Earlier this year, I wrote about my stepson’s obsession with Fallout. He first found out about the series when he caught my other-half playing Fallout 4 on his laptop in 2015 and has been infatuated by Bethesda’s post-apocalyptic world ever since.
In that article I talked about some frustrations that have occurred over the past year as a result of his obsession. He doesn’t understand why nobody else at his school is interested in the franchise and is beginning to believe he doesn’t fit in. On one hand I’m kind of proud that Ethan doesn’t like Fortnite and would prefer to devote his time to a video game that’s detailed, atmospheric and story-rich; but on the other, I get that the preference makes it more difficult for him at this stage in his life.
I said that maybe one day he’ll find something to replace his Fallout infatuation, the same way The Legend of Zelda eventually did with Minecraft, or a friend who shares his interests would come along. Perhaps that time has finally arrived. A game that was free for a weekend on the Xbox One last month and an attraction at Insomnia65 recently could hold the answer. As mentioned on Friday, this gaming event is never going to be the favourite in my calendar but I might now have to show it some appreciation.
On a Saturday when his best friend Spencer came over, Ethan came downstairs to ask if he could download something on his console. We were apprehensive for several reasons when we were told it was Overwatch, the first being whether it was going to be suitable for him in terms of age-rating and multiplayer. We had nothing to worry about however: a quick internet search revealed a PEGI 12 rating and his headset had been having issues so he couldn’t communicate with anyone online.
We told him it was ok to go ahead but still felt wary. You see, my stepson has shown an aversion to any kind of competitive team-play and has been known to get incredibly frustrated when he feels as though he’s not mastering something quickly enough. Star Wars Battlefront went down a treat because he likes Star Wars but he quickly resorted to running around the training maps on his own and making up stories in his head. And Splatoon was fun at first – until he felt the other players were far better and would always win.
We hoped that having Spencer around would mean he wouldn’t show the extent of his frustration but listened out for any raised voices just in case. The boys seemed to have a good time though and when his friend had to go home, Ethan quickly retreated to his bedroom in the way most 12-year olds do. Pete went to visit him a little later to see what he was up to and when he came back down to the kitchen, the look on his face made me think something was horribly wrong.
“You’ll never guess what’s going on up there,” he said. “Ethan is actually good at Overwatch.” I honestly thought he was trying to prank me initially but no: my stepson’s team were winning rounds, he was getting kills and was even awarded Play of the Game a couple of times. Needless to say, my other-half and I were surprised. The kid had never shown much interest in, enjoyment from or – dare I say it – talent for competitive multiplayers before so this was all new to us.
A few weeks after the free trial had ended, that episode had almost been forgotten. We were only reminded of it during the car-journey to Insomnia65 when Ethan told us he’d heard that an Overwatch tournament would begin shortly after we were due to arrive at the NEC and it was the first area he wanted to visit. Pete and I threw a couple of confused sideways glances at each other in the front-seats but told him it sounded like a good plan – this day out was all about him, after all.
He surprised us once again by absolutely loving it. By the end of the tournament he was cheering on the teams and even commentating on their actions, telling us what he thought their strategies were. We on the other-hand could barely keep up with what was happening onscreen; the gameplay was too fast and bright, and the fact it kept switching between each characters’ perspective made it difficult to follow what was going on. Maybe that’s a sign I’m getting on a bit.
The following day, Ethan asked if he could spend his pocket-money on the full version of Overwatch and he happily spent the morning playing until it was time to take him back to his mum and stepdad. On the way there we asked him how he’d found out about the game and why he’d wanted to try it originally, and we received probably the best answer possible: Spencer. It was something his friend had introduced him to and he’d only given it a go because he’d been asked to. But then he realised it was something he actually enjoyed.
So maybe now Ethan has found a friend who shares the same interests, and is ready to leave his Fallout obsession behind. I’m pleased for him. I’m also a little relieved too; moving on from the franchise is going to be good for all of us.