Diary of a Geek Dad

Diary of a Geek Dad: The Nightly Boss Battle

As I laid there, desperately trying to get my daughter back into bed, trying not to get angry or frustrated, using every trick I know to achieve the desired outcome and get her asleep I realized just what I was involved in. It wasn’t parenting, it wasn’t a little girl deep into being ‘over-tired’, no, this was a boss battle.

I have been gaming since I was five, that's thirty two years of experience, so I know a boss battle or two. I can’t say I have beaten every single boss I have ever come up against in a game, certainly there has been a few that have caused me to much trouble I eventually gave up on the game altogether. The giving up bit doesn’t really apply to parenting, but the core loop of a video game boss fight is almost exactly the same, just less physical weapons.

Where in a game you will use guns, swords, magic powers etc to whittle down the health of the big bad guy until you win when you are trying to get a three year old to lie in bed and go to sleep your weapons are words and manipulation or threats and treats to be gained. The loop is the same though, and therein lies the trick.

A boss battle in game requires quick analysis of the enemies movement patterns and attacks so you can figure out, depending on the game, when to counter attack, parry or jump. You might also have to suss out which of your attacks are most effective, or elemental weaknesses which can help you out and get that health bar down.

With my three year old however, the health bar is her willingness to actually lay down and, more importantly, calm down. It can be a slow process, but a belief that I will eventually win, despite repeatedly being told “But I’m not sleepy though!”, helps get me though. As for my weapons, well as I say those become words and I have a few very effective ones.

I slowly chip away at that bar, with light attacks like kissing her on the forehead and telling her good night, reading a bedtime story and getting her to switch her gro-light to night mode. We go through all the usual bed time routines, but when that night light goes off that is when her ‘second form’ kicks in.

As she is getting up out of bed to go get a drink from the cup on top of her drawers, I might tell her that is the last one and to finish it. It’s simple enough, but means an excuse she uses to stay up has gone away. She counters of course, and isn’t dumb, so it then becomes “Can I have some water please Daddy?” even after downing a full glass of milk.

Sometimes I might also be hit with “Daddy I want something to eat” and this is where I bust out one of my most powerful counters. I response with “Well, if you lie down and be still and quiet for ten minutes, I will go get you something”. Now, this particular counter is super effective because it has a hidden rule: the timer resets.

Simply put, if she moves or talks, the ten minute counter resets to zero and starts over. So, so long as I stay the course, keep saying that's what she has to do, even when she asks if it has been time yet, that ten minutes might be half an hour but she will soon forget what she was asking for as sleep does in fact take over and that bar gets tantalizing close to zero. While this means I can ‘beat the boss’ so to speak, after only two forms, I know that some bosses can have a third more powerful form. My Daughter does too.

This third form, most recently unleashed the night before I wrote this, comes out when I misjudge the last stage of the battle, when there is still a sliver of health left on the bar. It comes when I think she is down, happily fast asleep, so I get up to leave the room. I messed up, and she wakes, however groggily, there are no words that come from her just screaming and a raising of arms. I quickly try to get back into position and calm her down so she will fall easily and blissfully back asleep but I fail and Daughter: Final Form is here.

There is kicking, there is screaming, there is the weirdest thing that small children do: lock themselves into a loop because they really want something so keep asking for that thing over and over again. For thirty minutes. At their loudest volume. This stage of the fight is simply a war of attrition, so close to the end that I just have to bare the brunt of it and chip away at the final chunk of health with a warm and gentle face, lots of shussing and gentle cuddling until finally, that glorious win is mine.

Can I honestly say that emotion doesn’t get the better of me sometimes and I don’t, however slightly, lose my rag? No I can’t, but who reading this can honestly say that they have never wanted to throw the controller across the room when a boss gets the better of them? Its the same as parenting, sometimes you just can’t help it. My advice? Remember your child does in fact love you, and isn’t actually possessed by some kind of incredibly irritating demon.

Most of all though remember that you can do this. Bosses are meant to be beaten, they gate progress but also access to new abilities, and each time you beat them you get a massive experience boost. All of that applies to both games and real life, and I know I can win the nightly boss battle without a shadow of a doubt. You can too.


