How gaming helped me reconnect with my son after military deployment
Max Levasseur spent nearly a year away from his one-year-old son while serving in the U.S. Army in Afghanistan. Video games helped him make up for lost time.
I began my military service enlisting in the United States Army at the age of 17. While stationed in Korea in 2000, I first met my future wife—she just didn’t know it yet.
When I returned to the States the following year, we started dating while I was stationed at Fort Meyer, near Washington, D.C. We ended up breaking up after a few months, but still stayed in touch as friends.
I was deployed to Germany in 2005 and we reconnected again a few years later while I was stationed there, and she was in Korea. As her service time had ended, she returned to the U.S. and our son, Christian, was born in September of 2008.
It was March the following year when I first laid eyes on my baby boy after returning to Florida. We had this instant connection. He was my world, and I was his. When I would play video games, he would crawl over and sit there with a controller in hand mimicking me while I played.
I received my orders to prepare for deployment to Afghanistan in February 2010. I transferred to Fort Campbell in Kentucky for a two-month ramp-up time before my departure.
My son was one at the time. It was rough as I’m anticipating being away from my family. I didn’t have a clue what it was like overseas. I’m thinking, “Am I coming back?” All these things are running through my mind because we are at war.
While stationed overseas, I was able to communicate with my family via telephone and some video calls two to three times a week. When I was able to chat with Christian, our conversations were pretty short, as he was still just an infant. He’d get excited, I’d get excited, and then he’d run off and start playing with his toys.
My time in Afghanistan was like the movie Groundhog Day. I would wake up in the morning, go to breakfast, work, then lunch. I would get a workout in and after work, it was dinner time and then the day was over…rinse and repeat.
When it came time for my deployment to end, my wife and I purchased a place in Tennessee and planned on living there when I came back home.
Upon my return in February 2011, getting acclimated with the family took about a month or so. Coming from a deployment, your head is in a different mental space, which took a lot more time to deal with. I had a room where I could isolate myself and spent time there mainly playing video games to help get my mind right.
Christian would always follow me to the room. This was when our first interaction with video games took place. He would sit next to me and play with a non-working controller. This was all good until he figured out, “Yo, this is dead, dude. Give me something that I can press buttons on.”
Then we started playing games together for real, and of course, as the responsible father that I am, my thought was, “It’s time to get him his own system.”
Being away from the family for so long, I missed out on a lot, so I can admit to being guilty of overcompensating. I’m thinking, “What parent would get a three-year-old an Xbox Connect for his birthday?” That would be this guy right here.
Christian’s love for gaming started from that moment on. We began playing Kinectimals, then it was Marvel Super Hero Squad and Disney Infinity. For us to play together, there had to be some educational value for him as my wife was not playing when it came to that. So, he would read the subtitles as we played.
Being able to game together really helped us bond through our conversations and just spending time together. We didn’t always have to talk, but it did provide those interactions of completing a mission together.
To me, it was similar to working on the car or me showing him how to mow the lawn, which I wouldn't do anyways because we both have allergies.
We had this connectivity where there these non-verbal cues between us. I could tell when he’s truly happy, sad, or even mad about something because I’ve seen it. Understanding those emotions prompted me to open the door to communicate or for conversation.
It’s not like we hadn’t tried other things outside of gaming. For example, we would put together an entertainment center, but once we finished, that was it. He was pretty much done with ever trying it again. It’s not a new challenge to him. Gaming led to new challenges because each game was different.
When I was provided the avenue to connect with Christian, I was all in. For us, it was playing video games. I wasn’t the biggest fan of Minecraft, but I played it. It could be the same for someone else in a similar situation. It's all about taking advantage of those opportunities and meeting your child where they're at.
As told to Activision Blizzard King managing editor Marques Edge.
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