April 15, 1990, I was nearly three years old; I have no memory of this day, but this remains one of favorite photos from my childhood. I was so immersed in that black and white two-dimensional world, quietly smiling to myself. It’s as if no one else was in the room and I wasn’t sitting on that ugly couch where I would often watch my parents sit on the edge of and play games together. I’d perch myself somewhere in the room, fascinated and dying for the chance to grab the joypad. I didn’t understand everything that was going on at the time, but it had this inescapable hold of my attention. Though I was allowed to play from time to time, I didn’t really become a serious gamer until later, when I was introduced to the Sega Genesis.
Sonic the Hedgehog and I were inseparable. I loved that Sonic was so fast-paced and had multiple routes through levels. No two players would complete a level in quite the same way. I was a huge fan of the Chaos Emeralds, which challenged players to get through a level with as many coins as possible, also completing the mid-level mini-games in one try. Collecting hidden or otherwise earned items in games would become a game element that would draw me in time and time again. From DK coins, to un-lockable characters, I spent a great deal of time in search of 100% completion. Unfortunately, my desire to collect everything the game had to offer would soon prove to be a point of contention within the family.
Sharing a console with your parents seems like it would be a sweet deal, right? I didn’t have to save up my allowance to buy it for myself, or beg my parents to surprise me with the latest console under the Christmas tree. They even let me sneak in a few minutes of a game clearly designated for someone older than me, because I was “mature for my age.” Granted, this was before games had become increasingly explicit, so I could understand their reasoning back then. Not once would I have to argue a case for the “necessity” and awesomeness of video games. Of course, it wasn’t always as sweet as it seems.
For one, I didn’t always get to play when I wanted, which was more often than not, constantly. My mother would pry and bribe my sister and me from in front of the television to get us to play outside. I sometimes wonder if my sight would be better had she been more persistent! I hated going outside; between the bugs, the bullies, and the dirt, it just wasn’t my cup of tea. When I did finally begrudgingly submitted to the not-so-great outdoors, I often had the latest issue of Nintendo Power or Archie Comics to read, and paper to sketch my own versions of the characters on. If I could manage it, I would sneak my Gameboy out with me.
I often shared my games with my sister and gaming probably did not improve our relationship. Being the eldest and extremely competitive, I was not the nicest big sister to play with. My sister preferred to run through levels as quickly as she could, strictly to complete the game. Ever the avid collector, I would always force her hand to play previous levels to completion. Before saving was available in games, this was a nightmare. I got to be so good that she could almost never beat me, and this frustrated her immensely. I was always grateful to play with my father or uncles, because they posed a genuine challenge for me in fighting games. When I returned home from high school and college to play with my sister, after years of minimal exposure to video games, she had finally improved enough to defeat me. That was one of the most satisfying moments of my gaming experience. Until, of course, I caught up and my sister “accidentally” saved over my data on our memory card.
Despite all the conflicts that arose from life (and even gaming), gaming was always a curious solution for any strife between family members. If my parents weren’t speaking to each other for one reason or another, they always somehow wound up back in a room together playing in deafening silence that would inevitably end in laughter. While mom and dad were facing a puzzle they couldn’t figure out, I would barter with them to solve it for playtime later on in the day. When my sister and I wanted to beat each other up, we chose to do so through virtual characters instead. Video games brought us together, even when they pulled us apart. Gaming has always been and will always be a meaningful and exciting element for my family and my life.
Asia is a freelance writer at Girl Gamer Vogue.