Diary of a Geek Dad: Little Kingdom Wars

You know how some movies and TV shows really work because they have one character who is constantly poking fun at the whole thing? It’s like they are in the joke, and have been written, with a little help from the actor/voice actor, so that they almost know everything around them is completely made up. Kid’s shows are especially good at this as they often want to have something in there for the adults to enjoy.

In that regard, Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom is mightily successful, with every episode having at least one character who calls out the story for being stupid, or another character specifically. Despite my reservations, which I will get to in a bit, it works, especially because of one character in particular: Nanny Plum. Why? Well because she is Han Solo, and once you realize that, everything else clicks into place.

Everyone’s favorite smuggler is probably one of the most enduring characters of all time, let alone just the Star Wars franchise. Hell, he is even getting his own origin movie later this year in Solo: A Star Wars story, such is his appeal. The thing that made him this way,however, was the fact that he was in on the joke. Throughout all four Star Wars movies he appeared in, the character is poking the whole premise with stick going “You guys know this is stupid, right?”

He does things like run round corners on the Death Star set on killing all the bad guys, until he realizes there are more of them than he first thought and he just can’t do it. He charges around space in a ship that everyone thinks is a hunk of junk because well, it is, but Han loves that ship almost as much as he loves Leia, and ends up using it to help save the galaxy multiple times.

When discussing the force with a bona fide Jedi Knight, he says he has never seen anything to make him believe in any of that mumbo jumbo. He is swarve, dashing and more than a little dangerous. He shoots Greedo first (yes he does, get over it!), then pays the barman for the trouble. All these things contribute to making him one of the best characters ever put to film.

So how is Nanny Plum the same as the captain of the Millennium Falcon? Does she shoot bounty hunters? Maybe completes a entirely fictional run in what sounds like a unit of time but is actually a unit of distance? No, none of that. Nanny Plum simply points out that everything in the little kingdom is insanely dumb.

There are two races who live there: elves and fairies. Nanny Plum and Holly, one of the title characters, are fairies, while Ben is an elf. Already you can see not everything is normal, and as the title sequence informs you, it is a little kingdom, hidden among thorny brambles.  Strangely though, the elves have very advanced technology, including but not limited to: trucks, computers, helicopters and rockets. They even have their own version of the Thunderbird's.

Nanny Plum is therefore set. She isn’t even as subtle as Han, literally something will happen and she will just look at it and go “This is ridiculous!”. It constantly gets her into scrapes, but never does it fail to entertain. The best kids shows do this, they have something for the adults too, and the current epitome of this is the awesome Nanny.

It extends to not just point out the ridiculous so overtly though, there is an episode where Queen Thistle, Holly’s mum, goes out for the day, leaving her twin daughters in the care of their Dad, Holly, Ben and Nanny Plum. They tell her that she is the only one who can control the little girls, but she leaves anyway with instructions to let them play but not do magic. Nanny Plum can see what is coming however, and with a not so subtle “I have something very important to do…” slinks off the the kitchen, leaving the troublesome twosome in the care of King Thistle, Holly and Ben. It is kinda of hilarious, just seeing her basically go “Fuck no!” and run off.

The fun stops however, when the shows fundamental problem rears its head. Star Wars was never deemed racist, not really. There were comments about most of its cast, especially in the original trilogy, being white men but that's about it. Those comments are fair, but also a product of the time it was made. The movies made after definitely made a concerted effort to correct this, and I have never seen anything in the movies that would make me think otherwise.

Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom doesn’t do that. It throws casual racism about with wanton abandon. Is it downright offensive? Probably not, but that's not the point. This is a show aimed at young children, and the first two episodes I watched had both Nanny Plum and the Wise Old Elf decree that elves don’t do that or fairies can’t do this, with the emphasis on the race name just to make sure you as the viewer know that once race does things better than the other.

It’s the biggest knock against the show, and I couldn’t get past it for the longest time. Once I figured out the admittedly tenuous link to Star Wars, being the huge nerd that I am, I started to click with the show, but still that racism keeps coming back. It is in almost every episode in some form, and the way the dialogue is spoken by the voice actors really does border on ‘not cool’.  

