Archive | July, 2011

Action Figure Protocol

3 Jul

So whether by accident or design, my son’s action figure collection is gaining legitimacy (the “Galactic Heroes” line of Star Wars figures. PERFECT for a 2-year-old. More on that later). My own action figure collecting credentials are beyond dispute. After being in the action figure game litterally for decades I have made the observation that there is a definite spectrum progression in the mindset of an action figure collector as he/she matures.

We start out loving our action figures – by that I mean taking them in the bath, burrying them in the backyard… It’s the sort of “loving” that blurs the line between 1st, 2nd and 3rd person (my sister says I’m exercising my inner English major with this blog. She may be right). It’s the sort of “loving” that makes childhood wonderful. It’s pure, wreckless fantasy. It’s the sort of “loving” that rubs the paint off, loses the accessories, loosens joints and removes plastic limb from plastic torso. It’s a wonderful sort of “loving” that makes for fantastic childhood memories, and forges an Andy/Woody bond between child and plaything.

As Woody and Buzz will tell you, things change as the child gets older. We still love our toys, but it’s the sort of “loving” that you find at the absolute other extreme of the spectrum. It’s the sort of “loving” that keeps the figures safely sealed in their original packages. It’s the sort of “loving” that drives us to spend countless hours on Ebay looking for that limited edition, Wall*mart-exclusive only, rare blue-colored variation of the now mass-produced green-colored figure. It’s the sort of “loving” that puts the figures meticulously on display in chronological order of production on the wall in your man-cave (which is the same sort that would display them in the living room for everyone to see if our wives would only let us).

We’ve spent this weekend at Grandma and Grandpa’s house, and my son got a hefty addition to his action-figure collection to keep him entertained (bribed? manipulated?), and the culture clash between the two extremes on the spectrum have never been more apparant. He’s spent the time playing fiercely with his new toys. Not 24 hours out of the box and the 2-year-old has already distributed them evenly across Grandma and Grandpa’s 2-acre property at least 3 times. On the opposite end of the spectrum the 37-year-old has followed him around like a mother hen, gathering up the far-flung action figures, bringing them all back together in a neat pile safely centrally located in the house, and thinking thoughts like “OMG… you can’t just play with those like that. You’ll lose one of them. Oh my, that mark is never going to come off.”

I want my child to be normal, so of course I don’t communicate any of those thoughts to my boy. But regardless, I can’t help myself thinking them. For my part, in my entire life I’ve never ever lost an action figure – I think more out of fortunate hapenstance rather than by a concerted effort on my part. I expect my son will develop along the spectrum of action-figure collecting as I did. I hope he does it not because “they’ll be worth so much money when it’s time for college” (I disillusioned myself of that notion many, many years ago. For the record, action figure collecting has a very poor return on investment). Instead I hope he finds his way to my end of the spectrum because it adds another layer of enjoyment to collecting action figures — and because it’s something he and I will be able to share for as long as we’re both around. Imagine the fun he and I will have together hunting down the illusive “Yack Face” from the original Power Of The Force line of Star Wars action figures 20 years from now when the remaining figures themselves are more than 50 years old.

So if you have a “Dork-Daddy” in your life, and you happen to notice him conspicuously watching a young child playing with a potentially collectable toy, pitty him. Not the child. Pitty the Dork-Daddy, and the fact that he is mentally torn between “loving” the toys as only a child can, and “loving” the toys as only an adult can.

In case you were wondering how dorky THIS daddy is, I can tell you that the one inaccuracy of this picture is that R5-D4 should be BEHIND C3PO. Betcha didn't notice that one did ya?

-Dork Dad

It’s all in the family — gaming doppelgangers.

1 Jul

I’m a dork. That’s been established. Dorks play video games. That’s a given.

Naturally I have fantasies of gaming with my kids someday (within reason… after soccer practice and homework). But it’s not like I’m going to hold off on my own gaming until they’re old enough to join me. For the most part I’m pretty good about not playing video games when my kids are around. It does happen though from time to time. In the rare instances when they happen to see me gaming they are, of course, attracted to what I’m doing like a moth to a flame. As a parent it’s my responsibility to control the message, but the games I play are certainly not rated “G”. I have fine-tuned my “spin”.

