My little boy is now two and a half years old. And not so little. In fact he’s so huge that if the ‘double their height’ estimations are correct he’ll end up nearly 7 feet tall. This big little boy also happens to be pretty bright, if I do say so myself. In the second half of his short life he’s become fluent in iPad menu navigation and basic touch/swipe commands, as well as translating his understanding of the old SNES joypad (“I press this button and Diddy Kong does this on the screen”) to the PS4’s more elaborate controller.
The most startling aspect of this for me as a first time parent is how much of his knowledge has been accrued through observation alone. Some of what he can now do is the result of active teaching on my part, but the ability to identify and open the iPad folder containing colouring-in, memory cards and Angry Birds was something he picked up entirely unassisted. That would have been a good six months ago now, but I remember the moment he calmly showed off his new skill like it was yesterday. Just the other week he surprised me by selecting and commencing a different episode of his favourite show when the previous episode had finished streaming. Kids’ brains, hey…
This post isn’t wholly about how amazing my kid is or how thoroughly biased his parents might be. It also won’t be focusing on the inherent difficulties of bringing up a mentally and physically healthy child in a tech-drenched, video game-loving home environment (though a lot of consideration goes into this matter behind the scenes). It is all about the fun times that have emerged when parents and young children share the joy of gaming; the physical closeness, the excitement of discovery, the precious moments of success and celebration. And the best thing is that the vehicle through which these experiences have taken place lately was a free download courtesy of my PlayStation Plus membership.
Table Top Racing: World Tour is equal parts Micro Machines and Mario Kart, with a dash of Rock N’ Roll Racing for good measure. The best features of TTR from my point of view are that I can take care of the steering, accelerating and very occasional braking whilst my not-so-tiny co-driver looks after our car’s special abilities. We’re a bit like Han and Luke in the Millennium Falcon. Or Rae and Finn. Or maybe Poe and Finn in the Tie Fighter… You get the idea.
The way these sessions work is that we ensconce ourselves on the sofa with a single controller between us and I say something subtle like “We’re going to play five (5) races”. The co-driver chooses which of the cars we’ll be using (orange is his current favourite) and I take us into the appropriate race series. After that I just have to make sure we stay on the track and hit the item pickup bubbles. Table Top Racing’s item system will be familiar to anyone with kart racing game experience; its take on the classic oil slicks, speed boosts and missile warfare makes for some exciting comebacks and the occasional creative shortcut. It is here in the momentary communication and teamwork that we have had the most fun.
Cries of “Waaaaaait… NOW!”, “Press pink!!” and “We did it!” have become a regular punctuation to the 20 minutes or so before dinner.
Once you’ve earned enough credits you can upgrade your car’s specs, paint job and gain an additional ability such as shields or jumping. This gives your helper a second button to push at the appropriate times as well as something to do when you’re forced to complete time trials without the usual combat power-ups in order to proceed to the next race in the series.
Given the relatively harmless nature of a driving game such as this I would highly recommend giving it a co-op run with your own small human in the passenger seat. Just don’t expect to make the final call on what colour your car’s paint will be or you will be forced to model emotional moderation and conflict resolution skills for the next half hour instead.