I bring this up because my daughter is growing up an world with a sexist, racist idiot in control of the most powerful nation on the planet, and she is becoming more self aware with each passing day. I have to think about how I am going to teach her that this isn’t cool, and that it isn’t OK to be like that in the modern age, that society is trying to get better and be more inclusive of everyone. It doesn’t work perfectly by any stretch, but it is getting there.

It is the science fiction, games and geeks of the world that are leading the way on this. The recent outpouring of support for the #Metoo campaign from across the games industry show this change is starting. Sci-fi has long gone in for the Utopian future where racism and sexism have been all but abolished, and while yes, the Empire and First Order in Star Wars are xenophobic space Nazi's, the movies never really go deep on this, choosing instead to portray them as the all purpose ‘bad guys’.

As for games, well there is a recent movement to have them tackle more prominent issues in society at large. It doesn’t always work, but the desire is there and some of those games have been fantastic. There is still a prevalence of not thinking about it, but it's an industry that is still a) young and b) taking its first steps in this space.

As I navigate being a Dad in the modern world, a world at times even I don’t fully understand, I take heart in the fact that my fellow geeks are paving the way for this sea change, and hopefully my daughter will take notice that people like her Dad changed how the world thinks of different races, genders and sexuality. Maybe, as is my greatest wish, she will be someone who stands up and fights for this change, or she may just choose to treat everyone the same, either way she will be part of the movement.  

Also, once again, it is entirely possible I am overthinking things, interesting point though isn’t it?

Diary of a Geek Dad: In the Paw Garden

Welcome to the latest installment of Diary of a Geek Dad! It has been awhile hasn’t it? I apologize for that, it seems that time really is the most precious commodity in the universe, and no one has quite enough, let alone a guy with a full time job and a family.

Quick catch up: My daughter is doing brilliantly! Almost 2 years old now, talking, playing and generally running me and her mum ragged. Everyday it feels like there is something new, some new word - even little sentences that crop up. I had a real live conversation with her regarding the whereabouts of her mummy. Mummy was on the sofa, six feet from her. My daughter is blonde, that's the excuse.

We are at the point now where TV is a thing for her. We tried to limit as much as we can but no, she wants “Paw Patrol on there”. Which, to be honest, I am not bothered about. We have limited her to just two shows, Paw Patrol and In the Night Garden and that was a good shout, a few more months and we might expand her repertoire, but two is enough.

These shows are designed for young children. Both are filled with bright colours, slow easy talking, silliness and music. The part I am rapidly discovering, the bit that no one tells you as a new parent, is just how messed up these shows can be. At some point, they are completely fucked. Now, this might just be my adult brain ascribing way too much, but I have serious questions about those shows.

Paw Patrol, a show about Ryder and his team of six puppies who go out in transforming vehicles to rescue members of the fictional Adventure Bay community, should and is right up my street. However, on a practical level, what the fuck is going on in Adventure Bay???

This starts with Ryder, who is ten years old. Ten. Living by himself in a technically advanced watchtower called ‘The Lookout’ on the edge of town with six talking puppies for company. I mean, who the hell leaves their ten year old to live by himself?

That said, it is clear he is a child genius, as the show would indicate that he is the sole creator of all the technology used by the Paw Patrol, from the transforming dog houses to the look out, to Ryder’s own (admittedly super cool) transforming ATV. So maybe he emancipated from his parents and moved to Adventure Bay? I dunno, but social services should probably be involved.

Not that social services would really be a thing in that town, especially because its major is...lets say under qualified to be kind. Mayor Goodway is, quite frankly, thick. There is an episode she calls the Paw Patrol to fix the heel of her shoe...twice.This person has been elected into office and can’t dig out some glue to fix her own shoes? I question not only her competence for the role but also the sanity of the people that elected her, they are probably Trump supporters.

Moreover, all of the town’s civil service needs are met by the patrol. Police? Yep that would Chase. Fire? Marshall. Construction? Rubble...even recycling is handled by Rocky the recycling pup. How can a town survive when all of these needs are met by just six puppies? I am genuinely surprised a natural disaster hasn’t turned Adventure Bay into a wasteland.

