Better, But Not Good Enough
A lot of my topics lately seem to bridge the gap between my childhood and my current adulthood, which I’m going to pin on two things. The first being my years of reflection on how where I was brought me to where I am. The second is because of my daughter.
Through no official railroading, my daughter is very much my daughter. In most ways, she’s far more like me than she’ll ever be like her mother, which I’m sure is sad for my wife, but is a joyful thing for me. Oddly enough, I always knew that if I did have any children, there would be only one, and it would be a girl; like, “steadfast resolution” knowing, not just a vague feeling that 50% of the results happen 100% of the time. And in this knowledge I knew she’d be like me, but better. I’d be able to help her to enjoy the things I enjoyed (if she chose to), but also to be a better person than I was, and better than the people who were around me. She would have my hindsight on her side, so I could help her learn from my experiences and my mistakes. What I didn’t count on, though, was that most of anyone’s life experiences are outside of their control.
Last night, my daughter and I got to talking about her interest in animation, and how she wasn’t “getting” the 2D animation software we bought her. She felt that she had a better grip on 3D animation concepts, so I showed her some of the stuff I had in Unity (which I knew where to find, not what limited knowledge I had about the subject). We got to talking about anime and her drawing, writing, and her text-messaging role-playing with her friends when I suggested she try an actual role playing game with them, since they were basically doing that anyway but without any formal rules.
“I don’t really have that many friends, though,” she said. I told her that she’d named more than enough people to put together a party, but understood instantly that that wasn’t what she meant. It was greater than that.
My daughter isn’t a crowd follower, which is something all parents say when they want people to think that their kids stand out. My daughter doesn’t stand out. She hangs back. Her talents are hers and no one else’s; it takes days of cajoling and tempered feedback to get her to show us, her family, any of her work. She said last night that she’d like to try acting in a school play or something, but felt too overwhelmed by her stage fright. She has good friends, like I did, but isn’t popular. As far as I know, however, she’s not bullied. She admits that while she’s not close to a lot of people, she’s at least friendly with them, and they to her.
I suggested that maybe when she goes to high school next year she could see if they have a role playing game club or something. Maybe if they didn’t, she could start one. She liked the idea, but then I realized something this morning: life in the geek-o-sphere isn’t really improving like I had hoped and assumed it would.
My thought was that most troubles experienced by a society occur as the vanguard makes its way into the mindset. People don’t like change, and resistance can be ugly as people vehemently fight back and forth to gain ground for their cause. Over time, though, as the ideas remain present — through contested — newer generations become used to them, and more accepting of them. Eventually, if we’re lucky, those ideas become so commonplace that we think of the time when they were railed against as “backward”.
So I had thought that because of the sheer momentum of geek culture rising from a niche community to a multi-billion-dollar worldwide juggernaut in a relatively short amount of time, the crap I had to deal with as a kid, and the crap we are dealing with now as adults, would fall away as our children are raised in a world where geek culture is so pervasive that they wouldn’t know any different. Liking video games, role playing games, cosplay, anime, comic books, or other affectations would just be something that one does, like watching movies, riding a bike, or eating spaghetti — age, gender, racially neutral activities that we don’t think of as being the domain of any one demographic. In addition, I’d hoped that geek parents raising geek children would help guide them so that while we probably won’t see equality in the community in this generation, the next generation would be on surer footing.
I don’t know now if that will be the case. After suggesting that my daughter look into a role playing club in high school, I had a small panic attack. Was that too geeky for high school culture? Was I suggesting my daughter bury herself deeper in this culture that was financially mainstream, but not entirely culturally mainstream during her most important years of social growth? How would she feel if there was a club, and she walked in and was the only girl there? How would she be treated? Would she stay and stick it out, or would she simply not return with her interest dashed? I didn’t have faith in my predictions any more, and I realize that’s both because of my experiences at that age, in a different time, but also because I don’t know that the next generation has bothered to improve.
When brushing my teeth this morning, I thought about it. Watching a lot of Cartoon Network, I sometimes see commercials for GameFly, the video game mail order rental service. On occasion I thought, “Why do they just show kids? Don’t they know the demographic majority of gamers are older?” Of course, it’s a commercial aimed at the network’s primary (on paper) demographic, so I can’t get too upset. But today I realized something far worse: all of the kids in those commercials are boys. Targeting kids I can now understand, on the Cartoon Network, but GameFly can’t even bother to represent the real demographic composition of the community. Are they lazy, ignorant, or are we working harder at being both than we are at making sure our kids grow up with a better experience than we did?
We can only take these things one day at a time. I offered to run a simple, custom RPG game system adventure just between my daughter and me so she could get an idea for how it feels to play these kinds of games. We also talked about her previous class in 3D design, her upcoming Unity class, and her 3D modeling class at Harvard this summer (yes, I am name-dropping so I can say “my daughter is going to Harvard”). She’s excited about the fact that the high school offers a 3D modeling course for a semester, and wondered if there was a club at the school for that as well. I didn’t have to suggest that if not, she could try and start one, because I could see her thinking about that very thing.