Friday, March 18, 2011

Like Father Like Son: A 31 Year Age Gap That Means Nothing

I am intrigued by the generation gaps between modern gamers and how these age barriers break down as we team up together. I often wondered, “Is my teammate 15 years old or 50?” But as long as he or she is mature, has my back and knows how to communicate with other people, does age truly matter? I had a lot of questions that I needed answered, but didn’t know who to ask.

Some time later I found out that two guys I regularly play Team Fortress 2 with are actually father and son. Suddenly I found myself with more questions. How do they get along? Does the son hear his father curse when he loses and how does the son take that? How do people with such an age gap deal with online games and the people that occupy them? Does the father monitor who his son associates with? How do they feel about each other when they're playing games? Are they bitter rivals or best friends?

So, with these questions in mind, I plugged in my microphone and sat down (virtually) with Jeff, the father, and Colby, his son. Hit the jump for the interview that followed.

Me: Thanks for being here guys. We have Jeff and Colby out of Texas here. So how old are you both?

Colby: I’m 13.

Jeff: 44 years old.

Me: And you both play video games regularly?

Jeff: Yes.

Me: I think that’s awesome for a lot of reasons and luckily it's something that we’re seeing more and more of, across all generations. If you don't mind, I want to go ahead and get into it. Do you guys have a command center set up, or separate computers in different rooms, or what? How do you play games together?

Jeff: Separate computers same room.

Colby: About seven feet apart.

Me: So you can't just like lean back and punch each other, you actually have to get up.

Jeff: Yeah, but my cord will reach.

Me: I suppose you can throw things too. Griefing in and out of the game is pretty bad eh? Anyway, when did you guys first start playing games together?

Jeff: How old were you Colby, six?

Colby: No, five. I played Half-Life with you.

Jeff: Yeah, he would sit in my lap and couldn't really control the game so he would just do the mouse. I'd control the keyboard and he'd control the mouse.

Colby: Yeah, then I started playing Diablo.

Me: Wow, you're only 13 and you're already a gamer of eight years. What's the first multiplayer game you guys played together where you actually played separately?

Jeff: Team Fortress Classic?

Colby: TFC or Tribes.

Jeff: Maybe so, but we really spent most of our time together in Day Of Defeat.

Me: So that was your go-to game?

Jeff: Yeah. Colby never really got too heavily involved into TFC, but in DOD he was a monster rifleman. He actually played for our clan.

Me: What other games have you guys played? Where did you go from there?

Jeff: A little TFC, a little bit of Tribes, but then Counterstrike, Colby?

Colby: I never played matches, but yeah we played together.

Jeff: Probably Counterstrike followed by DOD. That was the game we really played together. I mean, he was a top 30 rifleman type guy. And at that time he was nine.

Me: Right on. So it sounds like you two are primarily PC gamers. Do you own consoles and play those together?

Colby: Not really.

Jeff: I'm not a console guy.

Colby: Except the Wii but that doesn't really count.

Me: Sure it (sort of) does!

Colby: (sings) Except he's never beat me at tennis...

Jeff: (sings) Until yesterday...

Colby: Oh.

Me: Ha! So what next?

Jeff: Then came Team Fortress 2.

Me: When you guys play together, let’s say TF2, do you find that you’re cooperating on the same team or do you square off against each other? Or a healthy mix of both?

Jeff: If we're pubbing, we square off a lot. When he was younger we teamed up a lot, but when he started becoming a teenager we were pairing off quite a bit because of the "I don't want to play with my dad" shit.

Me: The teenage angst?

Jeff: Yeah, but now he's getting to the point where he wants to match play more. So we're starting to play together again. Last night he asked me, "Dad do you want to hop on Funcom [their preferred TF2 server] and go beat 'em?”

Me: Jeff, are there times where you are bothered by what's going on in a game with Colby? Everyone knows that some people online are dicks. Do you ever feel protective even though it's virtual, or that you need to act as a sort of filter or moderator?

Jeff: Not really. He understands the difference between real life and the online world.

Me: But these are still real people and they can still say hurtful things, right?

Jeff: He's a well rounded kid and he's been taught well. I don't worry about him in situations where somebody is being a d-bag on a server because he's been around enough gamers that are the good guys. We've been really lucky in our clan and we've had a lot of guys who watched out for him even when I wasn't around. And so as he's grown up he's learned not to be one of those jerks and knows how to deal with the guys that are.

