My son Gabe is 15 years old, and he is a gamer.
His favorite games have traditionally involved Pokemon, but as he gets older, I notice him gravitating more and more towards strategy games, puzzle games, collectable card games. He enjoys games that challenge his mind. He is the sort of kid that likes to dig into the mechanics of a game, and figure out what makes it tick. What weapons work best against which enemies? How can he secretly build a giant army to overwhelm his opponents? Which card can he play at which precise moment to completely demoralize his enemy? These are the type of gaming challenges I see my son gleefully tackling.
I typically don’t see him play a lot of action games. He enjoys certain games like Overwatch and Drive Club, but he only plays them for a while, then moves on. They are fun for him, but I think he finds them difficult to the point where they are more trouble than they are worth.
Gabe is a healthy and brilliant teenager. He also has some unspecified, undiagnosed dexterity problems with his hands. He has always gotten along very well in the world, so his mother and I have not chosen to seek diagnosis or treatment for him, and as he has gotten older he has shown no interest in pursuing that sort of thing. But still, he has some minor troubles, though they are nothing a casual observer would notice. He handles silverware a little awkwardly. He has some problems getting his shoes to tie correctly. When he plays games with a standard controller, he has a very unique method all his own. He places his left hand on the front of the controller, controlling both analog sticks with the palm of his left hand. His left fingers handle the top buttons (L1, L2, etc.). His right thumb takes care of the face buttons, with the rest of his right hand clutching the controller and tilting it to assist with the analog movement.
Needless to say, his method is unconventional. My attempts to get him to adjust his grip to a more standard method have always been met with bemused confusion, mixed with a bit of scorn. “This is how I do it,” he says, and goes right back to whatever he was doing. I’ve watched him win matches in Call of Duty, and he regularly beats me in racing games, but I’ve never seen him lock in on an action game and pursue it the same way he attacks games that require more thinking and less dexterity. Until Shooty Fruity.
Over the last 5 days or so, Gabe has turned into a lunatic for Shooty Fruity. My review of the game can be found here (spoiler: I really liked it), but the basics can be summed up quickly. You work in a supermarket. You scan groceries or do other similar tasks. Fruit attacks, you shoot the fruit, the fruit explodes. The game gets progressively more difficult.
Gabe is currently playing through the most difficult challenges in the game. Towards the end, players unlock a Survival mode, which challenges them to simply survive as long as they can against endless waves of fruit. Shooty Fruity’s most difficult challenge tasks players with surviving 30 minutes. My record is about eight minutes. Gabe’s current record is 54 minutes. He has the number one spot on several of the leaderboard categories, and is locked in a battle of wills with one other player to maintain his dominance. He has lost his mind for Shooty Fruity.
It wasn’t until this morning that I realized why. Here, finally, is an action game that Gabe can control without difficulty. Every previous game forced him to try to rewire his brain, or adapt to a control scheme that was uncomfortable for him. Shooty Fruity, with its VR layout and its Move Controller aim-and-shoot control scheme, allows Gabe to control the game in a way that he finds much more intuitive and natural. As a result, he is AWESOME.
Watching Gabe play Shooty Fruity is like watching someone in a Robotron trance, making all the moves they need to make methodically to survive and clear the wave. Sweat drips down his face and neck, while his entire body stays in constant motion. His movement is similar to some mad interpretive dance, or a wild conductor leading an orchestra through a concerto of insanity. He mutters a continuous narrative to himself the entire time.
“No room for you. Get back. No pineapples allowed. Where’s my shotgun? Stupid blueberries.”
It is remarkable, even epic, to watch. After years of leaning into intellectual gaming, Gabe has adopted a shooter, and he has “got good”.
I don’t know how much longer Gabe is going to remain obsessed with Shooty Fruity. It’s a great game, but once he has defeated all of the game’s challenges, he may lose interest after a while. And that’s fine, that’s how gaming is supposed to be. Games take our attention for a while, then fade in our consciousness as new ones rise to take their places.
I’m just pleased that Shooty Fruity (along with the PS VR and the Move Controllers) was able to open this door for Gabe, and that he was willing to leap through the door with such gusto. I love gaming, and I love to see other people enjoying games, particularly games that may have eluded them in the past. I’ve always considered VR to be amazing sci-fi tech, allowing windows into worlds that gamers could never enter otherwise. But I had never comprehended that VR might open genres up to gamers who had experienced accessibility barriers. The greater accessibility that VR offers might open all sorts of experiences to gamers who might have otherwise never been able (or willing) to engage with them. VR is a brave new world, and Shooty Fruity has opened my eyes to yet another of its endless possibilities.