The Gamer Who Raised Me

There are many factors that have made me into the person I am today, as is the case with any person on this planet. My personality has been partially formed by that chemical factor called "depression" that I have discussed here many times but, as any good psychologist would tell me, there are also plenty of external elements that have played roles in my development as a human being.

I certainly didn't become a games journalist by accident. Like pretty much every other dude my age, I've long had an interest in video games. The reasons I have for preferring certain types of games over others, however, can be traced back to a specific origin: my dad. His influence is why I've almost always been primarily a PC gamer. He's also why I have such an intense fascination with storytelling in games that I've made that aspect of the medium my main editorial focus as a columnist and critic.

My dad, also named Phil, has been an engineer working for the US Army since he graduated college in the mid-'80s. He was, to put it bluntly, a nerd.

In his formative years, my father spent a lot of time at the arcade dropping quarter after quarter into games like Galaga and Tempest. But he married my mum when he was only a year into college, and by the time he was 22 my older sister and I had invaded his life. He didn't have time for the arcade but, being of a nerd type, he had a personal computer.

My dad knew how much he enjoyed playing video games when he was a kid, and he wanted to share those experiences with me.

By the earliest time in my life that I can still remember — some time in the early '90s — he had a PC with a 486 DX 100 CPU. He played a lot of old-style arcade-ish games on it. I would watch him play, and sometimes he would give me a turn. He told me recently that he knew how much he enjoyed playing video games when he was a kid, and he wanted to share those experiences with me.

My dad is therefore the reason why I was playing games on the computer, before we ever had a game console in our house. My earliest gaming memories are of Lemmings and the Home Alone 2 platformer and something called Brix, which I remember being my dad's poison. My dad encouraged me to become comfortable with a mouse and keyboard before I ever touched a gamepad.

Back during Christmas in 1996, my parents gifted me something that would greatly impact my destiny as a human being: LucasArts Archives vol II: The Star Wars Collection for the PC. They gave me a joystick to go with it. By this time we had a Super Nintendo. I spent a lot of time on it playing Donkey Kong and sports games. But this pack of PC games that I received included TIE Fighter, both Rebel Assault games and a three-level demo for Dark Forces. Those games scratched an itch I didn't know I had.

My dad tried to take turns playing Rebel Assault with me, but he found he couldn't keep up with action in those games. That didn't stop me from becoming what could charitably be called 'obsessed.' I already greatly enjoyed Star Wars — another way my dad influenced my taste in entertainment — but the idea of playing through stories set in that universe was unbelievably exciting to me. I consumed those titles with the same urgency that I approach a home-cooked meal. Before I knew it I was begging my dad to upgrade the family computer to something Pentium-powered with a 3D accelerator graphics chip. I needed to be able play more technically-demanding games like Dark Forces 2, Rogue Squadron and X-Wing Alliance.

My father obliged, although not quite all at once. He saw how much fun I was having, how much joy these experiences brought me, and he encouraged my growing habit — plus, I got good grades at school and played a lot of sports, so my dad let me play.

I would, of course, branch out from Star Wars games. I developed a liking for Command & Conquer and Half-Life and Quake 2, but I rarely strayed from games with stories. I played some Counter-Strike, sure, but even with that game, for match after match, I would create narratives in my mind.

Today, I play games on a desktop PC that I built with my bare hands. My dad, excited that I was doing that, purchased the graphics card for it. That's not an insignificant part, as PC nerds will know. As he always had, he wanted to support my desire to game on a PC.

There's one other thing I want to share about my father. Even though he is only 48 years old, he is dying of cancer. Chemotherapy has been completely ineffective, and his doctors say he won't last the year. He probably won't even make it to his birthday in September. When he does go, he will leave behind a tangible legacy: my writings on games, writing that was borne from the love of gaming he instilled in me.

I don't know who I would be today had my father not chosen to share his enjoyment of interactive entertainment with me. I am certain that I am who I am because he, all those years ago, let me sit in front of a computer and have all the fun in the world.

Phil Owen is a freelance entertainment journalist whose work you might have seen at VG247, GameFront, Appolicious, Gameranx and many, many other places.


    Even though he is only 48 years old, he is dying of cancer.

    Goddamn it Phil. All the emotions, all at once. Great story, now I need to wash my face because you brought me to tears. I'm a father too, my son and I are both heavily steeped in gaming, I've taken him from console to PC's now, he's fiddling with Windows and at 9 years of age has started asking me about hardware.

    My deepest sympathies for what you and your family are going through mate, I do hope by some stretch of luck, your Dad makes it longer than they've predicted. I really do.

    It's obvious he's a fantastic guy, just by the way you write about him, sounds like an absolutely top bloke.

    I hope when I'm gone, my son remembers the very things you've talked about as fondly as you do. I hope that's as significant to him as it is to you, because it's something we both share.

    Great story man. Great story.

    And great memories for the rest of your life.

    Last edited 30/06/13 6:21 pm

    I'm sorry to hear about your dad Phil. You've been quite lucky to have such an awesome sounding person as your father. Someone that shared his passion for gaming with you and clearly a man you think quite highly of. Cherish all those memories fondly.

    I hope he makes it bud! Cheers for the story.

    As someone not a clinical psychologist but with a psychology degree, I can tell you external factors can trigger depression. Not to say they must, but assuming you have the predisposition they can set it off. Minor correction for a brilliant read, thanks for posting. I don't get on super well with my old man, but if I have any fond memories with him they'd likely involve playing Super International Cricket on the SNES 2 player followed by Goldeneye, Perfect Dark and Mario Kart 64 and finally Timesplitters 2 before it all got a bit too complicated and focused on 'realism' instead of 'fun'. Gawd I miss quality arcade shooters.

    Deep story Phil, I'm sorry to hear chemo has been ineffective and I wish your family the best during these time. Your dad sounds like an amazing man and I hope I turn out like half the father your dad was when it comes to raising my kids when I have them. Our thoughts go to you and your family and I wish you all the best and to keep carrying on your dads legacy mate.

    I'm 47 and my son is 15, this is a great article.

    I've been gaming since playing Wolfenstein on a (green screen) Apple II+. One of my greatest enjoyments has been playing all types of games cooperatively and competitively with and against my son for years. I could hold my own, though it is more fun when you can own your child, and I still fluke the odd game :)

    But having that relationship is something else and not something that ever hits the media much. We were both accepted in a competitive clan for some time and a lot of quality father/son time can be had in this virtual world...

    This article drew some strong emotions. My father had nothing but distane for my interests.. you were lucky to have a dad like that. All I can do now as a father of two kids is share my interest with them. my wife doesn't quite understand this but I have already collected a sizable amount of toys for my son when he gets older (complete sets of lego) in hopes we can share in these kinds of moments together.

    I also probably should have mentioned I game with my daughter and watch spider man with her on a regular basis. my wife has already told me to stop buying her boys toys. I'm sure we will all play and game together in the future.

    Awesome story, my thoughts go out to you and your family in this difficult time. My dad inspired my gaming habits in both PC and tabletop gaming and i cant even imagine how hard it must be for you. A clearly amazing man has raised one hell of son

    Hang in there buddy.
    I lost my Dad and fondly remember sitting on his lap in the early 80s taking turns typing code into the Commodore 64 to create our games.
    Good times that never leave who you are :)

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