My Dad has been visiting since late last month and his arrival happened to have coincided with the arrival of another important thing in my life (these days): Grand Theft Auto IV.
Dad was, at one time in his life, quite a gamer. He introduced me to the glory of Donkey Kong on the TRS-80 (or was it the CoCo), looking as delighted as I was when he first loaded the game up with a tape player and sat me down to play it on a bulky keyboard.
His was the first computer upon which I ever played a flight sim, some early military flight sim on an 8088, I think. We played countless games of Doom together, logged hours of strategy gaming, but as gaming become more complex and my interests in console gaming slowly evolved our gaming lives drifted apart.
He tried to stay by my side, or the side of my avatar. He bought an Xbox, we played plenty of Ghost Recon together, but the speed of the game and his slowing reflexes, the caustic nature of online gamesmanship and Live chat slowly wore him down until he retreated from the Xbox to, of all places, Second Life.
It's there that I still find him, almost nightly, when I call, or when I walk down the stairs to say good night these recent weeks.
But something changed when GTA arrived. Maybe it was all of the time he heard me talking about it, the interviews, working on the stories, the reviews. Maybe it was one last attempt by him to reach out to me, to find that old connection of games. But he was intrigued, so I sat him down in front of the television and booted up the Playstation 3. Handing him the controller, a controller he had never seen, let alone held, I walk from the room.
That first day passes quietly and quickly. Me upstairs working, him downstairs playing. He slowly works through the game's controls, quickly grasping the concepts, but not so quickly perfecting the movements.
After his first day in Grand Theft Auto IV his only comment is on the driving: It just doesn't feel right.
It's the thumbsticks, I tell him, he's not used to such small movements. He grunts his agreement.
The next day he watches me for hours as I play online, shooting and getting shot, in endless matches of GTA multiplayer.
It looks just like every other game I've ever seen, he says. How's it different.
It isn't, not really. It's like baseball, or maybe watching a rally race: The field, the track, the players change, but the same basic rules of the game never do. What happens within those rules between the beginning and the end of each match is what makes it worth doing.
His second day on the game is much longer, he plays it well into the night, the morning I suspect. He's starting to get it, I can see it in his pale hazel eyes, his red-rimmed pale hazel eyes. He's starting to like it.
I catch him the next day, after another marathon session, talking to my step-dad, who is also visiting the house with my mom. He's trying to explain to him what's so fun about the game, how it's different, but not really. Sure it's another game, but it has such detail, so many little things worth seeing.
My step-dad is intrigued too. His interest lasts about ten minutes before it turns to boredom, and he falls asleep next to my dad... who sits by my side as I zip through a handful of missions on the Xbox 360.
After another day of gaming my dad is asking me about consoles, specifically about the Playstation 3. How much is it? He wants to know. Which one should I get? He asks. Why a PS3, why not an Xbox 360? I ask. I had an Xbox, he says, I want to see what the Playstation is like this time around.
His addiction, now seems full blown. He laughs as he works his way through the missions, gets the jokes, likes the humor found in the dialog, the radio stations, the advertisements. I even catch him laughing at Weasel News, despite his affinity for the real world's Fox News.
I asked him this morning what he thought of the game, is it enjoyable? Enjoyable, he says, isn't the right word. It's interesting... challenging. I like the graphics, the animation is amazing, but the story is what keeps me playing. I just can't beat some of the missions and that gets frustrating.
He's still, he says, thinking of buying a Playstation 3 and if he does it will be just to play this game.
Grand Theft Auto IV has found an unexpected fan in my father, a man who once gave up on games because they felt as if they had left him behind. Despite it's roots in hardcore gaming, I've come to realize that GTA can be every bit as attractive to casual gamers, to the Second Life set as it is to those who live and breath 360 and PS3.
Now to work on getting dad back online.