Your turn Player Two

PHOTO: Jim Sheaffer, Flickr CC

Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an Iron Range blogger, author, radio producer and columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

Right about now parents across Christendom receive handwritten notes from their children explaining what they’d like for Christmas. Ostensibly these lists are for Santa Claus, but everybody knows Santa has helpers. Most of them are clerks at a store within driving distance.

I’m kidding, of course. Santa’s real helpers are faceless Amazon drones that document our toilet habits after dropping packages in the slush puddle by our front door.

Still, even a genuine elf couldn’t help some of us with the lists you see these days. Skins. Mods. These are words you see on these lists. We’re way past trucks, trains and LEGO sets in my house. We’re now well into the realm of electronic hardware and video games.

Now, I was born on the border between Generation X and the Millennials. So, I’m not frightened of technology. I’ve used computers all my life. And I played video games with my friends the same way my kids play video games with their friends. So don’t peg me for one of these “these kids and their doohickeys” guys.

No, my concern is that I just can’t keep up with this stuff. I’ve tried Minecraft but my son always ends up having to rescue me from the shafts like I was Timmy in the well. I thought I knew how to play MarioKart until my boys showed me that I really shouldn’t be allowed to pilot mushroom-based automobiles. In a way, it was good practice for when they have to take away my actual keys 40 years from now. Thank you, Nintendo.

In fact, the whole culture surrounding video games has completely exploded since the days I spent any amount of time on them. My son George has a special affection and talent for video games. He even studies how to design them. In a way it reminds me of the old days on the Iron Range. The miners come home from work to find their children learned just a bit more English than they know. Substitute back end coding for “English” and you get the idea.

This was evident when I attended my first competitive video game event back in October. Paul Bunyan Communications sponsors its Gigazine Gaming Championship every year. George wanted to try his luck at the MarioKart tournament.

We arrived to find a long line outside the Sanford Center in Bemidji early one Saturday morning. It was one of the first cold days of the year. Many of the assembled video gamers were caught off guard wearing shorts and t-shirts. Ha! Of course, that’s a joke. They would have been wearing those anyway. They’re wearing them now.

Once inside, we signed George up for the MarioKart tournament and bobbed upon a sea of screens. The most popular event this year was the Fortnight competition. This first person shooter game appeals to gaming veterans and middle school kids alike. And it’s even influenced Minnesota Viking touchdown celebrations.

Serious gamers seemed to regard the Overwatch tourney as the true prize. But there was much more to the story. You could compete in Madden NFL football, Smash Brothers or card games like Magic the Gathering. There was even a cosplay competition, so you could see people with elaborate costumes walking around — including a lady with enormous angel wings, Ursula from “The Little Mermaid” and Beaker from the “The Muppets.”

George came in confident. He smoked a bunch of kids in the practice rounds. But when the tournament came he drew a tough opponent and fell just short in a tie-breaker race. In truth, he was nervous, though not nearly as nervous as I was. It’s unbelievable how many people gathered around to watch two middle schoolers race pretend carts around a virtual track. People cheered and shouted. It was as intense as watching any athletic sport.

He says he’s ready to come back next year. I believe him. And I won’t be one to discount the power of video games to bring people together. When they do it’s an amazing sight.

I just wish these doohickeys weren’t so expensive.

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog and hosts the Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Sunday, Nov. 25, 2018 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

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