Growing Up on Games

(Reposted from thedailynap.)

Talking to my husband and my friends about video games always reminds me how my family was slightly outside the norm when it came to this form of entertainment. Some of it, I realize, stems from selective memory. Just because I don’t remember time limits and forced quits for dinner time doesn’t mean they didn’t happen. It probably means they didn’t happen often. More common were the times we gathered as a family to play (or watch) video games. Based on memory alone, I’d guess we spend 50% our “TV” time on video games, and if you remove football then that jumps to more like 75%. I latched to video games quite readily, and my parents supported this hobby wholeheartedly. It’s that support which likely made video games a positive part of my life. Rather than see this new media as something to be feared, my parents embraced it and took part in it. That was a huge benefit.

Like many my age, my first system was the SNES – the Super Nintendo Entertainment System – and with it we had the double pack of Super Mario Bro. and Duck Hunt. Shortly after (or at the same time) we also got Tetris. For a long time, those were the only games we had. We didn’t make the jump to the next Nintendo console and instead waiting until the Nintendo 64 (N64). So the early years were a lot of the same games over and over again. Somehow it never got boring. We’d spend a lot of our time coming up with new, exciting challenges when the old ones got too easy. Things like completing Mario without using Fire Flowers or Super Stars. Or doing as few levels as possible (or, alternately, doing every single level). (See Remembering Tetris for another example.) I don’t remember hearing my parents every ask, “Aren’t you tired of that game yet?” and in fact for a long time my mom was necessary for getting those infinite lives in world 3-1.

These first games were very geared toward single-player play. While it was possible to choose between “1P” and “2P” mode, the two players never played together. This is how we became a family of equal parts players and spectators. If someone got tired of playing, they’d sit and watch. If someone wanted to play badly enough, they’d “2-up” to get a turn. So as I got older and migrated more and more to one-player games, it never felt odd to me that the rest of thew family would huddle around the TV to watch.

My fondest memories though come from the N64. There are two kinds here, one where nearly all of us play together (4 controllers, 5 family members) and the ones where I play and everyone watches. When we’d play as a family, all our personal quirks would be even more obvious. My dad’s sense of humor (“Here we go, into the water!”), my sisters’ joking (“Here, I’ll put my gun down.” *bambambam*), and my mother’s kindness (holding that last red shell so you can finish 1st). Playing as a family was a lot of fun. I miss it sometimes, but I also look forward to sharing video games with my own child(ren) someday.

It’s the solo play though that’s really out there and unlike what most families did. My mother especially just loves to watch people play video games. Perhaps it’s like watching a movie where you get to interact with the director. She’d always come to watch if I was playing Legend of Zelda, and was helpful too when it came to spotting possible secret paths. She had very good instincts for where scultulas might be hidden, for example. My dad too was a fun back-seat gamer, though most of his advice was along the lines of finding out what happened if you jumped off a cliff or ran toward other instances of certain death. Good times.

I’m always on the look out now for games which my family might like. As cell phones have gotten more advanced, I know I can recommend apps to my mom and sisters and sometimes (though it’s pretty rare) might find something dad would like. Games have always been a positive experience in my family and growing up on games has created a lot of my favorite memories.


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