Apparently Doing Nothing

April 30, 2015

Posted By: Shaunescy

By Shane Borrowman

I grew up with video games, from the original consoles sold by Radio Shack through the Atari 2600 and Commodore 64 to Nintendo…and Playstation and Xbox/360/One.  I spent endless hours standing in line to play Asteroids, Joust, Zaxxon, Wizard of Gor, etc. and so forth.  I spent a lot of my parents’ money…and I was good.  I knew how to use a pencil (held by my first and pinky fingers, crossed over the middle and ring fingers, tapped rapidly by my thumb) to sprint faster in Track & Field.  I knew—still know, actually—a special route to run in Pac Man that allowed me to rest, unmolested by ghosts, until my wrists cooled down.  My reflexes were absurdly good.  My hand-eye coordination was nearly perfect.  My Uncle Wayne was convinced these two things combined should make me a pro golfer, but he didn’t take my natural tendencies toward sloth and gluttony into account.  I haven’t played golf since 1989, but I’ve never stopped playing video games.  Until recently, my son John and I played a lot of games together, but two developments have changed that particular father-son dynamic.

John’s ten, for one thing, and has a growing circle of friends.  They’re into Pokemon cards, which baffle me, and they’re into video games.  They play together all the time (just as my friends and I did, although now they “play together” by each being alone at home and hooked up to the Internet).  The games they play favor fighting, and all the boys seem to follow my son’s philosophy of gaming:  “Go in with all guns blazing.”  That’s how he summarizes it, and the description is accurate enough.  More importantly, the tactic it labels works just fine.  The games he and his friends play—mostly iterations of the Call of Duty franchise—favor a direct, run-and-gun approach.

I don’t try to push my way into this situation, in part because the kid’s growing up and doesn’t need his dad hanging on his shoulder.  The other reason I stay out of this gaming environment is less noble sounding:  I can’t see fast enough to play the games he plays.  I could run and gun my way through hundreds of levels of Doom, but Doom came along more than twenty years ago.  The young man who played Doom—and all those games that came before—was a lot quicker than the man he’s become.

I don’t have the reflexes to react quickly enough when I’m playing against skilled human opponents, whether the game is Black Ops or Title Fight Boxing, and even the newest AI gives me a run for my money.  I don’t have the hand-eye coordination to pull the RT while simultaneously pushing X and A and the LB…all while manipulating both the left and right control sticks.  My hands miss the Atari controller, with its single joystick and single button.

So while games have gone from Pitfall to Dying Light, my reflexes have gone from rockin’ awesome to sadly fossilized.  And the types of games my son plays are, well, beyond me (unless I set the skill level at its lowest level, which pride just won’t allow me to do).

There’s one type of shooter I’m better than John at, though:  sniper games.  This became most clear recently, when he got Sniper III for his birthday.  He plays it—the thing’s awesome—but plays it according to his gaming philosophy of “all guns blazing.”

No subtlety.  No nuance.  No sneaking.

I’m better at this game than he is…and I’m better because I don’t have the reflexes to play it like he does.  John opens fire in every situation and can run right through the consequences.  I play the waiting game, hiding on the roof of a bombed out building and patiently watching through my scope until the Nazi officer pokes his head up at the wrong time.  I wait to kill guards only when some ambient noise in the environment—a thunderstorm or passing plane—covers my shot.

I make progress slowly but steadily.

Recently, I realized there’s a metaphor at work here (although I normally avoid martial metaphors, given that war isn’t like anything but…war).  I’m patient, deliberately patient, even though that’s not in my nature.  It’s the only way I can complete the games I play.

…and it’s the only way I can parent my twins.  If I take any other approach, particularly one that has me just running full speed ahead without forethought of the consequences, things go badly.

Examples of this general strategy in action aren’t hard to find:

As we drive home from Spokane on a Sunday, my wife announces that we’ll be home in time for her to take the kids to evening mass.  No response manifests for maybe a hundred miles; then Samantha begins to pitch a fit.  She’s tired, she loudly proclaims, and just wants to go home and relax after six exhausting hours in the car.  Mass is stupid, she points out, and is doubly stupid at night.  Plus, she notes, she and John aren’t even helping Father P. serve.  (That’s a translation of ten-year-old-tantrum to English; the original involved much wailing and sobbing and whining, punctuated by the occasional kick to the back of the driver’s seat in our Jeep.)

I took many deep breaths.  I wasn’t driving, so rather than grip the wheel tighter, I put both hands flat on my lap, stretching the fingers out and relaxing them (rather than making fists, which aggravate my tendonitis).  I waited as the storm passed, returned worse than before, then passed again.  When I slipped and said anything in response to the tantrum, I stopped myself from elaborating.

Because it’s the elaboration that always kills me.  If either Sam or John throws a fit about something…and I throw my own parental version of a fit…then nothing good happens.  If I get caught up in the drama of the moment, then punishment quickly lapses into the realm of the absurd:  “That’s it.  You’re grounded forever, you’ve lost your bike and Kindle and rollerblades, and you’ll wash and fold every piece of laundry dirtied by anyone in the family until you’re eighteen!”

Ok.  My response to a Samtrum (the special form of tantrum only Sam is capable of managing) has never gone quite that far, but the fact that I’ve even said anything on the same continuum as this ridiculousness gives me pause.  And that’s the whole point:  pause.

Parenting under pressure is hard enough; pausing and waiting for the moment’s trauma to pass always, always makes things better.  Running full speed ahead is no way for me to play video games, not at my age, and it’s no way to parent.  Ever.  When the pressure is on, and my own angry responses are right at the tip of my tongue, it’s always best to wait, to watch, and to do nothing until the time for doing something arrives.


With Love, Dad

Shane Borrowman is a native of Anaconda, father of twins, and professor of English at The University of Montana Western.  He has published on a wide range of topics, including the development of boxing in Renaissance England, medieval Arabic philosophy, and American zombie films.  He is editor or co-editor of four writing textbooks and six collections of original scholarship. Visit , home of Shane's blog, Kairotic Palaver.

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