I pop in my teenage son’s bedroom around 10 pm to say good night as I usually do. His plush blanket looks so inviting that I curl up at the foot of his bed with it, and just watch him, engrossed in his new computer game which I’m sure I told him to wrap up half an hour ago. He’s still at it, enthralled with the allure of its challenges. This new time sucking game is the driving simulator Forza Horizon 4, and he’s carefully chosen his car, customized the plates with his name, and is breezily driving at least 150km/hr through a mountain range. Finishing the course with a triumphant satisfaction, he turns to me and offers me the controls.
“No, it’s late. I just want to go to sleep.”
“C’mon. You sure?” He looks at me hopefully, wanting to share this part of his life with me.
Catching his unspoken wish for connection, I prop myself up on his bed, and reach out to take the controller that he’s been holding out, waiting for me to accept.
“It’s simple”, he says. “Here’s the button for the gas, here’s the brake, and here’s the knob to steer.”
Right. Simple for the guy who has exceptional spatial skills and coordination. He’s about to find out something he doesn’t know about his mom. I have absolutely no aptitude for video games. I just can’t coordinate my finger movements to make things happen on screen. We tried this a few years before with Minecraft. I always fell off the cliff, ran into walls, or ran straight into danger instead of away from it. Maybe he forgot how bad I was then. Maybe he thinks I’ve secretly been practicing my gaming skills while he’s at school.
It’s past my bedtime and I feel the wooziness of coming sleep starting to overtake me. I shake it off, not wanting to miss the moment where my young man will share his world with me if I let him.
He picks my car for me, something he thinks will be a good match for my skills. I pick by colour, asking if they have it available in purple. We settle on cobalt blue. He sets me up at the starting gate, and gives me an encouraging thumbs up. Now it’s up to me.
I honestly try my best to steer, but keep ending up in the corn fields doing some custom landscaping. He’s looking at me like he doesn’t understand how I can be so bad. Clearly his spatial skills aren’t inherited from me. But by now I’m laughing so hard I can’t even catch my breath, let alone keep the car going in a straight line. I get back on the course, only to find myself oversteering, turning too late, or missing the markers, and I’m back to plowing a path in the fields, trying to avoid the grazing wildlife. Sorry cows!
“Um, maybe try going a little slower, mom”
Right. I can do that. But the controller doesn’t seem to have an in between speed for users like me. It’s all or nothing. And so I’m crashing every 10 seconds, laughing so hard the tears are sliding down my cheeks and blurring my vision as I put on a dramatic display of repeated crash and burns.
He shakes his head in dismay while I’m still laughing at myself and the absurdity of my performance. I hand back the controller, defeat and mirth evident in my face. The tiredness of my day has left, replaced with the last signs of tears of laughter on my cheeks.
I’m not sure if he got what he wanted when he invited me to take the controls. But when I think of that moment, and see his outstretched hand offering me his controller, it was an offer I couldn’t refuse.