Gifts From the Past: A Gamer's Inheritance
Join Alessandro as he recalls how his father's love of video games helped establish a shared interest in the rapidly growing medium.
Gaming has always been a big part of my life, with one of my earliest memories coming from when I couldn’t have been older than 3 or 4 years old. I was sitting on the bunk beds which my mum had put up in the spare bedroom, and I was amazed as I saw the lights move around on the screen showing a game of football (yes, we’re using the British term here). I understood that this wasn’t like the television shows I got to watch downstairs, this was being controlled by the people in the room. On one chair sat my older brother, excited to play Kick Off on the Commodore 64 before we all had to get going to church, and in the other chair sat my dad. He sat cool, enjoying a quick challenge from his oldest son while my mum got ready. If I ever wonder where my love for gaming came from, then having a dad so passionate about gaming that he put his Commodore 64 before his church seems like a logical origin point.
My dad’s always been a strange character to me. The Scottish-born son of Italian immigrants, he had grown up as a distant figure, always working from midday to midnight six days a week at the fish & chip shop he owned. My mum took over on Wednesday nights, so he could have a night off to spend with his boys, and Sundays were the only day my family would be together for 24 hours.
As his reward for working so hard, my mum instilled into both me and my brother very early on to never bother my dad on a Sunday. My mum did all the cooking, and my brother and I would set tables and load dishwashers for our big Sunday meal, with Dad joining us once everything was ready for him. He of course would take us to church in the morning, and we had our days out to the cinema and a restaurant. Otherwise, my dad would reliably be found relaxing in front of a screen.
Before I can truly share my journey and love for gaming, I need to regale you with the story of my father’s love for all types of media and his initial foray into gaming.
My dad has always been a huge media lover, though only for the small niches which appealed to him. He’s a music fan who still has rare releases of Beatles vinyl in his collection. A book fan who had a heavily weathered copy of The Lord of the Rings that lived in our bathroom magazine pile back in the era before smartphones. A movie fan who has bought every John Wayne film in at least 3 different movie formats to my counting. A comics fan who was livid when his mother went behind his back and threw out his Journey into Mystery #83 issue (a comic which features the debut of Thor). I am telling you this because if you give me the prompts “dad” and “childhood”, there’s a good chance my brain would default to a thought of him sleeping on the sofa watching a cowboy movie.
I think it did surprise me when my mum told me how Dad and she had been big fans of Pong back when it was first released in the seventies. I’ve asked my dad where he first remembers seeing a machine, but the memory sadly eludes him. This would have been around the time he turned 20 years old. An age I initially couldn’t imagine being when you discovered gaming for the first time. Though since this was the first popularized video game, how could anything else inspire a new media love in the man? To find this machine in whatever bar or club he first came across is an experience I can only imagine. This mind-blowing experience could only leave a user imagining the possibilities before them. This is the birth of the gaming movement, and my dad was there for its genesis.
As soon as he could bring the games home, my dad found himself the proud owner of an Atari 2600, bringing the experience into the living room. He did have Pong, obviously, but he would also pick up games like Pitfall that would take the gaming scene in new directions. I’ve recently asked him what attracted him to the machine, to which he simply shrugged and said “It was just something to buy”. My dad’s John Wayne mindset to life is to never over complicate the purpose of small things.
One of my father’s greatest loves is playing football games. I can remember trying to play Sensible Soccer with him once I was old enough to hold the joystick in my hand. He went easy on me so I had a chance to learn how to play, compared to my brother who would quickly paste me to the wall whenever we competed. I can’t think of a moment when I was playing a game older than this. I can imagine how my dad would have thought this would bring us together as it did with my sibling. Unlike my brother though, I didn’t pick up the love for football, so the appeal of the game never fully caught on, so the days of me and Dad playing each other at Sensible Soccer didn’t materialize.
I don’t think there was ever a time when there was not a gaming system in our household. Before my brother and I were born, that Atari 2600 was replaced by both a Commodore 64 and a ZX Spectrum. Once he had kids to raise however, buying both the popular formats would be a luxury he could no longer indulge in. He would go through the Amiga 500 before switching his PC to a Windows system. Though as our household entered the nineties there was no escaping the home console wave. My dad always stuck to the dominant formats for their generation; The Sega Mega Drive, The PlayStation 1 and 2, the Xbox 360, and currently on his PlayStation 4. The one stumble he ever made while my mum was in the hospital for 5 days getting her tonsils out. She asked for a Game Boy & Tetris bundle, but he instead showed up with a Sega Game Gear, sporting Columns. A blunder my mum is still quick to cast up whenever the subject seems suitable.
