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Helping my dad play The Witcher 3 transformed the way I think about video games

My dad has taught me many things, but "face your werewolves head-on" wasn't a lesson I anticipated.

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CD Projekt Red

Let me tell you about my dad.

At nearly 58 years old, my dad still regularly represents our state in indoor cricket, coaches at a national level and regularly plays both golf and tennis on top of all his other sporting commitments. He jokingly tells anyone who'll listen, "Oh, you know, I'm an athlete."

He's also a history teacher, with a theatrical edge that makes lessons interesting and engaging for his students. I learned a lot over the dinner table growing up.

But like most men his age, my dad was never really a huge gamer. Sure, in university he dabbled in the occasional late-night session of Might & Magic. With his passion for history, he enjoyed making a mockery of Age Of Empires. But nothing really held his interest.

He'd watch my brother and me play when we were growing up -- GTA for my brother, Bioshock or The Sims for me -- and would offer commentary or the occasional quip, but never really wanted to dip his toe beyond observation.

That is, until Christmas last year. 

That's when my dad, out of the blue, decided he wanted to play my all-time favorite game: The Witcher 3.

A bold choice for someone who hasn't played an open-world game before, let alone barely used a console.

Notorious for being one of the biggest open-world games of the last 10 years, The Witcher 3 is challenging. The main game spans roughly 70 to 90 hours of play (depending on your experience), and the story is so intricately linked to the gameplay that one wrong dialogue decision can change the entire game. 

I tried convincing him he should start smaller -- a platformer or something that required a little less spatial awareness. But he was stubborn, so my brother and I showed him how to boot it up on the Xbox.

We jokingly gave him a week before he'd give up.

Three months later, on Monday, March 8, 2021, he finished the game.

It was actually kind of amazing how rapidly he got into the swing of things. Sure, his navigational skills are still on the fritz, but he was picking up combat like a champ and took on feedback eagerly.

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Tony and Tracy Panecasio

He learned his limits as to how many mobs he could take on at once. He learned how dialogue choices impact the game. He learned it's actually important to pick up herbs and chest items on his travels instead of blitzing right past them.

He learned that last lesson so strongly that on a weekend trip to the bush, he sent me a photo of himself posing as a Witcher picking herbs, just because the flowers looked vaguely similar.

That's not to say there weren't hurdles. For a while I was receiving no-context messages on a regular basis, asking me things point blank, like, "how do you kill a wraith?" Hello to you too, Dad. 

I'm not going to pretend that teaching him how to play hasn't been frustrating at times. Because he doesn't play often, dad doesn't really play games conventionally. Treating him like a normal human being who plays open-world RPGs was useless. He simply didn't pick up on video game cues that seasoned players take for granted.

At one point in mid-February, I received a frustrated phone call from him ranting about how he couldn't get past a specific part so he was taking a break. The section in question? A meaningless side-quest that had absolutely no bearing on the main storyline.

As a regular open-world player, I suggested that he simply move on to a different quest until his level was higher -- but apparently that's quitter's talk. He kept doing that same quest -- killing a werewolf in a hut -- until finally it all came together and he could move forward.

The whole dialogue made me realize -- fundamentally -- the difference between him and me both as people and as gamers. I'm the type of person who HATES when I can't do something the first time, so if I'm bad at it I often move onto the next big thing. If dad can't do something the first time, it's his mission to slam his head on that brick wall until it cracks.

As a gamer, I'll drop the difficulty down if it's something I HAVE to do in order to progress, but if I still can't do it, then often my games just wind up unfinished. I can think of at least half a dozen games that I've abandoned out of annoyance that I couldn't get past a level or boss.

But dad's determination has forced me to reevaluate whether I'm really getting the most out of the games I'm playing. There's a reason some games are way harder than others. Beating a hard challenge is often the entire point of them. Satisfaction is all the reward you need -- and I've been not only missing out on them, but actively avoiding them. 

Watching my dad doggedly pursue werewolves that don't even have any impact on the main storyline has made me feel like I need to start pursuing my own werewolves. 

So over the next few months I've been making it my mission to finish as many of those games I'd abandoned as possible. The Last Of Us Part 2, Assassin's Creed, Control… even Luigi's Mansion.

As for dad? He's still got the DLC expansions to play through. If my predictions are correct, he should finish the whole thing around the release date for Mass Effect: Legendary Edition. 

Then we're going to swap werewolves for Reapers -- and I honestly cannot wait.