Today's guest post is from Ryan Thompson, a gamer parent in the D.C. area, and a co-host on the Magic Hour Show.
Christmas of 1991, I got a shiny new Nintendo Entertainment System. The Super Nintendo released the August prior, but I was just six years old and had never played a video game before. To me, this was a brand new experience, and the NES was the best there was. I remember walking into whatever game retailers were in existence then with my grandparents. Upright cardboard boxes were filled with NES cartridges, cheap because they were now old. But in my mind, these games had no release date or shelf-life. They existed for my enjoyment; they were there for me to play.
Sometime that summer, I brought home Super Mario Bros. 3. Its bright yellow artwork and the happy Mario with the raccoon tail invited me to a fun world where Mario was going to FLY LIKE A RACCOON! The shiny new cartridge was put in, no blowing necessary, and I excitedly pressed the power button. The curtains opened and the colorful world of Super Mario 3 was revealed to me.
My father came home from his night shift at a grocery store as I was beginning my adventure to save the princess. He watched as I played through the first level, figuring out how to use the leaf power-up, running back and forth to build up flying power and probably falling to my death once or twice. To my surprise, he asked to play. I reset the system, and chose 2-player. I let my dad be Mario, because, well he was my dad! I’d be Luigi.
Quite the library of NES games had been built by the time I got Super Mario Bros. 3. My dad had never shown interest in playing any of them before. He would often pick up one from the rental store he thought I’d be interested in, and sometimes would watch as I struggled to beat a Mega Man level, or raced around the tracks in Al Unser, Jr.’s Turbo Racing, but this was the first time he wanted to play one with me. And he wanted to play a lot.
Summer vacation allowed for a lot of game time. As soon as my dad would get home from his shift, The Price is Right would be turned off and the Nintendo turned on. We’d spend hours at a time playing Super Mario Bros. 3. I still have the Nintendo Power Games Atlas he bought for us to use to find all the secrets, to match all the cards in the memory mini-game, and to line up the power-up pieces in the Toad House bonus games. Our favorite world was the Giant World. I don’t think that bright yellow cartridge left the system all summer. And then, it stopped.
As quickly as our father/son gaming began, it ended. He decided he was too addicted to the game and couldn’t play anymore. He decided this for all games. Time has blurred some of my memories, but I don’t think I was ever able to convince Dad to play anything with me again.
My hobbies were always different than the rest of my family. I wasn’t interested in learning how to maintain a muscle-car, or play sports. I wanted to play video games and rock and roll. For a brief few months, my dad and I connected with the mustachioed plumbers. We were united in the goal of breaking blocks, shooting fireballs, and defeating a quirky family of spiked dinosaurs. Now, just as my memory of those months has faded, so has my relationship with my dad
I’m Dad now. A father to two children who are small, but growing more rapidly than I’d prefer. I include them in my hobbies. I read the text of RPGs to my youngest, holding him in one arm while my other clicks a mouse. The oldest, asks for “Mar Kart Aaaaaaaate!,” “Shove-Knight,” and “Pikit” (Pikmin), and I’m happy to oblige, providing an unpowered controller for her use. The day will soon come when the pretend controller no longer works, and I look forward to it.
I can’t help but wonder if we had continued gaming together; maybe my relationship with my father would be different today. Mario would have evolved to co-op Diablo sessions, Warcraft II and III, various MMOs, and would excitedly loop back into the New Mario series on the WiiU. A line of communication might have remained open that has been, for reasons, indefinitely closed. I hope that, whichever hobbies my children end up pursuing, that I can find some way to be a meaningful part of them, even if it means learning some sports-ball.