Dabe Alan

Gaming as heritage: why I’m teaching my son to use a mouse and keyboard

Gaming as heritage: why I’m teaching my son to use a mouse and keyboard

It’s hard to even know where to rest your hands, and the fact my son is left-handed makes this even worse. I didn’t want to get him started on a left-handed mouse, because the majority of the equipment he’s going to use at school or work will be designed for right-handed people. We’re starting his skills from scratch, so why not work in the most advantageous way?

“Like this,” I told him, putting his left hand on the WASD keys, and the right on the mouse. “You want your thumb to be able to hit the space bar so you can jump. Your little finger is going to control things like crouching. Think of WASD as your home keys for gaming.” He looks awkward for a bit, but the prize is that he gets to play a Mature-rated game. That’s the carrot.

The stick is that it’s important to me that he gets good with the mouse and keyboard.

Sending it down the line

I’m not even sure why this is so important to me, as the trend seems to be moving towards controllers, even for first-person shooters on the PC. There is something culturally important to me about the mouse and keyboard as a way to interact with video games though. It’s how I grew up, and it’s a skill I’d love to see continue with my children. I once joked that I felt like a surviving member of a dying race, and I wanted to pass on my language to my family, and then I realized I wasn’t really joking.

I don’t really care if my kids believe in God, or which god they believe in. I just hope they have some kind of belief system that gives them strength. I don’t really care if they grow up to like men or women, although a selfish part of me hopes they’re straight, just so their path in life is easier than what I’ve seen in my friends who grew up liking the same gender. But at the end of the day I just hope they find someone to love.

Most of what they do is negotiable, but not this. They need to know how to use a mouse and keyboard. For some reason Quake 3 won’t run on a gaming laptop I have for review, so we switch over to Unreal Tournament 2004. I’m trying to teach mechanic skill, the sort of thing that may be dying in the world of perks, killstreaks, and autoaim. I want him to know what weapons are best aimed at the head, and which ones are best aimed at the feet. How to deny your enemy an area of the map by collecting power-ups and firing from the right places.

He gets movement down quickly, which is probably due to his endless time playing Minecraft. Kids love Minecraft these days. He walks into a room and takes fire, and slowly moves his weapon over to fire back. He takes out the enemy with two shots, and seems happy.

“We’re playing on the easiest difficulty,” I told him. “You need to learn to shoot and move.” He stands stock still as he takes aim at the other characters, taking the time to line up his shot. It’s frustrating to watch, but you know what they say about crawling before you fly.

His tongue creeps out of the side of his mouth, like a much younger child focusing on his crayons. I explain the idea of circle strafing, and we talk about why it’s harder to hit a moving target. He points out that it’s harder to hit something while you’re moving, and that’s true as well. That’s where practice and skill come in.

I enjoy these discussions, because we’re talking about tactics and game design as much as the control method, but I can’t help by feel I’m giving my kids our generation’s version of the Stones on vinyl. I’m making him learn what made my childhood special, and he’ll become less tolerant of that as he gets over.

I grew up in a house where games were tolerated at best, but my kids grow up surrounded by games. It’s likely they’ll find them deeply uncool in a few years, the way teenagers rebel against whatever their parents like. This is my hobby and my job, and when they begin to look for their own identities it's very possible that games will be the first things to go.

So for now we practice, and we play. He's slowly getting better, but we're still not really concerned about his kill/death ratio. Soon I'll start inching up the difficulty, as well as jump onto the server myself. He's tolerating these lessons the way any child does when they're learning something they find slightly interesting. The fact I'm making this structured likely has something to do with it; no one wants their fun time to turn into a lesson.

Besides, I care about this much more than he does.