Having said all of this, Paw Patrol is a cool show with a cool theme song - something that is sorely lacking in today’s cartoons, I mean just look at the cartoons of the 80’s for some genuinely great theme tunes, very little these days even comes close to the those giddy heights. 

As a father to a little girl, however, I do wish it would promote equality a bit more. There is only one main female member of the patrol, Skye. She has a jet pack which is cool, but the other female characters tend to be damsels in distress and require the patrols help. To be fair, there are just as many male characters that do this, I just want the patrol itself to be equal. Even when they gain Everest the other female pup, she isn't in every episode and it still makes for a male orientated team.

So let's move on to In the Night Garden, possibly the single most fucked up show ever made. Forget those that are about cannibals, swinging or the supernatural shenanigans of a bunch of hyper sexy vampires, this is the one that will really mess with your head.

In the Night Garden is about Iggle Piggle, a blue ‘doll’ that actually kinda looks like a sperm and starts with him going to sleep in a little boat on his way to the titular garden. This first little bit is the basis for my theory as to what this show actually represents.

I posit that Iggle Piggle is actually a sailor lost at sea in a lifeboat, and he is the only survivor of whatever catastrophe befell the larger vessel. Low on food and fresh water, miles from land, he slips into a fever dream as his body starts to succumb to the ravages of thirst and starvation. This dream lands him in the night garden, a place familiar yet so so strange.

In this place he meets Upsy Daisy, a bubbly girl who gives him big hugs and lots of kisses. Pretty sure this represents his current/possibly ex girl, who just wants to hold hands and kiss...bit frustrating for him to say the least.

Not only that but there is Makka Pakka, a rock loving creature who lives in a cave and likes to clean faces. This obvious invasion of personal space leaves me to only one conclusion...Makka Pakka is his special needs cousin. I suspect he is on the autism spectrum, edging towards the severe end.

The triple threat of the Tombliboos are his sisters triplets, who run riot and spend most of their time not wearing clothes and talking gibberish to each other. Then there is the Pontipines and  the Wattingers, two families of tiny people consisting of two parents and eight kids. Mr and Mrs Pontipine are shit parents, by the way, but all I can assume is that these represent schools of small fish he can see as he gazes into the watery abyss. The rest of the residents of the garden are just random bright colour hallucinations, apart from the Pinky Ponk, which represents the desperately slow search for him by air, one that will probably fail and result in a press conference saying all hands were lost.

This is just my theory of course. The biggest problem In the Night Garden is one of production, with consistency in its own world rules needing to be desperately revamped. The primary means of transport in this world is the Ninky Nonk, a crazed land train introduced with the phrase “Oh NO! It’s the Ninky Nonk!”. This thing speeds about the garden with, frankly, wanton disregard for it’s occupants safety or that of those just going for a stroll.

t is dangerous to go by Ninky Nonk and the thing should be destroyed for the safety of all, but the more pressing concern is that I am supposed to believe that something that can safely stow all residents of the garden, from the relatively tall Iggle Piggle and Upsy Daisy to the teeny tiny Pontipines and everything in between, is the same size when crossing a bridge as Iggle Piggle is by himself.

This is compounded in one episode where Iggle Piggle goes out to give the Ninky Nonk a hug, and it towers over him. But as it is travelling around the garden you can clearly tell it is about the size of a large R/C car. All I ask is that if you are going to make out like this vehicle has room for all heights, obey those rules and make it come across as big.

In the Night Garden has, thankfully, been almost fully replaced by Paw Patrol in our house, which is probably a good thing as I am sure at some point a nightmare caused by that show will end up waking us up at 1am and staying up for three hours. At least Ryder and co are fun, bubbly and promote good things like recycling and helping others, and it always fun to hear my daughter shout “CHASE!” as he launches off the slide to get into his vehicle.

It is also entirely possible I over think things, who knows.

Diary of a Geek Dad: Artful Relationship

*this was originally posted on thisismyjoystick

Welcome to another edition of Diary of a Geek Dad. To kick things off, let me say that baby’s first Christmas was a success. We had very little crying on the day, even managing to get her off for a half hour nap. The crackers didn’t scare her, and while she clearly had no idea why the house was suddenly filled with new stuff, she was very happy the whole time.

