Working in a residential home you’re often privy to some of the most extraordinary stories. Even amongst the men and women residing however, there’s one elderly gentlemen who offers a tale perhaps more intriguing than your typical resident.
David is 85-years-old, can barely walk, barely hear and often has periods where his memory lapses to almost non-existence. Yet, for all his problems, David claims to have foundthe secret to a more youthful exuberance.
He discovered videogames
David himself doesn’t exactly remember the moment when his interest was initially piqued but he has a vague idea. “It was when you were wearing that strange old shirt that I thought interesting.” The shirt in question was a slightly worn old thing flung on my person in an attempt to make the morning shift on time. On it the image of Bioshock’s Rapture complete with silhouette of Big Daddy and Little Sister. It says a lot that the imagery of gaming related iconography could appeal to a generation without gizmos and gadgets.
Showing the shirt to David a second time brings back much stronger evocations. “Ah, I like the underwater setting. I’ve always enjoyed the idea of a city under the water. It might seem scary to some other people but really it’s just as safe as any other building. We thought the World Trade Towers were safe. They weren’t. Bad things happen but we mustn’t assume that they’ll be bad from the beginning. I’ve lived through some pretty horrible times and I tell you that people weren’t worse. We wanted the best to happen. The best only happens when people are allowed to create these amazing things.”
Bioshock, for the few people unfamiliar with it, is a game based loosely around Ayn Rand’s ‘Atlus Shrugged’ set in an underwater city that was designed to be a morally unrestricted, scientific haven. The image of antagonist Andrew Ryan’s bust looming large above the player with the words, ‘No Gods or Kings. Only Man’ is particularly striking lending a much analysed religious undertone to the piece.
David, upon hearing of Bioshock’s allegorical undertones gets unexpectedly excited. “For me, this is what I always wanted when I was growing up. I wanted to live long enough to be able to see these topics discussed in an open environment. There’s no progress without a bit of…um…a bit of, you know!” I did not know but hazarded a guess at antagonism. “Kind of,” David says. “More like you need someone saying something different to raise interesting ideas. I was brought up in a Christian household so I don’t think I can agree with the sentiment you’re talking about but I think it’s great that computer games are asking interesting questions of themselves!”
It might surprise you that David’s introduction to videogames did not come in the form of Bioshock. When you have a lack of visual awareness it’s best to try and stick to games that the person is able to acclimatise and adopt to quickly. With just a little bit of difficulty from senior members of staff at the care home, we were able to set up a Wii for the ladies and gents to use.
Unfortunately it didn’t go down well.
Cynthia, a friend of David, initially was quite enthused but understandably, after giving Mario Kart a go for 20 minutes was reduced to acceptance that it wasn’t her thing. “It’s quite pretty,” she says. “But it’s also very difficult to understand and, to be honest, it’s just something for my grandchildren to play with. They’re much more into that sort of stuff.”
Perhaps indicative of a common divide between generations, this was a response commonly heard. Yet, David stuck with it. Perhaps he felt obligated given our somewhat close relationship and that he indirectly started it all off. Nevertheless, his enthusiasm started the moment he picked up the alien-looking motion controller and hasn’t ceased to this day. “It’s wonderful that people have created these things. I wouldn’t know where to start without you, but now that I understand how to move it’s made my life, much simpler, much easier for sure.”
Every second day for twenty minutes he would play as Bowser and each time come last. “It doesn’t matter,” David says. I just like moving the giant turtle thing around the course. It’s fun to not be yourself for a while. You can do things that you’d not thought possible and it doesn’t matter. Like, when I fall into water and I just get back up and start driving again. It’s quite, quite beautiful for someone like me who hasn’t experienced this before.”
Why then do his friends and peers not seem to be as responsive?
“I might be more open to technology, I don’t know. Maybe they find it difficult not knowing how to do something. I used to think like that. But then, when you’re not able to do so many things… how do I put this? For example, I can’t go out jogging but I can play this computer game. I suppose I just like embracing things that are both different and that I can physically do. Yes. I think that’s more or less it.”
Watching an elderly man become competent at Mario Kart, a game that whilst superficially simple has deeper mechanics than most driving games, is quite wonderful in its poignancy. Just to see someone you know is relatively feeble in his physical health feel such warm affection for a videogame really puts things in perspective.
Then suddenly David wants to play something else.
When commencing on this sort of journey nobody really thinks about this stage. Perhaps naively the assumption was that David would give up at the first hurdle. It says a lot about his character that he hasn’t. “I’m ready for another adventure,” he says. “I think this carting game is fantastic though. It’s just I want to see everything that these computer games have to offer.”
Probing further to ascertain the reasoning behind David’s inquisitive eye for other videogame titles comes a small revelation. A hard hitting one, but one that could have maybe been unravelled from previous statements.
“I know I can’t play every game. It’s just.” He looks up and both eyes are clearly glistening with the glow of teardrops. “It’s just that I know I don’t have long to go before I can’t do these things. When you’re my age you recognise life as something entirely different. There’s no going from one place to another. You don’t need to find direction anymore and that can be overwhelming, let me tell you. You and your silly games have been a breath of fresh air for me. Now there’s something to explore and we all need exploration in our lives.
In a moment of real, undeniable clarity, David then says something that should reverberate around many employment sectors, gaming or otherwise. “It make me feel younger again. I feel sort of free.”
Gaming often gets a lot of flack for perpetuating certain tropes that are invariably actually linked elsewhere. It’s the newest cultural medium and as such there are clichés and stereotypes that get attached to it. In many ways, the various interviews and talks that David provided demonstrate an outlook that hopefully more people can adopt. He didn’t abstain from what he didn’t understand. In many ways it gave him a new leash of life to explore something that could give him entertainment and further the way he thought.
We never got to progress to that second game.
In the three weeks since this article was compiled, David unfortunately became very ill and had to be hospitalised. He won’t leave that hospital bed. He won’t play another game of Mario Kart.
Yet his words and actions suggested someone who would have been proud that he’d given playing a videogame a go. This is not a medium of our cultural identity that sits idly by and caters to one demographic. The versatility of titles respect the age or frailties of the person. It is about whether that person is willing enough to let themselves cast aspersion aside and accept this as something unknown, but also exciting and new.
In the words of my friend, David, shortly before his absence, “Being able to drift away from my reality for a split second. To have another reality. To play as someone else and do something different. I’m so glad that I’ve had this opportunity. It’s truly something marvellous.”
Dedicated to David who has since passed away.