When I was a kid, I wasn’t nearly half as clever or as sociable as my 7-year-old niece, Lyla. My mum, God bless her difficult soul, is extremely stubborn and therefore very hard to get along with (side note: an angry deaf woman is the scariest thing on the planet if you have the misfortune of displeasing her). As is the natural order of things, her social inadequacies passed down to me and my sister, and we grew up pretty self-contained and extremely introverted.
When my sister had a kid, I thought: “Christ, it’ll be a miracle if this child grows up to be a normal, functioning human.” I clearly did not give my sister enough parenting credit because Lyla is the smartest, coolest kid I’ve met at that age. I’ve met some of her friends that are the same age and while some of them have a semblance of being a Real Human Being, most of them are pissy, shouty little alien freaks that I don’t want shouting in my ear about fidget spinners. On the other hand, Lyla loves reading, she has an incredible grasp for the English language and most importantly: she loves video games.
I figured that due to her smarts and love of games, she’d give a unique perspective on the topic of video games and it would be a nice diversion away from the usual shitposting we do. So rather than sitting in our own little echo chamber where the walls are plastered with Overwatch posters and pictures of Nobuo Uematsu, I asked to interview her about games and the stuff we do on UTM. If I was her at that age I would’ve probably cried at the suggestion, but she was on board from the start with a vigorous grin.
I started the interview, clearly more nervous than her. I was having flashbacks of the time I had a conversation with Yukimi Nagano from Little Dragon and spoke about Yung Lean and recycling. Lyla, on the other hand, was raring to go.
“So what games do you like playing?” I asked. Almost instantly and without any trepidation, she responded:
“Minecraft. And Goat Simulator and my cat game and my dog game. I play a lot of games. Sometimes I play Yooka-Laylee.”
“Damn, that was fast! So what’s your favourite at the moment out of those, Minecraft?”
“Probably! I play it a lot.”
“So what do you actually do in Minecraft? I’ve never actually played it.”
At this point, she regaled me with a colourful account of the 50-something worlds she had created. One was a prison, where she would hold villagers with the menacing grip expected of a warden part of the ugly prison-industrial complex. It kinda scared me, a 7 year old talking about running a prison, but reality soon kicked back as she told me about one of her previous worlds, ‘Animal Town’, essentially a family friendly petting zoo, and a huge unicorn waterslide she built.
I asked her if any of her friends played Minecraft, and she told me a few of them do, and one of them has A LOT of Minecraft merchandise. I’m leaving their name out just in the unlikely event that this article reaches their parents, and they start giving me shit for it.
“Isn’t that the spoilt kid?” I asked, with a smirk on my face. This is a terrible trait that both me and my sister developed from growing up as paupers – sneering at people with better stuff than us, as if somehow we were better off not having any of the cool stuff everyone else had.
Lyla, the wonderful human being she is, said nothing.
“It is, isn’t it?! You’re not saying they aren’t spoilt!” I jested, eager to get a reaction from her, knowing full well she would never utter a word of negativity about another person.
She chose to be the bigger person and move the conversation on to something more pleasant. It was the first of many times I realised throughout the interview that Lyla, in her 7 years on the planet, had already surpassed me in being a good person – something I’m clearly still struggling with despite the 19 years’ experience on her.
“Me and Maya played Minecraft on the field at school, we pretended to be piggies!”
She proceeded to oink and shout “POTATOES!” which I assumed (with very little confidence) had something to do with the game, but my confused face gave me away. “Pigs eat potatoes. And carrots.”
“I used to do the same though! I played Banjo Kazooie on the playground,” I said, fondly recalling running around by myself glugging like Banjo while everyone stared at me like I was possessed by an aquatic demon.
“We do that! I feel a bit bad for Banjo – everyone likes Kazooie because she’s sassy and has attitude.”
“That’s very true,” I said, wondering if I could’ve maybe avoided the stares by pretending to be Kazooie instead. “I like how stupid Banjo is anyway.”
“That is a bit mean to Banjo,” Lyla said, making me realise the depths of my unkindness stretched to video game character that have no bearing on my life whatsoever.
“Yeah, I’m sorry Banjo. Didn’t mean to be mean. You’re a nice guy really.”
I told her about my girlfriend growing up loving video games too, but she got a lot of stick from her brothers telling her she was bad and that girls shouldn’t be playing games and other such worrying patriarchal ideals.
“That’s ridiculous,” she scoffed, with the air of a learned adult all too familiar with the socio-political bullshit of what females can and can’t do, according to men. “A boy at school told me I wasn’t allowed to have a Batman lunchbox because I’m a girl.”
“He said that?!”
Quite clearly, this incident had made her question her own identity, which was quite disheartening to see because I’d always known her to be so sure of herself.
“I’m a tomboy. Actually, I don’t know what I am. I can be quite girly, I’m good at drawing dresses but I think I’m a tomboy too. So what am I?” She asked.
“You’re Lyla. Just killing it as Lyla.”
She giggled, and appeared to have been reassured that she can do whatever she wants in the world, not restricted by some stupid kid whose parents probably banned him from playing with anything pink.
