My wife and I gave our son a Nintendo Switch for Christmas.
In the week leading up to the day, it dawned on me: this will be the first video game console in my home that wasn’t mine.
I mean, I think the Atari 2600 was the family’s console. But otherwise, my parents gave me an NES. I saved up and bought myself a Game Boy, opting to get the system without a game so I didn’t have to save so much allowance to get it. Santa got me an SNES. I bought myself an N64, then a Gamecube. A friend gave me a Famicom with a few games when he came back from Japan. A girlfriend gave me a Nintendo DS. I got a great deal on a used Wii as it came with a bunch of games, then my wife got me a Wii U. I believe I had a Tiger electronic handheld of Pitfighter of all games, as well.
In case you’re wondering, I never had a non-Nintendo console other than Sega Genesis someone gave me when they couldn’t get rid of it at a garage sale. I never played it. I used to be a partisan of the console wars, but I haven’t cared about it since high school. But I also didn’t care enough to get an Xbox or Playstation in the years since. I much prefer PC games these days anyway, and specifically look for games that run on my Linux-based system.
Anyway, the point is that every console in my life has been mine to play whenever I wanted to.
And now the Switch…isn’t? How does this new world order function?
When I was younger, no one in my family cared about video games. My mother would play Tetris on her Game Boy, sure, and I would play games with my sister, but I was always Player 1. She gets to claim credit for finishing Super C before I did, but I claim that I carried her to the end and she stole one of my lives and happened to land the finishing blow that I had worked hard to get to. Otherwise, if a game was being played in my home, odds were very good that it was me doing the playing.
The games were mine. I subscribed to magazines about games. I bought RPGs, platformers, strategy games, and more. I was given games as gifts for years of birthdays and holidays.
And I’m not sure how things have changed exactly, but I know it would be presumptuous of me to assume I could just use my son’s Switch without asking. I mean, we gave it to him, so I should not act like it belongs to me or the family.
The day after Christmas, he asked me to play Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle with him, a game I was delighted to discover was a Mario-themed turn-based tactics game. I said I would love to play a game with him.
And then he handed me the second controller. Huh.
When my friends and I would play games at each others’ houses, the unwritten rule was that Player 1 was the person who’s house you were at. A college friend said he had a different upbringing, that wrestling matches would start to fight for control of Player 1, but where I came from, it was peaceful and understood. Player 1 was the home team, and Player 2 was the visiting team.
Realizing that I am now Player 2 in my own home is weird.
But I think this weirdness is something I’m still getting used to as the father of adopted children. We went from 0 to 8yo and 10yo very quickly here over a year ago, and part of what I am getting used to is the idea that my children are going to be given a lot of my time, effort, attention, and resources, that my time isn’t just mine anymore, and that one of my goals is to help my children become more capable of reaching their goals.
In another example, my son came home from the library with a collection of Archie comics, so I pulled out a tote I’ve been carrying around with me since the 90s with all of the Archie digests and comics I used to get. I told him to be careful with it all, but frankly it is more about him learning to take care of his and other people’s things than it is about me caring about my old comics. I don’t care about the comics anymore. I haven’t read them in forever. They might as well be read by him, and to be a lesson in how to take care of things that can be ruined if you’re careless is a bonus.
I’m finding myself sharing stories about toys I played with when I was a child. I have given him some of my collectible cards I have held onto for decades. Some of my old books are now on his shelf in his bedroom. We’ve played games on older consoles before, often with me watching him play through a game I have fond memories of.
But these were always things that were mine to pass down to him, sometimes like relics of my past, and sometimes as junk I have no use for. I was in charge and making the decision to let him have access to things I thought were important to me, and so I hope he likewise finds value in them. I once let him play a Mega Man game to see how he would handle something that was Nintendo Hard(tm) and not as forgiving as Minecraft. I have also withheld things I didn’t think he was ready for, such as some movies I enjoyed as a child (it turns out that PG meant different things in the 80s than it does now) or anything I was worried he’d get jelly or something else on (kids are gross).
But the Switch was never mine. It was his first. It is at his discretion whether or not I play games on it.
He has become Player 1. And I realize now more than ever that, as a parent, I am a non-player character in someone else’s adventure.