I always knew the day would arrive when I had to have a serious conversation with my son about the facts of life, but I still wasn’t ready when the moment came.
“Mummy,” he said, his big blue seven year-old eyes gazing up at me, “What’s an iPod?”
AN IPOD. I had been prepared to explain all about cassettes, perhaps getting a little misty eyed as I described popping a tape in the Amstrad CPC 464 deck, pressing play, and then going on holiday for a fortnight hoping it would have loaded by the time you got back. CDs, even. LaserDiscs, if things got really intense. But it seems like only yesterday I was loading up my iPod with the latest chart hits from Samantha Mumba and Dane Bowers.
I gathered myself. “Well, in the olden days, phones didn’t play music.”
“So what DID they do, then?”
“They were phones. They just made phone calls,” I began, before launching into a lengthy explanation which included a robust argument for why the Creative Jukebox was actually a superior product, and probably dwelled for too long on the fortunes of the Zune.
The conversation reminded me of how lucky my son is – he will never know the tedium of lugging around a phone, iPod, Psion, Game Boy Advance, and all the associated batteries, cables and chargers.
In fact, by the time Charlie is old enough to own a mobile, technology will have advanced so far he won’t need to carry one at all. He won’t even own a wallet. We’ll all have microchips implanted directly into our brains, and he’ll be able to walk into a shop and buy a packet of spaghetti just by blinking. (Not that we’ll have shops by then, of course. Or, if Brexit keeps going this well, spaghetti.)
But while his generation is sorted for hardware, I’m not sure they’re doing so well when it comes to content. This always occurs to me when we try to find a film to watch together. There are loads of animated movies, but we’ve both seen enough talking dogs to last a lifetime. As for live action stuff, everything we fancy – Ready Player One, Guardians of the Galaxy, that Star Wars film with the robot who always reminds me of the smaller Krankie – is rated 12A.
(I understand the A is advisory, and we all have to make our own decisions based on what we know of our own kids; I know mine asked to leave a screening of Zootopia because he was scared of the elderly shrew.)
By comparison, I feel like I grew up in a golden age of PG films. Ghostbusters, Indiana Jones, Space Camp, Biggles, Flight of the Navigator… Where is my son’s Labyrinth? Where is his NeverEnding Story? I JUST WANT MY CHILD TO WATCH A HORSE DROWNING IN A MARSH WHILE LIMAHL SINGS, IS THAT TOO MUCH TO ASK?
It was also a great time to be a young gamer, of course. We had two towering iconoclasts to choose from – slick and stylish Sonic, with his breathtaking speed and sophisticated move set, and Mario, who had a hat.
Not only are those two still going strong, they continue to dominate the market. With all the advances in souped-up hardware and photorealistic 3D visuals, what has the games industry come up with to offer my son as a modern mascot for platform gaming? Knack. Who as everyone knows is just an emo Bubsy.
But the good news is that when it comes to finding a family game to play, we’re spoilt for choice. We love the newer iterations of classic franchises like Zelda, and have spent hours enjoying the Crash Bandicoot remake. (Actually, my son says it’s too hard, but has spent hours enjoying watching me play it while trying not to swear because I’ve tripped over the mother****ing bastard penguin again.)
Then there are all the new series to choose from, like Just Dance, LittleBigPlanet, Ratchet & Clank and Splatoon. My son is still a bit young for Minecraft and Fortnite, but we’ve got those to look forward to, plus, undoubtedly, another 4000 Lego games.
It feels like for once, the games industry is one step ahead of Hollywood. I’m tired of watching movies that feel like they’ve had extra violence and swears chucked in just so they appeal to an older market, when they would have made perfectly good family films. Game developers, on the other hand, seem to have grasped the fact that it’s OK to create stuff aimed squarely at kids – and possible to make it entertaining for adults, too.
But maybe cinema is catching up. My son went to see the live action, PG-rated Bumblebee movie with his mate yesterday. He came home more excited about a film than I’ve ever seen him. “Looks like you had a great time,” I said. “What was it you liked so much about the movie?”
“They said the S-word twice.” That’s my boy.
And the truth is this. Even with all these enormous, amazing, colourful and inventive video game worlds at his fingertips, and despite my best efforts, his favourite game is FIFA.
At least this does throw up some educational opportunities. Last summer, we paid a visit to our local branch of GAME. Charlie was perplexed by the fact we couldn’t pick up a copy of FIFA 19, despite the adverts plastered all over the shop.
“That’s just for pre-orders. It isn’t out till the end of September,” said the man behind the counter. “They release a new FIFA every year,” he told me sagely, obviously failing to recognise me from my 17 year journalism career and recent stint as gaming’s Carol Vorderman.
Instead, my son insisted on spending 99p of his birthday money on a pre-owned copy of FIFA 15. He played it for exactly 8 minutes before declaring, “It’s just like FIFA 18, but a bit more rubbish.”
“Yep,” I said. “So what do you think FIFA 19 will be like?”
He mulled it over. “Like FIFA 18, but a bit better?”
“Welcome to video games, kid.”