“Can I come over and play Dragon Age?” My son asked me.
“Sure. I’m just going to watch more Land of the Lost tonight, so knock yourself out.” I said.
Ryan doesn’t have Dragon Age at his house, and when he was house sitting for me a few weeks ago, he fell in love with it the same way I did. He likes to unwind with his Inquisitor the same way I do, and the world of Thedas has come to live in his imagination the same way it has in mine.
“I think we’ve both earned a night of goofing off,” I added. Ryan is the co-creator of the world and main storyline in the Tabletop RPG show, and he and I have been writing together for months, now, almost every single day, and yesterday we finally finished the hardest part of our work. Yesterday, we handed everything off to the lead RPG designer, and exhaled for the first time in weeks.
“Yeah, we totally have. You’re gonna be Mister Done tonight.” He said.
“Um,” I said.
“Because I’m going to destroy you at Mister Do!,” he said.
“Come at me, bro.”
I have a Mister Do! machine (well, it’s actually a multi machine that I mostly use to play Mister Do!) in my game room, and I think I’ve gotten pretty good at Mister Do!. I’m not, like, Kill-Screen-Coming-Up good, but my high score at the moment is just over 92,000, and I average in the mid 70,000s per game. Ryan’s made it one of his life goals to beat my high score, and while part of me wants to keep that score safely out of his reach, another part of me wants to teach my son how to master the intricacies of being a clown who runs away from dinosaurs and eats many times his weight in cherries.
“I’ll see you in a few hours,” he said.
I went out for lunch, had a delightfully spicy Cajun chicken sandwich, and read a bunch of the material I needed to prepare for work on Monday. For the first time in weeks, the overwhelming sense of panic and dread that I didn’t have enough time and wasn’t ready to do this show was met by some genuine excitement and anticipation, because I only have to wait a few days before I get to start exploring the world we created with some amazing players who have created extremely interesting and complex characters.
A clown running through a brightly colored maze. He is chased by a small dinosaur, that is rapidly gaining on him. He runs beneath an apple, which falls on and crushes the dinosaur. Then another apple that was above the first shakes itself loose and falls on and crushes the clown, because this game is bullshit.
“What the shit?!” I shouted.
“Wow, that sucked. I’m up.”
I stepped aside and began to weave a tapestry of profanity over the game room, in the style of The Old Man from A Christmas Story.
Electric Ladyland played on the Sonos, the doors to the game room were wide open, and the dogs chased each other around the back yard. It had been 91 a few hours earlier, but now it was about 83, and suddenly the oppressive heatwave we’re having in freaking March didn’t seem so bad.
As we played the game, I told Ryan why I made certain choices to maximize points, why I chose to let a level end rather than chase another few thousand points, and how to avoid the giant fucking bullshit of an apple falling on you for no good reason.
“I try to average ten thousand points a level, and if I don’t have my first extra guy by the third screen, I know I’m gonna have a bad time,” I told him.
He heeded my advice, and over the course of several games, I watched him get better and better, averaging a score in the mid to upper 40s.
I don’t know if it’s because we’re only separated by 17 years, or if it’s because we had to work so hard to earn our family, or if it’s because Anne and I raised two really awesome, amazing kids, but I genuinely love hanging out with my adult children. I’m closer to my boys than I am to anyone in my nuclear family, and if you’d told me that this is how it would be when they were on the cusp of adolescence and their biological father was making our lives a miserable hell, I would have told you that you were full of shit.
With Anne out of town, and Ryan’s girlfriend spending the evening with her sister, here we were. We were two adults, father and son, playing games together after having burritos for dinner (of course), after working really hard to write a TV show together and I wouldn’t trade a single second of the pain we endured to get here.
We played a few more games, and I headed inside to watch TV while he played Dragon Age in the game room.
I ended up watching TNG on BBC America. The episode was Pen Pals, and I had completely forgotten everything about it, even though it’s a fantastic Wesley Crusher story — maybe one of the best ones we ever did.
I felt like I was watching someone else, who looked just like me, rise to the occasion of some really great writing, in an episode that completely holds up, almost 30 years later. It was a strange feeling to be watching myself without judgment or wishing I’d made a different choice or just … acted better, I guess.
Put another way, I could see how a smart kid or the parent of a smart kid could have watched that episode and identified with Wesley Crusher, because he wasn’t just an idea. He was a person who was dealing with some heavy stuff that he wasn’t quite ready to deal with.
I watched the entire episode, and I cheered for Wesley when the stupid adults who never listened to him or respected him gave him credit for having the insight to run the fucking scan that made all the difference. I can see how a cynic or someone who was just determined to hate the character no matter what could roll his eyes at that, but I thought it was handled in a way that was grounded in the reality of the show, and not just I feel strange but also good.
I looked at that kid, who grew up to be this adult, and I identified with him in an entire new way. I identified with him as a parent who raised two kids who were a lot like that him — struggling to deal with with a bunch of really heavy shit they weren’t ready to deal with, wanting to do the right thing, but being paralyzed by self doubt — and for the first time in decades, I had a new reason to be proud of wearing Wesley Crusher’s goofy grin and helmet hair.
I turned off the TV, and went back out to our game room, to spend some more time with my son.