Perched on the edge of my bed cradling my MacBook on my lap, I back spaced for the tenth time. I was trying to remember the name of a computer game I had played as a four year old. Last week someone had asked me what my all-time favorite video game was. I readily responded with Final Fantasy III for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. Their next question, what was the first game I had ever played, had me stumped. I barely recalled an image of a little blue alien and his red friend in a digital world I helped them traverse. Short of an answer to what they were called I said, “Those little guys, you know from the eighties.” I motioned with my fingers to emphasize how small.
These little guys, however forgotten, had been my first submersion into the gaming world. They served as an epoch which lead to the joys of exploring the land of Zelda with a fairy at my shoulder, tailoring a light saber to my personal specifications as a Jedi Knight, and gaining over 9,999 hit points in a band of misfits set to a score composed by Nobuo Uematsu. Back on my bed, my dad walked out of the room across the hall; reluctantly, I called out to him.
“Hey, Dad, do you remember that old computer game I use to play with the little guys in it?”
“Tink! Tonk!” my dad said with a shrug of his shoulders.
Mystified that my sixty year old father could remember the name but I could not, I quickly typed it into the Google search bar. Instantly images of these little men, now known as Tink! and Tonk!, were displayed on my screen. This educational game series, originally released in 1984, was produced by Sprout with artwork by the noted children’s author Mercer Mayer. On my laptop, I pulled up image after image of these little guys with each acting as a portal to the past.
It was not the computer game itself that had spurred my love of gaming, but rather who was playing it with me. My brother Dole, who is fourteen years older than me, would sit in my parents den and help my tiny hands navigate Tonk in the Land of Buddy-Bots to collect all of Buddy-Bots’ missing parts thereby saving the world. For me, gaming has never been about leveling up or discovering a secret room, however cool those prospects might be. Gaming has always been about togetherness and family. Perhaps that is why some of my favorite games can be easily played in groups.
Tink! Tonk! was the extent of my gaming until the Christmas of 1992 when my parents bought our first Nintendo System. I remember waking up late at night on Christmas Eve only to see my mother and oldest sister laughing and playing a weird grey and purple contraption hooked up to the television. The screen displayed a little man dress in green brandishing a sword who my sister was directing towards some guards. Link was just that, a link between the game console world and myself. He opened up the door to other wonderful and awful games alike such as: Earthworm Jim, Mario Brothers, Mario Paint, Where’s Mario, Mario Kart,Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego and, the best game of all time, the United States release of Final Fantasy III.
There was one particular aspect to Final Fantasy III that concreted my love of video games. Before this game, which released when I was eight, my siblings and I would trade off the controller after someone died or did not complete a level. This system was inherently flawed in major ways especially when my older brother, Luke, would declare while glaring at my brother Aaron, that it was still his turn because he would not have died had someone not walked in front of the television. Final Fantasy, however, had the capability for two people to play the game together. So, Luke and Aaron would play on one save slot while Mary, Katherine, and I would save our game on the other slot. Still to this day I can hum the tune from the opera scene and Katherine will laugh and sing the accompanying words.
The first console system I ever purchased was the Nintendo Game Cube. There were two games in particular that my friends and sisters would always gravitate to on this system. In the first game, Mario Party, each player picked a legacy Mario character to move around a game board. At the end of every round all the players would compete in a mini game either as a team or against each other. The best mini game, by far, was Cony Island Dash where each player had to catch as many falling ice cream scoops as possible. The player with the most scoops on their ice cream cone won the game. The other title we would often play, Smash Bros., was also a legacy game, but this one encompassed all major Nintendo characters from Earthbound to Kirby. This game was similar to Soul Caliber in that players battled against each other to be the last character standing. I cannot count how many Saturday afternoons my sisters, Katherine and Jessica, my best friend, Lindsey, and I would play these two games.
There was just one last game that I readily recall as being an all-time favorite multiplayer game. Sometime around 2002 Lindsey rented a little known game called Balder’s Gate for her Playstation 2. This game while relatively insipid allowed for two players to slash through ten different dungeons together, in a game play not unlike Gauntlet Legends. The best feature of the game was that is allowed for friendly fire, or for your team mate to potentially slaughter you in the foray. This often happened but ultimately resulted in laughter as Lindsey, my sister Katherine, or I accused each other of causing someone’s untimely death.
Each of these games, taken by themselves, has help polish my gaming skills and deepened my admiration of gaming. Together, however, they show where my affection for video games really stems. Each game I have ever played was with a family member or friend. So, it is not just the games I remember as I reminisce, but the surrounding people. This one reason is perhaps why I do not game as much as I once did for I no longer have a partner. I still tease Katherine, who has probably gamed with me the most, that she will always been the brawn while I am the brains behind each game conquered.