I think future Christmases will prove much more fun than the first, just because she will understand what is happening more and we can do things like put a glass of milk and cookie (or mince pie) out for Santa. It was fun though, and I can’t wait for next year…

So, what have I been thinking about over the last couple of months? Well, the thing about this series, and I found, being a dad, is that you are constantly thinking about the future. I think about what my daughter is going to be like in just a few months time, in a few years time, when she is a stroppy teenager, and I try to plan out the key points of what needs to be taught to her, trying to work the best way to do so…

Don’t get me wrong, I quite enjoy this process, it’s a fun thought experiment but is ultimately a bit fruitless because I know the actual situation that will arise will be completely different from what I have come up with my head. That, plus there is so much to the world, it’s tough to know what to teach her about and what to let her discover on her own. There are things I was never taught about when I was a kid that I will definitely show her though, and one of these is, quite simply, art.

I am not a good artist, by any stretch. My creativity comes from my ability to write and, even though I have been doing it for years, off and on, I know I am still not considered a particularly good writer either. I have made my peace with it, but if you think otherwise I thank you. When it comes to drawing, I am shockingly bad. I tried to pay attention in art class, doing my best, but my brain simply isn’t wired to take pride in my artistic endeavours if it doesn’t look exactly like the image and/or style I am trying to ape.

I am a bit like Emmett at the start of The Lego Movie. Must. Follow. Instructions. Another thing I made my peace with this a long time ago. This part of the reason I now have a small collection of Lego Star Wars models, rather than the massive tub of loose bricks I used to have. All of this doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate good art, and I have come to realise what I like when it comes to art.

 

My best friend is a professional artist, and he is amazing. I have watched him grow up and his art change with him and it has been great to watch. My daughter, I hope, will take inspiration from him and do something creative with her life, not just end up with a desk job she fell into. To be fair, she might want to do that, and if she does I will not stop her, but I hope she will take a more creative and artistic path.

The problem I have is teaching her about art. Writing, playing and talking about games means I am exposed to a lot of amazing artwork, and I love the art style of many sci-fi and fantasy movies, but because I am a rubbish artist and I have really bad impostor syndrome, I feel I am a massive hypocrite for even attempting to critique it.

I went to Paris with my wife a couple of years ago and we saw the Mona Lisa. She asked me what I thought and I my response was it is the reason professional art critics are arseholes. To me, it was just a portrait of a lady, well made, but not this all knowing piece of priceless work that art critics the world over have lorded for so long.

That is my opinion on one piece, but it’s the damn Mona Lisa, if I can’t look at that and go “that’s a great piece of art”, then surely I have no business talking about the subject, especially if I can’t draw. Recently though, I have come to a bit of a understanding with myself.

As I say, my opinion on one of the world’s greatest paintings is just that – my opinion. So I don’t particularly like it, who cares? it’s not like I am ever going to be able to own it so I am not bothered. So what I need to teach my daughter is what I like when it comes to art. The aforementioned best friends work is, admittedly, a little bias, so that isn’t what I am talking about. It’s the other art, the games, comics and movies that I need to teach her about, and let her decide for herself what she is into.

I like art that is… clean, I suppose that’s the best way to describe it. Clearly depicted, good lines, cool poses that sort of thing. As an example, I love the art of the new Transformerscomics, but hate the original 1980’s comic art. It is the same for Marvel/DC comics, if the artist in question is a little ‘rough and ready’ then I have a tough time getting into the book, no matter how good the story arc.

When it comes to movies, sci-fi is more my jam than anything else. A good depiction of crazy future tech really gets me, so movies like Minority Report and Jupiter Ascending are really sweet in terms of visuals. I also kinda like the ‘dirty’ technology represented by movies like Aliens and the original Terminator.

In games, I have a somewhat broader scope. It’s strange to say, but due to the very nature of the medium the art style of a game only counts to part of it, and a relatively small part in my eyes. The act of playing becomes far more important, and yes, visuals are important in that but I love the art in Wind Waker just as much as the attempt at photo realism that is Heavy Rain.

