Thursday, June 9, 2016

The joke's on us

On these recent summer nights, our household has been arranging itself as follows: Noel and I in the living room, watching TV, working, knitting, and/or reading; Cady Gray in Archer's room, watching Twitch, playing Steam, chatting with friends online, drawing, roleplaying; and Archer in the front room, keeping up with his various YouTube-based "camps." Every once in awhile Archer will pop up from the couch and go running into his room to tell CG something, or come into the living room to tell us something -- he's had a thought about how Ten Words of Wisdom is working out, or has just learned an amusing fact on Numberphile.

Last night he jumped up, hustled down the hallway, burst into his room and said "Hello!" Except CG wasn't in his room. She was in the living room with us, talking about Romeo And/Or Juliet. All three of us watched and listened, bemused, as he ran past and shouted "Hello!" to an empty room. Then we burst into laughter.

Archer came in and stood in the doorway, smiling uncontrollably. We were laughing at his mistake, at something he had done that turned out to be funny. But -- and here's the important thing -- he wasn't angry or frustrated with us, or even embarrassed about the mistake. He was enjoying the fact that we found it amusing, because he found it amusing too. He grinned and commented happily on the error, recognizing that his assumption had gone hilariously awry. He knew we weren't laughing at him, even though, y'know, we were laughing at what he did. He was having as much fun as we were.

I looked at that smile and thought how remarkable it was. For a boy who had to consciously practice being aware of how others saw him, putting himself in their shoes, and tailoring his actions accordingly, it represented how very far he's come.

And those YouTube camps he watches hours upon end? They're part of it. He emulates the YouTubers who play gamemaster to their subscribers, creating "object shows" where cartoon icons like Golf Ball and Cat Bed compete in Survivor-like competitions, earning points and being eliminated. These channels don't just entertain him passively; he learns from them (and from the feedback they incorporate into the ongoing game) how to manage interactions. His earliest efforts were based on popular marble-race videos made using the software physics engine Algodoo, combined with animated Wacky Races-style cartoons like Battle for Dream Island. But at the same time as his Keynote animation skills develop, so do his interactive instincts, all propelled by his simultaneous interests in designing a good game and keeping his subscribers happy.

Just look at what's going on in his most recent camp, Battle for Regal Planet (here's a video from 10 months ago, and here's one from last week after an Undertale-inspired design reboot). He's even started narrating his TWOW-homage Realm of Fifty Characters, just like his hero carykh. Listen to how smooth and expressive that narration is. He writes it all out, but it's full of dramatic twists. He's clearly aware of his listeners and pitches his presentation to their expectations, needs, and entertainment.

Years ago as we were trying to imagine our #robotboy's future, I hoped that computer interaction, with its throttled stream of cues and information, would allow him to make progress in socialization. Today I'm amazed at how that has happened, in realms I never could have foreseen.

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