Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Window to another world

The best thing that happened to our kids this year -- at least if you asked them -- is their discovery of gaming videos on YouTube.  Forty-part walk-throughs of entire games with commentary ... speed runs racing through games from start to finish in the shortest time possible ... special levels, secrets, or extraordinary achievements.  It's like an endless documentary history of the worlds that so fascinate them.

I think the attraction for Archer, judging from the tidbits he shares excitedly with us while he's watching, is that these are environments with very clear goals, very clear rules and very clear exceptions.  This is his version of fiction, and in a limited way, he ascribes motivations and even minor emotions to the in-game characters and to the players.  Every so often he emerges from the back of the house to tell us about what he's seen, and it's all about how you get from world to world, or how many coins were accumulated, or where the infinite one-ups were to be found, or what boss is the most difficult.  There's a story there, albeit one starved of most emotional color and nuance, about how to get from point A to point B and what the notable achievements are along the way.

Lately they've been working their way through the various Pokemon games.  Cady Gray tends to favor the more colorful Mario game commenters -- she comes out to tell us about something hilarious that the player said, rather than what was happening in the game -- while Archer goes for a just-the-facts style from his players.  But she and Archer are on the same page when they watch Pokemon game walk-throughs.  They follow the accumulation of Pokemon, their leveling-up and evolution, and the journey to the various arenas to battle other trainers.  It's a quest combined with a sport, with collecting, and with an exercise in taxonomy.  Both of them seem equally invested in the story and the strategy.  I have to conclude that the combination of elements hits their mutual sweet spots.  There's memorization, strategy, infinite recombination, sorting, and scorekeeping.

When they watch the games together, Cady Gray asks questions about why things happen, and Archer answers with statements of what happened.  An example: Tonight they were watching a Sonic the Hedgehog speed run, and Cady Gray asked whether Sonic can ever get rings back after he loses them.  Archer responded: "I don't think he can, and if he touches an enemy when he has no rings, he immediately loses a life."  There's something there about the difference between the way an autistic and neurotypical kid interact with the world -- one wanting to interrogate the way it works, one wanting to memorize the rule book.

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