AAbout a year ago I was trying to bond with my 17 year old through Sea of Thieves. It did not work. Since then, he’s been urging me to try Outer Wilds, which he says is the most profound gaming experience of his life. I’ve procrastinated to Hamletesque degrees: What will I do if one of his favorite games doesn’t connect to me? Would that mean I can no longer bond with my son?
As I discovered last month, playing games in your 50s can sometimes be difficult, and reducing the difficulty can reduce stress and help me enjoy myself more. But what if I lose the patience and mental forbearance that is really required receive some games now? Gaming subscription services do not help with this. We have access to so many titles that it’s easy to dismiss them too quickly due to our brain’s Netflixization. Too much choice has gifted us with the judgment of a drunk in a kebab shop. If I’m not in the right mood, it doesn’t matter how good the game is – I’ll stop playing after 10 minutes. And that’s why I put off playing Outer Wilds. It’s a very special game for my son Charlie. And I don’t want to disappoint him again.
Eventually I decide to move on because he will be going to college soon and our commitment days are limited. I was wandering through a small village preparing to launch a spaceship. Depending on the level of training, it had wit and weirdness. After learning the ropes, I took off, selected the planet target, hit autopilot… and crashed. Instantly. To the observatory I just escaped from. I couldn’t get to my ship to fix it, so I called my son for help.
“Wow, dad,” he said. “It’s almost impossible to crash your spacecraft so soon after launch and leave it in an unreachable position.”
“Bullshit for this game, son,” I explained.
“Stay with it. It’s wonderful. Just go to the moon.”
So I flew to the moon. Some cool things happened. I won’t reveal any spoilers. But then I tried to run and jump on the moon. And fire up my jetpack. And I ended up dead, sucked into the sun. So I stormed off.
“Sorry son, I can’t play this game. It should not be.”
“Dad, this game is life changing! Try again tomorrow.”
The next day, the stress of work had made me grumpy. I couldn’t remember the controls or what to do. I ended up floating around senseless, lost in space. My son appeared, triggered by my suppressed sobs.
“Go to the ship’s log, Dad.”
I did it like this.
“Maybe hovering over one of those question marks will tell you what to do.”
“Okay, son, so am I supposed to go to the south pole of Brittle Hollow and investigate what the aliens might have built there?”
“You could do that”, he says and disappears in a cloud of cologne.
like i do Just to show that I’m not intimidated by an 18 year old’s attempts at riddles.
I walk towards the South Pole, fall through a chasm in the center of the planet and get spat out at the other end. There are fragments of things I should be moving toward, but I can’t control my spacesuit to get close to them. Charlie helps me out again.
“That’s weird, Dad,” he says. “Have you changed the controls?”
“No! I went into the menu to remember the controls, but I didn’t change them.”
Charlie goes to the menu area. I actually changed the controls. Unknowingly and by accident. Charlie looks at me and sighs.
“It’s not often that someone messes something up by changing the controls of the entire game. This is a whole new situation for me, Dad.”
That’s it for me “Okay, son, just tell me. What is so life-changing about this thing?”
And he sits there and tells me: It’s a story of supernovae and time loops, orbs and musical harmony, probes and sun stations, dark matter and warp cores. It’s a story about quantum this and the collapse of that and the dying of universes and something to do with an ancient grove and how “the future is always built on the past, even if we can’t see it”. I am totally mesmerized by the words coming out of my son’s mouth. I still have no idea what the game is about, but that’s not important. What is important is that he does. This game expanded his mind.
I see my son growing in front of me. I see how powerful his mind is now as he grows up. And games played a part in that. This game very special. As fathers, we are used to our sons becoming physically stronger than us over time – but now I see my son exceeding my imagination. I’m sad that my middle-aged mind lost that ability, but I’m so proud of what his brain can and will do. And that’s how Outer Wilds becomes the deepest game I’ve ever played. Even if I failed technically at everything in it.