I met Steven at QuakeCon in Dallas, TX, where he and his daughters Nicole and Maya were getting ready to hop into a game of Torchlight 2. "We used to have one room [at home] that all the computers were in," Steven told me when I asked if they played a lot of games as a family. "We'd just sit there and just play for hours and hours."
They play a variety of games together, including Borderlands
and The Secret World
, though Steven told me that he and Maya, who is 11, currently have an affinity for Minecraft
. Proving the idea that Minecraft
is like a modern day Lego set, the two of them craft and create as a team. "I actually got her addicted to that. We'll log into a server and build things together and stuff."
It's not just about the games. Theirs is also a house of technology. One Christmas, Nicole's relatives all coordinated to each get her a part for a new computer, which she and her father built together. They have learned how to install hardware the same way other kids learn to change a flat tire on a car. "I try to teach them, 'This is what you have to do when building a computer,' so that way they know how to do things themselves," Steven said. "I've tried to make them as self-dependent as possible."
Of course, having things you love to do together at home doesn't always guarantee quality family time. Sometimes life gets in the way and you need a vacation in order to spend time together. But where do you go when exploring magic kingdoms (albeit virtually) is already part of your regular family bonding?
For Steven's family, the answer was QuakeCon, which takes place in their home state. Marketed as the world's largest free LAN party, the Bethesda-hosted convention tends to attract thousands of people to Dallas. "It makes us focus on doing this together," Steven said. "And it's just kind of fun to get away and get out and look and see what other people are playing and see what new things are coming out ... It's just something all three of us enjoy doing, and I just figured it's here locally, and it's not that expensive to go, so why not?"
They don't make the trek alone. Just as some families go camping with friends, QuakeCon tends to be a group activity. Steven and his daughters went with people they knew, including Nicole's friend Sean and his family. "His dad and I have become good friends," Steven said. "I would invite him and Sean over to our house to have mini LAN parties at the house, and I would invite over three or four friends and my daughters would join in, and we'd have a fun time at the house." For the past couple of years, QuakeCon has been another thing to do together.
"I don't know that it was the family sitting down at dinner saying, 'We should go!'" Sean, who is 17, told me. He was still up playing games in the Bring Your Own Computer (BYOC) area of QuakeCon while his father, mother and little brother, 7-year-old Reid, were elsewhere. "It was more my dad and I saying, 'This is kick A, we need to go do this,' and the other two kind of got dragged along. Especially with [Steven's family] coming, we're close with them and we all game together anyway, so they said, 'You guys should come,' and it just kind of happened."
For these people, booking a hotel room for a video game-filled weekend seems like one of the most natural things in the world. And why shouldn't it be? Anybody under the age of 18 today was born into a world where video games are already an everyday activity for millions of people. It's been a long time since games were a thing that most parents didn't understand at all. Instead, they're something adults enjoy with their kids.
Steven's oldest daughter will be going to college close to home, but he hopes that QuakeCon, at least, can be an annual excuse for the family to get together and play games for the weekend, even as the girls grow up and move out. "I've got at least six or seven more years with my youngest," he said. "But yeah, we'll try to keep it going as long as possible."
What matters for now is they're enjoying the time together now. "The main thing we're here for is kind of a vacation. Just to sit and play video games and kind of hang out. Daddy daughter time."
Britton Peele is a freelance writer based out of Texas. His work has been featured on GameSpot, GamesRadar and The Dallas Morning News. You can follow him on Twitter at @BrittonPeele.