“No, they’re not fighting. They’re dancing.” ((right – dancing with swords and lasers. Then the badguy I was actually fighting is killed)) “No, he’s not dead. He’s just tired from dancing. He’s going to sleep”. ((apparantly in a pool of his own blood… a detail I hope my kids happen to miss)). Once the badguy is vanquished I quickly log out, close the computer and change the subject as quick as possible.

Yes, in this instance I lie to my children. Don’t judge me.

Kids don’t generally need encouragement to be interested in video games. It happens all by itself. But this blog is all about sharing those geeky things I love with my kids in a constructive way that strengthens the bond between us, and hopefully makes them better adjusted, more well-rounded people. I believe I have found a way to do that with my gaming that doesn’t crush their sweet, innocent youth. It’s all in the character creation.

Most video games of this nature give the player incredible control over the look of the character they play with very complexed character customization tools. Things like height, weight, sex, age, skin tone, race, hairstyle are all in the user’s control. In theory it makes the gamer feel more personally invested in the character and in the story arc the character moves through in the game.

This is the key to hooking your kids.

In the most recent games I’ve played with my kids I have tried to make a rogue’s gallery of characters that resemble the members of my family as much as possible. There are two games specifically where I’ve implimented this strategy: “Lord Of The Rings Online” where the player plays in parallel with Frodo, Gandalf and company as they progress through the story we all know, and “D.C. Universe Online” where the player develops a superhero to fight alongside the likes of Superman, Batman, Wonderwoman and all the supporting characters that inhabit their universe.

Getting my daughter hooked was easy. We started with the hair, as that is the physical attribute that my daughter considers most uniquely hers (it’s true. She has amazing hair). I sat her on my lap and ask her what color scheme she wanted to start out with. Naturally she picked pink. But as we progressed she began to realize that creating this character was very much like playing dress-up. There were almost infinite costume options – long dress, mini skirt, hawtpants, tights, cape, boa etc. She had her very own virtual Barbie doll. She had so much fun with the character builder that she didn’t want to have anything to do with the actual game itself. Day after day she would come up to me and say “Daddy, can we make another superhero please?” I created a monster.

Sadly this game didn't have a "little girl" option. This character was a little too... womanly... for my comfort.

My son wasn’t quite as easy to please. For his character I imagined what Superman’s sidekick would look like if he had one. I came up with this look:

Serviceable, but ultimately unmemorable.

We played with this character for a while, but my son lost interest rather quick (as you might expect. The kid was only 2 for crying out loud). So, on a whim I thought I’d try something else. My son was heavily into a “Buzz Lightyear” phase. Using that as inspiration I created the superhero “Space Ranger” that looked like this:

Want to capture the attention of a 2-year-old? This will do it.

That was the ticket. He was all about this look. Where his sister was into the dress-up action, my son wanted to watch “Space Ranger” in action. We flew the character all around the tutorial section of the game (where the player learns how to “use” the character) and soon my son was running around the house using his “green powers” and his “purple powers”.

I have since stopped playing the superhero game. But I’ve got more than a few characters in the Lord Of The Rings game. If you think about it, what better way to represent in Tolkien’s world an adorable, blonde, curly haired, short little guy with big blue eyes and squeezeable cheeks? Why, with a Hobbit of course.

Hangin' out with the celebrities.

My son is well aware that this character exists, and nowadays when he catches me playing on the computer he says “Play me, Daddy! Play me!”

My wife is even represented in my list of active characters, although the limitations of the character creator in this game doesn’t nearly do her justice.

Modeled after my wife -- who could actually be a model.

And just in case you were wondering where my likeness is in all of these equations, I did make one character that I felt a rather close personal bond to. “Dr. Teeth” was a former dentist. But after one too many patients said to him “I’m only going to do what my insurance will pay for” he snapped. He left dentistry and became a vigilante, exacting his own special brand of justice on insurance company executives.

Whether you're a "bad guy" or a "good guy", you don't want to be on the wrong side of an angry dentist.

-Dork Dad

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