I’ve played a lot of video games in my day.
I can just sense a lot of the older readers out there probably just rolled their eyes or snorted derisively to themselves. I know if my dad was reading this column, he probably would have. Regardless, this is a column about video games.
I was laughing while I was reading my co-worker Kayla Brennan’s column this past week about how excited she was for a re-release of one of her favorite games, Crash Team Racing, from her childhood. My wife got excited too, because the game Kayla was geeking out about was one of my wife’s favorites, too. (Let’s be honest people, Crash Team Racing is just a Playstation version ripoff of the original, the genre-changing Mario Kart.)
Kayla and I were both working Saturday night and I had mentioned about the Mario Kart ripoff aspect, then dove into a story about how my roommates and I in college played inordinate amounts of Mario Kart 64. I can’t even imagine how many hours we logged on that cartridge our junior year, where it seemed like whenever at least two of us were in the apartment, we were racing.
I was born in May 1986, shortly after the Nintendo Entertainment System released in North America in October 1985. There had been arcade games and early home gaming consoles by companies like Atari and Coleco, but video gaming didn’t really take off until the NES hit households.
My generation, therefore, was the first to grow up with video games at home. My parents co-owned a video store back in the early 90s and the store had an NES and access to all of the games we stocked and rented out at the store.
As I kid, my brother and I got a Super Nintendo, the next generation of game consoles, for Christmas one year. My neighbor, Bill, had a Sega Genesis console, Nintendo’s big competitor at the time.
A year passed and the next generation came around and my brother and I pooled together to buy a Nintendo 64 shortly after it released.
On top of that, my dad worked with computers, so we always had computers in our house and we also had a variety of computer games growing up from the original Wolfenstein 3D through modern games that I’m still playing today as PC is my gaming device of choice. (I do have a Nintendo Switch now, too, which I think is pretty rad. Got a new game coming out in July that I am stoked for.)
Like many parents nowadays probably experience, my parents had a hard time separating my brother and I from our video games sometimes. My dad would frequently declare that we were wasting our money and lives on that crap and that we should grow up and get a real hobby.
For the record, some of my dad’s hobbies growing up were underage drinking, smoking and attending raucous parties that would sometimes end with cops breaking them up, so he wasn’t exactly the best role model in that respect.
As I’ve gotten older, I started thinking. Did I waste my life playing video games? Am I still wasting my life playing video games?
And the answer, I think, is a resounding no.
I think of the memories that my friends and I made over the year sitting down in front of video games together. Yes, maybe in years passed we’d have done the same thing sitting in an alley somewhere pitching pennies, or talking and laughing under the hood of a car like my dad did.
But the hours spent with my friends gaming were not hours spent unwisely.
My friends and I still laugh about days playing Mario Kart and the intense battles we’d get into with each other. Bill and I still fire up NBA Jam on our SNES consoles and duke it out on the basketball court when we see each other. My brother and I still text and laugh about games we’ve both played and reminiscing about cool parts of them.
Playing video games is what kids my age did together. It was what my brother and I did together, it was what my friends and I did together. They were vehicles to allow us to spend time together, to have fun together, to build relationships together.
I’ve got less time nowadays to game than I did even a year ago and my friends all live across the U.S. and we don’t play much any more. But I’ll always have those fond memories of blasting each other in GoldenEye or racing each other in Mario Kart.
So while my boy Luke is too young to play video games yet, as soon as he’s old enough to get his hands on a controller and know what he’s doing, I’m not going to hesitate to sit cross-legged on the floor next to him and knock back a few good hours here and there with our favorite video games.
Hopefully we’ll be building memories together, too, that will last a lifetime.