Me: That’s when you know you have a good gaming community. It sounds like the wagons circled around him until he came into his own.

Jeff: Yeah, we had probably 50 guys, I can't even name them all that were mentors to him as he was learning to play online.

Me: So many people are afraid of the internet and the people on it, but that doesn’t sound so awful. Do you guys think playing video games could even be the modern version of throwing the baseball with your kid?

Colby: I never liked baseball.

Me: (all laugh) Right, right, but you understand what I'm saying. You do like video games.

Colby: Yeah, yes I do.

Me: What other things do you guys like to do together? Is gaming one of the major ones?

Jeff: Gaming is probably the major one. There’s hunting, fishing, stuff like that but we don't get to do it a lot because we live in the city.

Me: And gaming is easier because you don't have to rent a boat and load it up with gear. You just log in.

Jeff: Yeah and you're always at home where your internet connection is. As long as your internet connection is good, you're good to go.

Me: That's true.

Jeff: Now the problem is you get to a point to where you start wondering whether your kid is spending too much time online.

Me: Was that an issue?

Jeff: His mom has been at that point for a while and I waver on and off of it. But a lot of the time he spends online now he spends with a lot of his real life buddies from school. I figure those guys will start clanning together one of these days. So I don't worry as much because I know most of the kids he's on with.

Me: Do you think it brings you guys closer as father and son or is it just a carefree way to spend the time?

Colby: It depends on who is pwning who.

Jeff: Good answer! I don't think we have any real issues on that side anyway do you Colby?

Colby: No.

Jeff: Anytime shared between a father and a son, especially in the teenage years, is good time. Because when kids become teenagers they don't want anything to do with their parents. That's their break away time. So any time you can get in is good.

Me: Definitely. What does your wife think of the whole thing, I know you briefly touched on it before.

Jeff: Oh man you'll have to ask her one of these days. But when I first started, my wife was totally convinced that everybody on the internet was a child molester. Every one of them. That's what she called them. And I don't know if you remember “War” from TFC, he was one of our offensive captains. He came down and stayed with us for a week one time. A great kid out of Michigan, and that kind of brought her around a bit.

Me: Do you think meeting a good person from the online world was the positive exposure to a previously faceless menace that she needed? Did that help to dissolve some of that internet paranoia?

Jeff: Yeah and a bunch of the other guys have stayed with us or visited as well. She hasn't met anybody yet that wasn't just a really nice guy. She's not as bad as she used to be, let's put it that way.

Me: I hear you man. I've definitely had lots of friendships come out of it. One of the guys I met playing TFC I've known for a decade now. We talk all the time even though we don't get to hang out in person because he's in Massachusetts and I'm in North Carolina. He was even actually a groomsman in my wedding!

Jeff: Oh that's awesome! I'll tell you this, if you talk to somebody online for a night, or a week or a month, you don't know who that person is. But if you stay online with somebody for three to five years. You really get a pretty good feel for who they are because after a while they start to let down their guard.

Me: Colby this question is for you. What do your friends think of your dad and what do they think of you playing games with the old man?

Colby: Honestly, most of them are not computer gamers, they play consoles. But they don't really have an opinion on it, they don't really care.

Me: So it's not a point of embarrassment.

Colby: No.

Me: What are your plans for the future? Wherever you end up going are you planning on keeping up with your dad by playing games?

Colby: Well yeah ... umm ... maybe not with my dad.

Jeff guffaws and Colby starts laughing.

Me: Maybe every now and then right?

Colby: Yeah. But definitely play games.

Jeff: You know you'll catch me online and try to whip my ass.

Colby: Oh you mean will, not try.

Jeff: There you go. Can you tell he's a teenager?

Me: Jeff did you have any hesitations towards gaming with your son? It sounds like it was a natural progression of things and you just organically brought him into that world. Sometimes we get angry and we're cussing and we say things we may not want our kids to hear. Are you ever afraid that he sees your less than perfect side or is not really a problem?

Jeff: Nah he's seen that. Often.

Colby: More than once.

Jeff: Like I said, I don't believe that you hide kids away from certain things. They’re going to see how the real world is anyway. So we don't hold things back. Most anything he's going to run into on the net he already knows how to deal with. And anything I do, well, he is going to understand the context in which it's coming through.

Me: Sure, sure. Jeff, do you think that, because he can kill you in a video game, he believes he can challenge your authority in real life?