This is because the visuals complement the other aspects to make a compelling whole. It is kind of the same with movies, but I find passively watching a movie lets me notice the art of the visuals more than when I engage with playing a game. I think this might be because my brain is also having to concentrate on making the controller do things to get the game to respond.

When reviewing games I have to make the conscious decision to look at the art style/visuals and analyse them so that I can give my honest opinion on it where required, but if I was playing a game not for review, as I did recently with Ori and the Blind Forest, I can lose myself and get sucked into the world. Some say that if a game can do that then it is doing something right, and I have to agree.

These are the types of art I like. It’s not a bad thing, and I am no hypocrite for saying that one thing is bad to me over another, the whole world does it too. This revelation has given me a new perspective on the subject, and I fully intend to teach my kid about art. She might not like what I like, and that is something to be encouraged, because that will give us something to talk about and discuss, and those are the conversations I am really looking forward to with my daughter.

Diary of a Geek Dad: Spartan Woes

*this was originally posted on thisismyjoystick

Welcome to the first in what I hope will be a regular feature: The Diary of a Geek Dad. I am hoping for this to be more a collection of thoughts, worries and obstacles that lie in front of me as I traverse the minefield of fatherhood as an open and honest geek; sometimes stupid, sometimes sweet but, most of all, real.

So, just to get this out of the way, I have a beautiful baby daughter now who is doing brilliantly, despite the fact that I may have thought she was a boy when I first saw her (don’t judge, Homer Simpson did the same thing). We spent about a week in the hospital just due to mum having an infection and a clerical cock up, but have been home for a couple of weeks and all are getting into the swing of things.

So what is this first post going to be about? Well, knowing that I would have some downtime while we waited for my wife’s labour to kick in properly, I invested in a copy of Halo: Mortal Dictata, the third book in the Kilo-Five trilogy. At this point, it’s probably fairly obvious that I am a massive Halo fan, and I love the extended universe novels. Bungie, and later 343 Industries, have strived to create a universe that feels coherent across everything, telling stories that aren’t just rehashes of the games plots (looking at you Assassin’s Creed).

The Kilo-Five Trilogy consists of three books: GlasslandsThursday War and Mortal Dictataand centres on the ONI special forces team Kilo-Five, whose mission is simple: cause a civil war within the ranks of the Elites or Sangheili. This is going to get a bit lore and spoiler heavy, but hopefully not too confusing because there is a specific part of these books, and the overall Halo fiction that I want to talk about.

The Kilo-Five team consists of the next in-line to be Head of Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI): A former Spartan called Serin Osman, two Orbital Drop Shock Troopers (ODSTs) in Vaz and Mal, pilot Deveraux, communications specialist Philips, smart A.I. BB (Cortana’s equivalent) and, finally and most importantly for this, Spartan Naomi-010: An active Spartan II. Why is Naomi important? It is because she is a Spartan II.

Master Chief is a Spartan II, the same type as Naomi. The Spartan II’s were created to fight insurgents during a rising, galactic civil war within the human colonies, but the alien Covenant presented a more pressing threat and so they were deployed to battle them instead. The most successful Spartan is obviously Master Chief, but many others were created, such as Naomi and Serin Osman, but the augmentations required to fully complete the transition to Spartan weren’t always successful, which is why Osman is a former Spartan.

The Spartan II project is the crux of the matter here. The program required its candidates to meet certain requirements in terms of physical and mental attributes and, most importantly, age. The required age was five-to-six years old. This means that the kids were kidnapped from their families, replaced with flash clones and sent to the planet Reach to undergo the training and other procedures required for the project to be a success.

The clones were designed to die after a certain amount of time, leaving families to believe that their kids had simply died from natural causes. Some family members didn’t believe that previously healthy kids could suddenly become so sick, and in some cases they didn’t believe that the kid in front of them was the same child they had raised for the last few years.

This is where Naomi-010 comes in. In the book Mortal Dictata, Kilo-Five are diverted from their mission on Sanghelios (the Elite home world), having instigated a civil war, to a backwater planet called Venezia. Here they find Naomi’s father, Staffan, a man who has spent the last twenty years trying to find the truth of what happened to his daughter. Staffan has acquired a Covenant battle cruiser, the kind they used to destroy entire planets.

