This column is a reprint from Unwinnable Monthly #84, the Monsters issue. If you like what you see, grab the magazine for less than ten dollars, or subscribe and get all future magazines for half price.
The Son of the Year has his screen time strictly limited. It boils down to swiping around on his dad’s Apple Watch, watching Ellen with Grandma, and occasionally getting his hands on a smartphone and taking a surreptitious selfie.
So, like most 14-month-olds from the Stone Age, he is forced to get creative when he wants to game. And as we track his progress from infancy into full-blown toddlerhood, we’ve seen him come up with some pretty awesome titles. Here, in no particular order – and leaving out classics like Peek-A-Boo, Blanket Fort and Find the Electrical Outlet – are my five favorites:
The Onion Knight: Although he is wholly unaware that he might be infringing on a Game of Thrones trademark, this recently developed puzzle game combines George R. R. Martin’s best-selling book series/blockbuster HBO show with whatever pots a 1-year-old can remove from the lowest kitchen cabinet, plus a bag of Vidalia onions left by his parents on a nearby chair. The rules are simple: 1. Arrange pots around you on the floor in a semi-circle. 2. If you have a wooden spoon, play drums on them for a bit. 3. Take out the onions, one by one and study each of them like it’s an ancient artifact that may or may not hold all the mysteries of the past, present and future in one root vegetable. 4. Place each onion into the correct pot. The correct pot is subjective. 5. That’s it. If Grandma leaves the room or tries to distract you or get you to go outside for a walk, arch your back and make a misery face that looks like you’re being forced to watch Melisandre give birth to a demon.
Toddler Tamagotchi: Also called Puppy Pass, Puppy Love and Hot Dog, this lower-fi, fluffier take on the Japanese handheld digital pet game consists of making sure an adult in the room is always holding, loving and otherwise caring for a battery-powered puppy that moves and makes barking noises. Leaving the puppy without parental guidance deducts points from your overall score; if you notice it has been abandoned on the couch or the coffee table, you must laugh at the comical oversight and immediately hand the puppy back to the nearest grown-up while puckering your lips and repeating the magic canine word, “Woo!” Bonus points are awarded if A)Your parents are asleep and you wake them up to play or B) the adult kisses the puppy within five seconds. Shoving the puppy in their faces is not only legal, but practically mandatory.
Dance Dance Evolution: As you bring the Marrone name into the mid-21st century, you have the chance to improve on the impossibly low standard of your forefathers’ rhythm. Your job is to turn on the clock radio and swing your arms wildly from side to side with no connection whatsoever to the beat. The more enthusiastic you are, the higher your score. If you’re doing a really good job, go ahead and clap for yourself. If the DJs are talking or if a commercial is playing, the game immediately ends and you turn the radio off because it’s clearly not working properly.
Little Big Parent: There are two distinct versions of what some like to refer to as Papa Pinocchio: the standard open-world version and a wireless expansion pack. The former: While being held by your dad like Hodor carrying Bran, point to a place, any place, shout “There!” and, by the sheer force of your will, he will be compelled to furiously whip you over to said spot while you laugh maniacally and your face contorts as if you’re in a research video on the effects of 450-mile winds on Air Force pilots. In the expansion pack (like all of these games, completely free), you are fixed in the center of a 360-degree game grid, where you pick obstacles, real or imagined – like, say, a tree – and, on your command, your dad will race there like an automaton, hide behind said obstacle for a moment, then jump out and yell: “Boo!”
All told, Little Big Parent is a side-splitting comedy franchise that borders both on performance art (Daddy as a sweaty, out-of-breath fool — aka Killer Clown Mode) and amusement park ride (The Scrambler, except your safety bar is your father’s right arm and the ride operator isn’t a pot-smoking teenager but a man in his late-30s attempting to stave off a massive heart attack). Manufacturer’s Note: Wiimote and/or Kinect are not only not included, but totally unnecessary.
Mattress’ Edge: Yet another clever spin-off, this game eschews the dystopian future but keeps all of the pulse-pounding parkour of Mirror’s Edge – mixing in, I don’t know, epilepsy – as The Son of the Year transforms himself into a young, male Faith Connors and leaps randomly around the bed during bedtime book-reading sessions. Extra points are scored by landing face first, smacking your skull on the headboard and coming as close to the edge of the bed as possible without falling off. At all times, a Daddy Stress Meter is maintained; your job is to keep it firmly at Halloween orange or a lighter blood red; you lose points if it dips into green, and if it remains too long at horror-movie-saturated crimson, you are swooped up and Mommy comes to feed you. Which means Game Over, but is also kind of a win if you think about it. The credits roll as Daddy leaves the room waving goodnight.