Jeff: Nah, he's a good kid but I can straighten that shit out in a hurry. Can't I?

Colby: Yeah.

Me: This is your chance to counter that Colby.

Colby: Nah, there's no point in lying.

Jeff: There will come a time when he will rebel and jump the nest but that's not to worry about now.

Me: From an outside perspective, I just think what you two do is a great thing. Video games are such a huge part of my life, and I did get to game a little bit with my parents growing up, but that was mostly Intellivision and Nintendo. Most games these days are faster paced and maybe even more sophisticated so playing games with other people is more about problem solving than it used to be. And I think it is becoming more common as technology melds generations together. Maybe I’m just not paying attention, but I haven't seen a whole lot of this and, if I can be so cheesy, it seems to be a kind of special thing.

Jeff: I can give you a little background of how it came about. When Colby was younger, he had whooping cough and it was so bad that he wound up in the ICU—the whole nine yards. We didn't know if he was going to live through the night type of stuff. When we got out of there, the doctors told us he could not be athletic and spend a lot of time out for the next few months. He pretty much had to stay stagnant. And the doctor told us, "Hey look, you know you gotta keep him still. TV, computers, whatever it takes." And that's when he got really involved in the computer side. And that worked out great because I was gaming at the time. He probably got to where he was on too often, and it was harder to get him off, but I think he's coming out of that now. He's figured out that girls are cute.

Jeff and I laugh but Colby remains quiet.

Jeff: With that said, that's kind of how we got there. I think with this generation right now, there are so many of the older guys my age that don't really have the IT technology exposure to computers to understand how to really compete. So they may play, but they play the dinky stuff, not the real competition.

Me: Right, casual games. Farmville, Popcap games, that kind of stuff.

Jeff: But I think as time goes by, Colby's generation is where it's really going to become pronounced. When Colby and them get older, and this generation is really getting into the competitive side, they will have kids and I think they're going to spend a lot more time with them online. I don't know if that's good or bad but I think that's coming.

Me: Good point. Who is generally considered to be a better player overall? Jeff, I can see you having an advantage because of all your years of virtual combat experience and gaming wisdom. At the same time, you've got this young ambitious whippersnapper with fast-twitch reflexes and a creative mind. SO how does it play out?

Colby: At games in general? Well, it depends on the game. But, I'm better because I'm younger.

Jeff: I would say he's exactly right. I would say, hands down, he's a better gamer than I am. If it comes down to a game that we're starting for the first time, he picks it up quicker, his reflexes are faster, he notices nuances and spends more time learning the gaming side than I do. When it comes to TF2 I'm better in most classes than he is and at the strategy side but that's just because of my background with TFC. But overall, hell yeah, most games he'll whip my ass.

Me: It takes a big gamer man to admit that.

Jeff: But if there's money on the line it's a different ballgame, because like we said before, I’m only 7 feet away and I can hit his head. Or I can talk enough smack to get him out of his game, let's put it that way.

Me: That's a viable option and a good lesson to teach! Alright Colby, I know it's hard to imagine, but do you think one day when you’re older you'll look back on these experiences with fondness?

Colby: Yeah. I do.

Me: Well, that’s about it guys. Thanks so much for your time and honesty.

Colby: Alright!

Jeff: No problem man. Take it easy.

So, in the end what did I come away with? Well, for one, my thoughts about age being irrelevant in an online setting were confirmed. Given your candidates are mature enough, that is. In fact, I have met grown men not half as mature as Colby. And as far as Jeff goes, he just seems to get it. Not only does he realize the value of being there for his son, he and his wife have done a great job of raising their child in a digital space that some still consider a mecca for the seedy and unscrupulous. Some parents are too afraid to let their kids anywhere near the internet. In other situations, parents let their children do what they want online without proper supervision. Jeff seems to have found the perfect balance by exposing Colby to a semi-controlled space that is accepting of him and his age. And Jeff can do all of this while he still manages to get a few frags himself.

Jeff and Colby - Keep on fraggin’ on. One day, if you don’t already, you’ll see what I see. A very special bond between a father and son that was literally forged by playing video games together.


  1. This is a great article. Age barriers are REALLY torn down in online games. I've been told by clan/guild mates that they thought I was 35 until they found out my actual age. All guilds I've ever been in have had a mixture of people ranging from high school to late middle age.

  2. Thanks Yoss! I've seen more and more of this and it's really interesting.