While it might seem he is a smart consumer, at the same time I realize that he was also avoiding the systems which did position themselves as kid-focused. Sega and Sony courted my dad as a gamer far more than Nintendo courted him as a parent, so he chose the systems which he felt would be as fun for him as they would be for his kids.
When this dawned on me in my teenage years I thought my dad was selfish for doing this, though looking back now I can appreciate that there was a real choice being made. To my dad, gaming was something all of us were to enjoy, and he bought the system which he felt could achieve this. The single Mega Drive would have Sonic for us boys, FIFA for my brother and my dad, Zero Tolerance for when he had time alone, and even buying the Power Converter so my mum could get her puzzle game fix from Lemmings. Gaming was never just a toy to our household; it was another member of the family that had its relationship with us all in different ways.
Knowing all this, you might be a bit perplexed how a few paragraphs ago I said I grew up a little distant from my dad. Sadly, even sharing this love of media has never made for an easy bonding point between us. Platformers were always a kid’s game to him. My love of J-RPGs was all just “Japanese s****” to him. On the other hand, I never got the appeal of games like Elite while they were on the game shelf. They struck me as too dull for me to invest in them the way he had. It took me far too long to appreciate the joys of FPS and action games that he’d much rather play, and football was sadly out of the question.
"We have to make sure we reject the poor ideas and horrible business practices, and support the game ideas which make gaming better for our children."
I know some others my age grew up wondering if their love of video games might have served as the dividing chasm from bonding with their dads. I must sadly admit that not even video games can be used to bridge that gap when they aren’t skilled at doing so. I don’t question if my dad loves me or anything like that. Those six-day, 12-hour shifts he put in showed how hard he was willing to work for his family to have everything they ever wanted. I sadly have grown up to realize I share his same social awkwardness which can make it difficult for us both to talk openly. He’s a stubborn old goat who will fight hard for his independence. I respect that in him, even if it means I have absolutely no idea what he’s currently playing on the PS4 which still sits under the TV in the living room of my parent’s house. Any time I ask him he insists it’s “nothing” despite how Mum says otherwise.
Looking back at his life of gaming and his purchase habits, it still fascinates me to consider the life he’s lived and how it benefited us all. I used to write for a comic book website that would hold monthly market events. At one of these, I got talking to the dad of two teenage kids who told me how he has been reading comics since the seventies. I told him how much I respected his generation for loving comics back then. I even admitted that going back to read silver-age classics has always been a laborious task for a reader like me who grew up in the more art-focused age of graphic novels. I have his love of comics to thank for getting the modern comic book scene to the situation it was when his generation asked for more. The man smiled at me and said, while he did admit that comics were much better to read now, at the time it was hardly like there was such a comparison to make. This did make me think of my dad and how his appreciation of gaming has done the same for us all. It’s dads like mine who stood stubborn against Nintendo’s child-focused marketing, and insisted on having games that offered violent action like he would get from his 80s movies. My dad didn’t exist in a vacuum. He was one of the early adopters of video games who had the financial capital to show publishers that the demand for home video games was alive and well. If your dad was gaming back before you were born, it’s always worth appreciating how his love of games has brought the industry to where it is today. It is a torch we’ve now picked up from them and are just as responsible to ensure is worthy enough to pass on if we become parents. We have to make sure we reject the poor ideas and horrible business practices, and support the game ideas which make gaming better for our children; even if they grow up to find the games we play far too dull for their enjoyment. We shouldn’t force our choices onto them, but appreciate how their choices have been influenced by how we’ve shown them such a warming truth.
About the author:
Alessandro is a lifelong video game fan from Glasgow, Scotland. He is the host of the Starter Quest podcast, where they look at classic video games through the eyes of a noob. He talks his partner Jen though the classics of gaming, to see how they hold up to fresh eyes and beginner thumbs. Available over at https://starterquest.com