At this point, my sister, who delights in morbidity and matters of filth more than anyone I’ve ever known, bursts in, with the other, slightly smaller child in her arms, pointing at a brown spot on her own toe.
“I’VE GOT POO ON MY TOE, LOOK!”
Lyla instantly screams “GET OUT!” and covers up her mouth with a blanket, presumably to stop the vomit from flying out. Clearly, she doesn’t have the same appetite for disgusting stuff as her mum, and I’m glad for it.
We get back to the interview, talking about superheroes. Her favourite is Batman, and I despise Batman. It’s a been a topic of contention in that household ever since she could speak, and I explain that I hate Batman because he’s only been able to be a superhero because he has a fortune, and I feel like he’s a phony compared to Spiderman.
“Spiderman got bitten by a radioactive spider and got he’s got webs and spidey sense, which is really cool… he’s just a kid trying to help everyone out. Batman is just rich.”
“He has just as good a reason for becoming a superhero though. His parents were killed by a bad guy.”
She makes a good point, but clearly my weird prejudices against people with better things than me (as mentioned before) isn’t going away anytime soon, even if they are fictional.
Lyla then flexes her social skills in a way that I never could, keeping the interview flowing by asking what video games I’m playing.
I struggle explaining Persona 5 in a way that doesn’t make the world sound like an awful place full of adults doing terrible stuff, and she seems genuinely intrigued by the concept of people’s nastiness being rooted in another twisted dimension that affects reality. She struggles to put into words her own perception of the game just from hearing about it, but I can tell she fully understands complex creative stuff like this in her own head, which I begin to realise is why she’s so into video games in the first place. She continues her inquisitive onslaught as she wonders why I’m doing the interview in the first place.
“Is this going on your website?”
“Yeah – Up The Monitors.”
“How does that work?”
I realised my own capabilities as an imparter of knowledge wore thin pretty quickly as I once again failed to adequately explain something to her, this time WordPress, but she seemed to have a good grasp of it. I showed her a feature on minigames that we put up, but quickly found out that even something as innocuous as minigames could be unsuitable for a 7 year old, as mature as she is.
I quickly scrolled down, trying to avoid the swearword being on the screen for too long, but another two popped up as I went down the list.
“Whoops. Well you know not to say the words so it’s okay.”
Lyla has a pretty astute moral compass, which makes me wonder how she’d fare in games like Fable that give the player a choice to do good or bad. Half of me thinks she’d flinch at the thought of harming a video game character, but the other half of me remembers the tyranny of her ‘Prison World’.
“Are you on your computer a lot, then?” She asks, naïve to the colossal amount of time I spend trying to make UTM a Real Thing.
“Yep, pretty much all the time,” I respond, keen to avoid the usual mental breakdown I have when adults ask about UTM. “We don’t get paid for it, it’s just something we do for fun.” I’ve never really said it out loud like that, and for a short while it made me hella sad that I went to uni, got into £27k of debt and wrecked my mental health just to have a hobby.
“So it’s like a friends’ project? You just write about stuff you want to write about?”
The way she phrased it cheered me up and made me appreciate UTM for what it is – a shared goal that I’m trying to achieve with my friends, and trying to achieve it by doing it our own way. It didn’t really matter that uni didn’t set me up for a wonderful job and a happy life, because UTM is much more than that. Doing something you love with your friends is unbeatable.
As she looks around on the page, she shouts “Great Doggos in Video Games! That sounds like something you’d write about!”
“That was Em! We’re pretty much the same person.”
As she scrolls through the list, we talk about what kind of stuff the dogs do in games, she’s amazed at Dogmeat’s capabilities as a dog in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, and knows about D-Dog from MGS: V somehow. It strikes me just how into games she is, even ones that she’s not allowed to play. She’s beyond her years in coolness and smarts, and it gives me a renewed sense of work ethic for UTM. She’s only 7 now, but when she’s older I guarantee she’s going to be well-liked by everyone, into the coolest stuff and smart as hell.
We carry on looking at dogs, and I ask her if there’s anything she wants to say to our ‘adoring fans’.
“How many are there?”
“Well we have around 200 likes on Facebook, so…”
“That’s quite a lot.”
“Eh, it’s okay. We’re aiming for 2 million.”
“Not everyone is into video games though.”
“That is true. So, anything you want to say?”
“You don’t want to say anything?!”
“You said no one will read it!”
“Well, I… Yeah I did say that but maybe people will read it, I don’t know!”
“Okay, well I had a lot of fun.”
“I’m glad you enjoyed it! Was that your first time being interviewed?”
“Yeah. I’m 7 years old Nath, it’s not like I’m getting a job interview at this age.”
Twice, she outsmarts me in the space of 10 seconds.
“So what do you think we can do to get more people to read and watch our UTM stuff?”
“Maybe not too much swearing. And maybe do clean versions of the things you’ve done. 50% of the world like swearing.”
“I love swearing. I’m sorry. You sure you don’t wanna say anything to the people?”
“Sure. PLEASE START WATCHING UNCLE NATHAN’S STUFF!!”
“That’s a great plug, cuff man.”