I have managed to spawn two children (with some minor assistance from my wife) who are currently at the grand old ages of 5 and 3. For the purposes of this blog, whenever I refer to them I will call them Samus and Blanka. This is partly down to some ultimately futile attempt to maintain a level of anonymity, partly because their gender and character suit the avatars (methodical, analytical arse kicker and crazed man-beast respectively) and partly because I quite like the idea of someone stumbling across this at some point in the future without first reading this rationale and genuinely believing that those are their names. Tee-hee future hypothetical reader! Jokes on you!
Being sired by a super geek, they’re both well on their way to a lifetime of isolation and social awkwardness. Blanka was able to correctly identify and name the cast of Mario Party before he completely got a handle on the difference between “Mum” and “Dad” and Samus likes to mark her accomplishments by declaring “SAMUS WINS!” and doing a Smash Bros style victory pose, complete with victory sign and that weird repetitive bobbing motion.
Obviously it’s lovely that we all share an interest in something, but it doesn’t half mean I have to play some shite sometimes. Blanka’s nightmarishly lynchian Mario Maker levels constantly push the boundaries of human perception and Samus’ constant requests to “build a house in Minecraft” start to wear a little thin once you have a portfolio that rivals international construction firm Balfour Beatty (bam-a-lam). So I’m always on the lookout for something new. Something suitable. Something age appropriate.
It was perhaps inevitable I was going to fuck up at some point. During one of our many, many car journeys over the Christmas break my wife was desperately trying to feign interest as I excitedly described Dhalsim’s excellent beard in Street Fighter V and the children suddenly took interest. When described in Cbeebies friendly terms, the cast of Street Fighter transform from the world’s greatest warriors into a high octane version of the many faces of Mr Tumble.
“Yeah, so there’s the guy from Wreck-It Ralph who fights in a red pair of pants. Then there’s a guy can turn himself into a ball of electricity; he looks a bit like a green gorilla with dinosaur teeth. Well cool. Then there’s a girl with an ultra-powerful machine in her eye. Her feet are enormous. There are a couple of huge fat guys who fight with their bellies out, a posh gentleman boxer with a fantastic moustache and another who has long stretchy arms and legs who can breathe fire and shouts “YOGA””
They were both enthralled. And somehow during all the excitement I had even managed to convince myself that a game in which combatants smash the shit out of one another with their boobs and bums hanging out was an excellent choice for a good ol’ fashioned family gaming session.
To give this all a little bit of flavour, a year or so back we had a few problems with them scrapping with each other (in retrospect, probably brought on Smash Bros) and in order to focus their chi had enrolled them into “Ninja School” (the local karate class). “You’re only allowed to do punching and kicking at Ninja School” I sagely warn them. Before introducing them to a game which is wall to wall punching and kicking. In my defence, a couple of the stages could be described as Ninja School-esque, but to say that it supported my parental mantra that martial arts are the reserve of safely controlled environments would be pushing it somewhat.
So we stick it on. Samus immediately picks Dudley; a moustachioed gentleman boxer sporting a frilled shirt and cummerbund being the perfect match for a little girl who once went through a period of time where she refused to leave the house unless she was wearing a bow tie. And I go for boring old Ryu, figuring there is no point in sugar coating the experience should she ever decide to try ranked online.
Samus’ hands start to breakdance over the pad in a manner not too dissimilar to a net of fish flapping about on the deck of a boat and I’m suddenly struck with how violent the whole thing is. Once I tear my eyes from what she’s doing to my controller and onto the screen, I notice that’s pretty vicious in’all.
Blanka sits wide eyed and open mouthed, very much like one of those children you see illuminated by a television screen on a news report on the horrors of the modern age. “This is fine. This is definitely fine” I say to myself as we reach the end of our second match. Samus had picked Oni this time round, a terrifying clawed demon whose victory animations include menacingly gripping the top of his opponents head. Suddenly Mr Stretchy-Legs and Red Pants the Bear seem a million miles away.
Blanka slowly stands up and walks into the kitchen, clearly bothered by something and I apologise to Samus that I’ve got this all wrong and the next game will be our last. Brilliantly, she picks Dan. We quickly finish the match, I turn off the machine and go and check that Blanka is alright.
“They’re playing a really scary game Mummy. I don’t like it” he’s saying. Thanks a lot for dobbing me in, mate. I’ll remember that. I apologise to him and try to quickly convey a facial expression to my wife that expresses that I’m really sorry and I’ll sort it (sympathetic eyebrows, wide eyes and a “whoopsie-daisy” mouth in case you’re wondering) when I can hear gentle sobbing from the other room.
I asked Samus what the problem is and her response is quite different. “I really REALLY like Street Fighter!!!” she wails as I realise I’ve given her a five minutes on a game and then forbidden it, instantly making it a million times more appealing. “I didn’t even get to practice Dan’s HP xx HP Koryuken xx FADC xx Ultra 2 combo!!!” “You will do one day honey,” I console her. “You will do one day”.
I worked in video game retail for a couple of years and rolled my eyes so hard at parents picking age inappropriate games for their children that they nearly bored into my skull. And yet here I was, someone who supposedly know what they’re talking about, making a rudimental error and assuming a PEGI 12 rated game would be fine for my children because they are so much better than everyone else’s. And this after a childhood of having every single film open with Simon Bates drearily hammering in the importance of BBFC ratings. That was a waste of everyone’s time.
Fortunately, they both got over it fairly quickly. Blanka forgot about Oni almost instantly and went back to cannonballing around the house and creating technically and conceptually impossible ordeals for Mario. And Samus will be fine as long as I keep the creepers at bay long enough to complete her latest 500 acre development project. But the fire of the warrior spirit has clearly been ignited within her. Watch out EVO 2030.