourite character, because she’s reasonably conventional and easy for old men to understand how to play), my little girl wanted to have a go at a First Person Shooter. She took to it like a duck to water, too. Within an hour she was excitedly telling me that she’d been featured in the Play Of The Game highlight.
It’s not just that Overwatch is cartoonish and flavourful. I don’t think we can reduce its broad appeal to that. I think that it engaged my girl because it is an incredibly smart game, with so much going on. I overheard her on the phone to her mother, explaining in great detail how Tracer needs to be played. “You need skill to play her,” she said.
And yes. While I can load up Battlefield and just be shot off a horse a few times without too much thought, with Overwatch I need to think and think and think. Which character do I bring into the team? How do I play this character optimally? When I meet another character on the map, do I know how to deal with them?
It’s the eye roll during Battlefield explained, then. It was never just that the game I was playing was boring. It wasn’t the mind-numbing nature of video game violence. It was just simply that there was far too little going on. It was daddy on easy mode. Daddy playing safe, samey video games when worlds full of charm, challenge and mastery are out there for the taking.
Just a quick note on kids and FPS games. I’m very careful with what my daughter sees and plays. Overwatch is, as far as I’m concerned, a perfectly acceptable game for a kid who is almost ten – although I won’t let her voice chat while playing. I also think it’s important that she gets to enjoy adopting the roles of all those cool women in the game. Please do try the game yourself before letting your kid play, of course.