Staffan never believed that the clone was his daughter, and actively sought out others in the same boat. He managed to find several others and become increasingly sure that Earth’s UNSC government has something to do with her disappearance and apparent death. This built over a twenty year period and culminated in his attempting to use the battle cruiser to get the answers he wanted, whether that meant glassing a major city on Earth or not.

Honestly, was I in this Universe myself, I cannot say I wouldn’t do the same thing. If my daughter was taken and replaced by someone who looks and sounds the same but just… isn’t, I would want to find out what has happened too. If I discovered others had the same thing, I would want to find out more, but I still wouldn’t be prepared for the truth of what my daughter had gone through.

Sure, she would be a Spartan, a super soldier capable of running at 60mph, wearing high-tech battle armour and taking on massive alien creatures single-handed, but what she would have gone through to get there is unmistakably cruel.

Ripped from her family at six, taken to an alien world with other, scared, crying children and forced to endure years of rigorous military training before she even had a full vocabulary, she would have her childhood torn away. Her name would be reduced to first name and a number, no personal belongings and possibly even told I had agreed to let her go. That is before a gene therapy and physical augmentation process that could have killed her or left her seriously deformed.

EDITORIALS

DIARY OF A GEEK DAD: SPARTAN WOES

SEPTEMBER 24, 2015, AUTHOR: DAN MOORE

 

Welcome to the first in what I hope will be a regular feature: The Diary of a Geek Dad. I am hoping for this to be more a collection of thoughts, worries and obstacles that lie in front of me as I traverse the minefield of fatherhood as an open and honest geek; sometimes stupid, sometimes sweet but, most of all, real.

So, just to get this out of the way, I have a beautiful baby daughter now who is doing brilliantly, despite the fact that I may have thought she was a boy when I first saw her (don’t judge, Homer Simpson did the same thing). We spent about a week in the hospital just due to mum having an infection and a clerical cock up, but have been home for a couple of weeks and all are getting into the swing of things.

So what is this first post going to be about? Well, knowing that I would have some downtime while we waited for my wife’s labour to kick in properly, I invested in a copy of Halo: Mortal Dictata, the third book in the Kilo-Five trilogy. At this point, it’s probably fairly obvious that I am a massive Halo fan, and I love the extended universe novels. Bungie, and later 343 Industries, have strived to create a universe that feels coherent across everything, telling stories that aren’t just rehashes of the games plots (looking at you Assassin’s Creed).

The Kilo-Five Trilogy consists of three books: GlasslandsThursday War and Mortal Dictataand centres on the ONI special forces team Kilo-Five, whose mission is simple: cause a civil war within the ranks of the Elites or Sangheili. This is going to get a bit lore and spoiler heavy, but hopefully not too confusing because there is a specific part of these books, and the overall Halo fiction that I want to talk about.

The final book in the Kilo Five trilogy is fantastic and harrowing in equal measure…

The Kilo-Five team consists of the next in-line to be Head of Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI): A former Spartan called Serin Osman, two Orbital Drop Shock Troopers (ODSTs) in Vaz and Mal, pilot Deveraux, communications specialist Philips, smart A.I. BB (Cortana’s equivalent) and, finally and most importantly for this, Spartan Naomi-010: An active Spartan II. Why is Naomi important? It is because she is a Spartan II.

Master Chief is a Spartan II, the same type as Naomi. The Spartan II’s were created to fight insurgents during a rising, galactic civil war within the human colonies, but the alien Covenant presented a more pressing threat and so they were deployed to battle them instead. The most successful Spartan is obviously Master Chief, but many others were created, such as Naomi and Serin Osman, but the augmentations required to fully complete the transition to Spartan weren’t always successful, which is why Osman is a former Spartan.

The Spartan II project is the crux of the matter here. The program required its candidates to meet certain requirements in terms of physical and mental attributes and, most importantly, age. The required age was five-to-six years old. This means that the kids were kidnapped from their families, replaced with flash clones and sent to the planet Reach to undergo the training and other procedures required for the project to be a success.

