Dad's Still Got Game, but the Kid's Got Talent

By Donna St. George
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 27, 2009

It's a football Sunday, and between NFL matchups on television, Tyson Cole-Hines and his 9-year-old stepson create their own drama on the field with a video game on their Xbox 360.

This is a father-son pastime, playing Madden NFL 10 or NBA 2K8 on a 62-inch flat screen. But late at night, the gaming gets edgier.

That's when the Reston dad launches into higher-octane battles against enemies and aliens on mature-rated fare like Halo 3 and Call of Duty 4. In these war games, bullets are flying. Bad guys go down. Things blow up.

This all happens in Cole-Hines's hushed suburban townhouse, long after his third-grader has been tucked in and before his infant twins awake for their 3 a.m. feeding.

"The wee hours," Cole-Hines says, laughing and recalling how he dons a headset and plays online, connecting with a buddy in Texas.

So go the lives of dads -- and some moms, too -- who grew up in the Nintendo generation, started families and have created their own ways to enjoy gaming with, and without, their children.

Some of them are gamerdads who never stopped loving free hours with a controller. Others are like Mark Bulkeley, who is not so much a fan of gaming as a dad who enjoys what his kids enjoy. Either way, a lot of fathers have become used to the idea of losing, which they seem to do a lot.

In Great Falls, Bulkeley turned a small attic room into what his family calls "the hut," a gaming nook with three flat screens and three PlayStation 3s, set up side-by-side on a red-carpeted platform so he and his two sons can play with or against each other online.

On a recent Saturday, the three sit in their designated chairs -- dad in the middle -- facing three screens flashing with jeeps and planes and gunfire from Battlefield 1943, a World War II game.

"Dad is obviously not the best player," says Luke, 11, as his animated Marine takes the driver's seat in a jeep.

His father readily agrees, conceding that the boys long ago surpassed him.

"I'm dead already," he notes matter-of-factly.

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