You never know what kind of ad you’ll find on Craigslist. While some listings may be unorthodox, one gig post back in late September was wholesome enough to sound like a fairy tale. And this one has a happy ending.
But first, the call to adventure. Karen Klein, a former legal secretary, and her husband Bruce, a retired military officer, started taking an interest in video games earlier in 2021, after looking into options to keep themselves active. Ideally, they wanted to pick up something that could get them moving without leaving the house, as Bruce has some physical limitations. That’s when the couple recalled visiting Las Vegas and hitting up the video games at the Luxor Hotel with friends around 20 years ago. Plus, wasn’t Dave and Busters pretty fun when they tried it out, too?
Karen decided to buy a more powerful (and more expensive) PlayStation 4 Pro, though she admits the duo doesn’t “know one [console] from the other.” Not long after, the two started reading video game reviews. After doing research, Karen stumbled upon AP Nerd’s YouTube channel. It was here that the two saw high praise for something called The Last of Us 2 on the PS4, apparently one of the best video games from the past decade. And it wasn’t cartoonish, like some other games the couple had checked out before.
And, they figured, if they could conquer a game as complicated as TLOU2, surely other games would be a piece of cake. But even after using the ample accessibility options offered by the game, the couple struggled to make progress. They liked the realism, but it also made it hard to figure out when the gameplay began and cutscenes ended during TLOU2’s opening act. Still, their sessions were filled with laughs.
“We had no idea what you’re supposed to do and [we were] looking for the little circles with the triangle in it,” Bruce said, commenting on how they struggled finding Ellie’s jacket at the start of the game. “[Ellie] stayed in that room for a day and a half,” he said.
In The Last of Us 2, you play as Ellie on her quest for (spoilers!) unbridled revenge following the murder of her surrogate father, Joel.The couple managed to make their way into Seattle, where most of the action takes place, but they also had trouble knowing what they were supposed to do once they arrived in the city.
“Bruce would say to me, ‘get her off the horse, get her off the horse!’” Karen said. “And then I would get off, but there’s a triangle [prompt], so I’d get right back on the horse.”
“We don’t have the mindset yet on how to think your way out of a situation and I guess gamers learn that or maybe it comes easy when you’re younger to do that,” Bruce said.
Rather than succumbing to frustration, Karen drafted up an ad to go on Craigslist in the hopes someone might be able to help. The couple received some replies that, although kind, only suggested that they start out playing games that were “more appropriate for beginners.” But that wasn’t what they were looking for.
Eventually, that Craigslist post would find its way to the r/PS4 subreddit, where it was screenshotted by user One_Eyed_Man. The Redditor said the creative gigs category on Craigslist tends to be a “catch-all for unusual requests” where one post could ask for help with building a haunted house or a woman to shave their head on camera. But he felt differently when he saw Bruce and Karen’s post.
“The way it was written and [the] words they used [like] ‘We want to enjoy this diversion’; ‘Need a person who knows the game and how to work the controller’) sounded exactly what my grandparents would write if they needed a tutor for a new piece of technology. It was ridiculously cute and life-affirming and made me think, ‘that’s how I want to be when I’m that age,’” One_Eyed_Man said.
The couple’s eagerness to learn without fear of asking for help stole everyone’s heart, so the Redditor spread their ad to help it gain more traction and visibility.
“I wanted other people to feel that warm and gooey faith in humanity, a slightly-restored sensation that I felt, and it sounds like a lot of people did,” he said.
81-year-old Bruce and 79-year-old Karen outlined some standards for what they were looking for in a tutor. It wasn’t a matter of being good at video games or having nerves of steel for Naughty Dog’s intense action game, but rather finding someone with enough patience for the two. They didn’t want to be critiqued for how they played.
“We spoke to a few of them, and we picked one that we thought would really be able to help us because teaching gaming to a couple of older folks is not the easiest thing,” Bruce said.
Although some of the commenters were dubious of Bruce and Karen’s post, a 21-year-old named Jesse, who goes by WeekendFeel on Reddit, found One_Eyed_Man’s post and became their tutor.
After confirming he was vaccinated, Jesse taught Bruce and Karen twice a week with in-person sessions that would last around two to four hours. “He hasn’t gone crazy yet, so we’re still doing this,” Bruce said.
Having been in combat for 22 years, Bruce said he found TLOU2 to be very violent and that it “rattled his cage” when (spoiler) Joel was killed by Abby with a golf club.
“It kinda sounds given the condition of the world that these guys would be so much better off working together and knowing each other. It kind of sounds like the world you and I live in today,” Bruce said. He might be onto something.
Although the couple has made strides since their first tutoring session, Jesse said they weren’t at the level where he thinks they would be comfortable playing TLOU2 on their own. “Their progress has gone up and down but has steadily been increasing,” he said. To help the couple gain more gameplay awareness, Jesse has utilized TLOU2's accessibility features like the motion sickness and navigation options to help coach Bruce and Karen on spatial awareness in video games.
“Accessibility features are a huge godsend for Last of Us 2 and I’m shocked not all games have these options by now,” he said.
Recently, Jesse hasn’t been able to join the couple for tutoring sessions due to him landing a new job. Since his new work schedule hasn’t allowed him time to coach the fledgling gamers, both parties agreed for him to help find a replacement tutor in the meantime so they aren’t kept waiting.
In the meantime, Bruce hasn’t been a slouch. Jesse introduced him to YouTube walkthroughs and Bruce studied them everyday, intent on replicating the combat scenarios he’s watched unfold on YouTube.
“I enjoy watching these walk-throughs to the point where I’ve probably seen about 50 of them so far,” Bruce said. “I’m seeing all kinds of stealth killings that Ellie does, and I think in my head, ‘Wow, the guy playing the game is really talented to make the game look like just a real video.’ It’s so smooth, the way it’s being played and I’m very impressed. It just makes me want to learn more.”
The couple has since taken a break from playing TLOU2. Since then, they’ve taken up playing Detroit: Become Human, Destroy All Humans, and Grand Theft Auto 5—all in the hopes of becoming better acquainted with shooter games. The idea is still to eventually go back to TLOU2. While there was still some need for improvement with navigating characters, Bruce and Karen enjoyed laughing at each other as they zapped virtual humans with ray guns and barreled their car down the street as they tinkered with their controller’s sensitivity in GTA.
“I used to be very active,” Karen said. “He was athletic. I was athletic. We danced a lot. Our lives have become more sedentary, but this puts the excitement [back] in it.” While their friends would go on expensive trips or cruises, Karen said gaming has provided a “different level” of excitement for them.
Having gone through life with a bunch of laughs in their 57 years of marriage, Karen and Bruce said they hope to expand their gaming library with titles that aren’t quite as violent as TLOU2. Perhaps they’ll try some couch co-op games together, they said.
Before starting on their journey, Bruce and Karen thought gamers were just young kids that didn’t want anything in life aside from sitting inside and playing games. But after troubleshooting with some of them, the stereotype they once knew started to dissipate.
“I consider myself a pretty smart guy and if I can get out of the room [in The Last of Us Part 2] and all these gamers are miles ahead of me, I’m impressed,” Bruce said. “I want to keep working and maybe someday be able to compete on the internet,” he revealed during his interview with Kotaku. The goal for him isn’t just to go beyond embarrassing himself: he wants to get genuinely good at something, and perhaps stand up against other fellow gamers.
Apparently, this was also news to Karen, who at this point in the interview turned to Bruce in shock to ask, “What?”