The clones were designed to die after a certain amount of time, leaving families to believe that their kids had simply died from natural causes. Some family members didn’t believe that previously healthy kids could suddenly become so sick, and in some cases they didn’t believe that the kid in front of them was the same child they had raised for the last few years.

A Spartan II isn’t necessarily Master Chief you know…

This is where Naomi-010 comes in. In the book Mortal Dictata, Kilo-Five are diverted from their mission on Sanghelios (the Elite home world), having instigated a civil war, to a backwater planet called Venezia. Here they find Naomi’s father, Staffan, a man who has spent the last twenty years trying to find the truth of what happened to his daughter. Staffan has acquired a Covenant battle cruiser, the kind they used to destroy entire planets.

Staffan never believed that the clone was his daughter, and actively sought out others in the same boat. He managed to find several others and become increasingly sure that Earth’s UNSC government has something to do with her disappearance and apparent death. This built over a twenty year period and culminated in his attempting to use the battle cruiser to get the answers he wanted, whether that meant glassing a major city on Earth or not.

Honestly, was I in this Universe myself, I cannot say I wouldn’t do the same thing. If my daughter was taken and replaced by someone who looks and sounds the same but just… isn’t, I would want to find out what has happened too. If I discovered others had the same thing, I would want to find out more, but I still wouldn’t be prepared for the truth of what my daughter had gone through.

Sure, she would be a Spartan, a super soldier capable of running at 60mph, wearing high-tech battle armour and taking on massive alien creatures single-handed, but what she would have gone through to get there is unmistakably cruel.

Ripped from her family at six, taken to an alien world with other, scared, crying children and forced to endure years of rigorous military training before she even had a full vocabulary, she would have her childhood torn away. Her name would be reduced to first name and a number, no personal belongings and possibly even told I had agreed to let her go. That is before a gene therapy and physical augmentation process that could have killed her or left her seriously deformed.

While, in the Halo universe, the end results of the Spartan II program cannot be argued with, what had happened to those kids was horrible. It made this book an incredibly tough read after my daughter was born. We had no idea of her sex beforehand, wanting it to be a surprise, and afterwards the book’s story of a man looking for answers about his daughter and the overall fiction of the Spartan program took on a whole new gravitas.

I wasn’t expecting this!

The site’s editor, after reading the first draft of this post, prompted me to think back on both The Last of Us and the first season the TellTale’s The Walking Dead and see how I felt. I loved both of these games the first time around, and have re-watched the opening scenes of The Last of Us on YouTube. They were heart-wrenching before, but goddamn, I was almost in tears, and that was the first fifteen minutes!

Looking back on that game and how Joel ends up protecting Ellie by any means necessary, it brings me closer to him in a way I didn’t think possible. I can be fairly cynical when it comes to matters of the heart, so the first time around I appreciated what the developers were trying to do with these characters. If I were to play it through again, I would now get a real sense of what Joel himself was going through, especially during the closing scenes. It takes the incredible story and acting to a whole new level. This isn’t a character in a game, he is a dad, struggling to deal with terrible things in a terrible world.

The Walking Dead has similar themes, with Lee just trying to do what is right for Clem, even though she isn’t his daughter or even a relation. Again, the final scenes now take on a whole new level, and to be honest, it was an aspect of fatherhood I wasn’t expecting. Sure, everyone tells you about the sleepless nights, the never-ending nappy changes and military operation nature of doing anything, but they don’t tell you how fiction can take on a whole new perspective.

To be honest, it has knocked me for a six. I have suddenly been given this new outlook on themes of family, parent and fatherhood, and the fiction I consume that deals with it has all the more impact, which has been the most surprising aspect of it all. I managed to prepare myself for all the practical stuff, but how do you emotionally prepare for something you have absolutely no real context for, even if you are around kids of your friends and family a lot?

Obviously, you can’t know how you will feel in a given situation until you are in it. With the zombie apocalypse unlikely (just deal with it!) and even less chance of being transported five hundred years into future where an alien collective is attempting to wipe humanity off the face of the galaxy, I cannot say for certain if what I have said is definitely how I would react, but it wouldn’t be far off.