Everyone’s relationships with their parents are different. I’m very close with both of my parents, and I feel unbelievably lucky every day because of it.
Growing up I always enjoyed video games. My two older sisters and I shared a Sega Pico during the 90’s. The Pico was kind of like a laptop computer that plugged into the TV. You placed a book in the top section, and that told the Pico which game to “stream” to the television (our favorites were The Lion King: Adventures at Pride Rock and Pepe’s Puzzles). The bottom half was where you played – by using this vintage stylus to draw, or the buttons to move characters around. We were obsessed with the thing to the point where, if I played it today, I’d still probably know all the words in the games. I can definitely still sing the theme song to Pe-pe-pe-pe-pepe’s puzzles!
The Sega Pico. You know you’re jealous.
Around the same time (’96 or ’97) my dad picked up the original PlayStation console. I was around two or three years old so I don’t quite remember everything about my dad and his relationship with our first PlayStation, but I do vividly remember him playing Crash Bandicoot. I’m talking a full completionist playthrough. No deaths, all boxes, all gems, all bad-ass. I was enamoured by every pixel. Crash was such a lovable character, and the fact that my dad spent so much time a day with him (when he wasn’t working of course) made me love the character even more. I liked it because my dad liked it. It’s the same reason I pretended to like sports. That one didn’t last long though.
Aside from jumping in a time machine and asking my younger self, there’s no real way to know if I actually was super into video games when I was kid or if it was just a way for me to bond with my dad. What I do know for sure, though, is that I craved having something in common with him. My oldest sister regularly watched sports with my dad, and my middle sister had the same taste in music as him. Being the youngest, I pretty much just copied what they did in order to be included — but there was something different with video games. Especially after our family acquired a Nintendo GameCube.
Like most of Nintendo’s consoles, the GameCube was marketed as a family console — and it was heavily used by ours for sure. Our GameCube has been through a lot, and it still sits proudly on my entertainment centre today. When my dad first brought it home, our first game was Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit and we played it to death. Throughout the years our collection grew to include the Resident Evil 1 remake (which my dad gave up on after about an hour), Madagascar (we mostly used it for the mini-golf mini game… listen, not all beloved games are masterpieces, okay?), Mario Kart: Double Dash, The Simpsons Hit and Run, and more. This was the beginning of my dad and I’s addiction to competing against each other. Nothing brings family members closer together than the threat of being shown up in their favourite video games.
Around this time, my oldest sister lost interest in video games altogether aside from the occasional game of Mario Kart. My middle sister and I chugged on, enjoying the games that my dad brought home as well as what we’d been playing at our friend’s house. When I was about seven or eight we made friends with a neighbour who had the original Xbox console. We played Stubbs the Zombie, which terrified me, and Halo, which I was terrible at. And like many of us in the early naughts, I also remember playing Dance Dance Revolution with that same friend for hours upon hours until our feet were calloused. She was also the first person to introduce me to Resident Evil 2 and 3, Silent Hill, and Dino Crisis. Basically, a lot of games I shouldn’t have been allowed to play at the time — but did anyway.
As I grew up, I was still playing video games consistently, but more with my friends than my dad. I started to develop my own tastes and choose my own games, and the genres we preferred grew slightly apart. I think the first game that really brought us back gaming together was Resident Evil 4. It was…horrifying. Despite being one of the more mild horror games I’d played, it terrified me. That’s one title I can definitely say I only pretended to love so I would have something to talk to my dad about. Of course, I eventually grew to legitimately love it — Resident Evil is now one of my favourite series of all time — but back then I was in hell. I’ll be honest; I still have to make my dad play the section where you have to choose to fight either an El Gigante or two chainsaw women. They both give me the heebie jeebies.
In the PlayStation 3 era, I played a lot of Heavenly Sword and Uncharted and, because they were both single player games, my dad and I would often watch each other play. Games like Condemned 2: Bloodshot and Dead Space were too scary for me to play by myself so we’d play together. In high school, Resident Evil 5 was released and we played the entirety of it together — including dozens of hours of The Mercenaries mini-game. After he lost two PS3s to the dreaded Yellow Light of Death™, he converted to an Xbox 360 where we discovered Borderlands.
By this point, video games were more than “just games”; playing them was an important experience I could share with my favourite person in the world.
My dad and I had a really great relationship when I finally went off to college seven hours away. Now an adult, the kind of games I enjoyed were mostly the same types of games that my dad liked. Every time I went home from college, we would trade games. I bought Bioshock Infinite that year, finished it in two days, and handed it off to him a few weeks later. It made it so we always had something to talk about.
We weren’t quite at the “best friend” level just yet, however. That took another couple of years.
During my sophomore year of college, I decided that being seven hours away from home was way too far, so I moved back home to finish my first degree, before moving on to finish my four-year degree in a city only an hour and a half away from my family. It was during this time that we really got close. Living much closer to my parents I was able to go over and play games much more regularly. I forced my dad to play Telltale’s Tales from the Borderlands with me since I knew he’d enjoy it having loved the regular series. We also bonded over Telltale’s Game of Thrones because he had been knee-deep in the television series and books. Over time, it just became something we did; playing games — or at least talking at length about them — was our ‘thing’.
What I love about my dad is that he really gets invested in video games. If you met him in person, knowing nothing about him, you’d think he was stone cold – it’s just the way he looks – but when you see him play games like The Witcher 3 or Fallout 4 (his current conquest) you’d see that he truly cares about the fictional characters in these games. I think that that’s why I ended up where I am, with my biggest passion being video games, because he was the first person to make me get really excited about a game. From the first time he got that really tough gem in Crash Bandicoot back in the 90s, to texting me today about having to make a difficult choice in Fallout, he has always, even if he doesn’t realise it, made me extraordinarily passionate about video games, by being passionate about them himself.
Fast forward to today, and I’m currently sitting on my bed realising that my dad has texted me dozens of times while I’ve been writing this to talk to me about his current run of Fallout 4. A game which, when it was first released, I told him he would love but he said he’d never play. Proved you wrong, didn’t I, dad?
Just some of the text messages I receive from my dad.
And that comes back to why I started writing this piece in the first place. A few days ago, I thought back to the last game he played — Prey I believe — and again, I had an onslaught of daily texts from him about it. Before that, it was Horizon Zero Dawn, The Last Guardian, Uncharted: The Lost Legacy. And then, while I scrolled through some of our messages I realised that, if we’re not talking about video games, we aren’t really talking at all. Just the occasional, “How are you?” or “Your mother did this today”. It made me wonder if we’d be as close as we are if we didn’t have video games. The easy answer is probably not. Sure, we could talk about books or other things but would we actually? It’s hard to tell.
This was probably a long, drawn out way to say I love my dad and I love him for more reasons than I can say. There are a million different ways that my life could have gone but, after everything, I ended up here wanting to do nothing but play video games all day and tell people about them. That’s all thanks to my dad. Video games brought us closer together than we could have ever been without them. They gave us something to bond over. They gave us something to always talk about. They gave us terrible puns and inside jokes, and they gave us a closeness and connection no matter how far apart we are from each other. I am incredibly appreciative of every moment we’ve had together, cheering each other on during the boss fights and yelling at each other when we do something wrong.
After almost twenty years of playing games with friends, playing them solo, and playing them with my dad, my most memorable experiences are with him. My dad is my best friend, and it’s all because of those moving pixels we call video games. And that’s kinda cool, right?