Monday, May 21, 2007

You Win!

Timothy is colorblind.

We first suspected it earlier this Spring. A few years ago we had loaned out my wife's copy of Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo (literally, the only video game she will play) to her sister and brother. It took about 5 years, but my wife started jonesing to play it again (and yet she scoffs at my WoW addiction). So we borrowed it back.

The boys loved it, and Timothy quickly became very good. The first game I played against him, I won by a lot. The second game we played I won just barely. He killed me on the third. I haven't won a match against him since.

As I watched him play, though, I noticed something. The game is basically "battle tetris" with square blocks falling down in sets of two. The blocks are red, blue, green, and yellow, and you try to build larger gems out of the smaller squares. Then, occasionally, a "swirly" will fall. The swirly will be one of the four colors, and if you place it next to a square of the same color, they both will explode. If other squares of the same color are touching the first one, you can get a chain reaction. Then all the squares that blew up on your side will fall en masse onto your opponent's side. Very nice.

Back to Timothy, who all the while is cleaning our clocks. I would see him drop yellow swirlies on green blocks, and vice versa. And I never heard him complain. So I asked him one time "Why did you put that green swirly on the yellow gem?"

"I don't know."

As we played more and more, I came to realize that he couldn't really tell the difference between yellow and green in the game. He could build red and blue gems from the blocks, but his yellows and greens were always mixed together haphazardly. But it didn't bother him at all. He kept playing, kept winning, kept unlocking new characters and songs that I'd never seen ("I wonder if Mr. Mark has unlocked this before?" This became a constant refrain, an ode to my friend, the uber-gamer).

And somewhere, deep inside me, it hurt to know that I was getting beaten, not only by my own son, but by my probably colorblind son in a game where colors were so very important. Then I got over it and was proud of my boy for kicking this game's butt with essentially one optic nerve cell cluster (possibly two) tied behind his back.

Then we kind of forgot about it (that's our family specialty). Until yesterday, when we played not one, but two games of Risk. And Timothy kept taking Egypt away from me. I owned Africa, he owned Asia, and he kept insisting that he needed Egypt.

You see, in our edition of the game, Africa is various shades of brown, Asia is various shades of green, and Egypt is a very light brown that Timothy interpreted as being a very light green. So he kept taking it away from me.

Exasperated, I cried out, "Egypt is part of Africa. Leave it alone. Don't you have some younger brothers to terrorize, you Asia-wielding horde?"

He laughed and said, "Sorry Dad. It looks like part of Asia to me."

I looked at him for a second, checking for self-pity. Seeing none, I told him, "You know, you're probably color blind."

"Probably. Now I want Africa for real." Then he took it away from me. I should never have taught him to attack his enemy's weakness and avoid his strengths. I can still beat him in Syphon Filter, but mostly because I won't let him play that yet.

So tonight, after the haircuts (Summer buzzes, yay!), I looked up those color blindness tests online. You know, the ones with the circles made up of lots of dots. They have numbers in them in different colored dots. He couldn't see the numbers on any of them, poor guy.

We'll get him checked out over the summer and verify how bad and what kind of color blindness it is. And I'll be on the lookout for rotten kids who'll suggest two completely different shades of purple to wear together. Just like I suggested for a buddy of mine when we were in middle school. Sorry Matt.

After tucking him into bed, I asked if he was upset, and he said that he was a little. I think it mostly has to do with the idea that something is demonstrably "not right" with himself. Also the fact that he'll never be a pilot. But he asked one time while playing SPF2T if being color blind would keep him from doing what he wanted to do when he grew up. Since he wants to be a lawyer and then become a missionary (admittedly, an odd combination), I told him that he could still do those things.

He smiled, dropped 99 squares on me, and then laughed. He'll be fine.


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