The Games My Mother Played

The Games My Mother Played

(Originally published May 11, 2008) May 1st 1980 I came home from school to find my mother waiting there for me, a giddy smile on her lips. She always loved birthdays. Back then we were living in an apartment, my younger sister and I sharing one room, my older brother and sister sometimes sharing another, and birthdays were the one time my mother, taking care of four children on child support and a modest income from the dancing school she ran, would really get to splurge on her kids.

Seven year-old me knew this, so I was nearly as excited as she was as she handed over a small wrapped package, my shaking fingers tearing at the colourful paper to reveal the prize beneath. Space Invaders for the Atari 2600! My heart leapt! At that point I had only been exposed to video games at my dad’s house or when my brother borrowed a friend’s Odyssey 2, but I had already developed the hunger that would one day lead me here. I looked around the room for the missing piece of the present…behind her, in the kitchen, on the glass coffee table my brother would eventually put his foot through in a bout of teenage rebellion, but it was nowhere to be seen.

“Where’s the Atari?” I asked, my voice shaking with excitement.

“What Atari?” she replied, looking perplexed.

My heart sank a little, but I ventured onward with my questioning.

“This is a cartridge for the Atari 2600. You need an Atari to play it.”

My mother frowned. “Oh. I thought it was one of those handheld games,” she replied, even going as far as to mimic playing a portable game with her hands.

I was crushed, completely. Not because I wasn’t getting an Atari, but because of that disappointed look on my mother’s face as I explained the problem. A very empathic child, I could almost feel how upset she was about her mistake. Here she was, struggling to raise us and wanting to give me one special day out of the year and she messed it up.

I went into my room and cried for an hour. She didn’t stop me.

An hour later my father arrived with my Atari 2600.

The whole incident is the clearest memory I have of my childhood. At first I was a little hurt by her deception, but soon I saw the humour in it, and over time and across many birthdays I would grow to appreciate my mother’s little tricks, whether it be hiding my presents under my own bed, knowing that whenever she told me to clean my room I just stuffed everything under there without looking, or the time I came home on May 1st and she told me to clean the bathroom, having hidden a bicycle in the shower, catching me in a lie when I came back out without having bothered to open the curtain.

The Games My Mother Played

It was my mother who raised me, along with my stepfather who would come along later to provide a logical balance to her whimsical ways. She taught me to appreciate words, and to see the humour in any situation. She taught me to look beyond situations and see what was happening behind the scenes. She implanted in me a thirst for knowledge as well as a joy of sharing said knowledge. In short, she’s the reason you are reading this today.

Or, to put it another way, she’s to blame.

Today is the day for celebrating motherhood. Not the biological process, but the artistic one…taking a young mind and shaping it into something that carries over all the best things in you.

I hope I’ve made her proud.

To all of the mothers out there, especially mine, Happy Mother’s Day!

Update 5/11/2014: Six years have passed since I originally ran this story. In that time I’ve become a father, and I’ve gained a whole new perspective on and appreciation of the mothering process. My wife Emily and I are both new at this, but the wisdom and guidance of my mother has been a tremendous help to both of us, even at times when it might not seem like we appreciate it.

There’s no real instruction booklet for children, but as long as I keep in mind all my mother did for me growing up, I think they will turn out fine.


  • My mum used to play Barnstorming all the time. She got the high score but never got her patch. I think that was the beginning of the inevitable decline of Activision for me. 🙁 For those who don’t know……

    “Originally, a player with a time or better of 33.3 seconds on game 1, 51.0 seconds on game 2, or 54.0 seconds on game 3 could send Activision a picture of their screen and receive membership in the Activision Flying Aces and receive a Flying Aces patch.”

  • Lol, very cute story!

    I do have one really nice video game related memory from my childhood of my mum.

    I was maybe 4 or 5 at the time. We’d borrowed a WWF game for NES from the Video Ezy (RIP) up the road. One morning I was playing but I was really terrible at it, and was feeling a little lonely and sad playing all by myself. I don’t know where my dad was and my sister hated video games, so my mum sat with me and played with me all morning. Even though I was really young, I could tell that she was actually trying hard to understand the game herself and play properly, not just humor me as sometimes adults do to kids, and it made me really happy. (she was pretty darn good at it as well, i was surprised)

    Lol, its a very simple memory, but one that makes me appreciate her nonetheless

  • hahaha that’s a great story and one I’m sure that has been repeated for real many times since then

    Mother: “I got you the latest Mario game, the shopkeeper said all the kids are playing it”
    Son: “But I have a Sega…”
    Mother: “What’s the difference?”

    Your mum seems devilishly cruel in her humour. I like it.

  • my mum bought me sonic the hedgehog for megadrive one xmas…i had a master system II.
    I was crushed 🙁

  • My mum has and always will be a gamer… which is pretty amusing to all my mates.

    She owned an original pong machine (the one with the control knobs on the console) and it was she who bought me my first Sega master system at a really young age.

    I have two distinct memories as a child;

    1) When I woke up to find her playing wonderboy on the Sega and finishing it before I did.
    2) When I was banned from playing during the school week, yet I could still see a glowing light from underneath her bedroom door and hearing the faint familiar sounds of Fantasy Zone. Great parenting!

    I gave her a hand-me-down iPad with a bunch of games on it for Christmas, which she cried over, and she’s always willing to endulge me in my latest obsession, board gaming (though there is a point… I don’t know if I’ll see her playing Eclipse any time soon).

  • This was really lovely. I can relate to your childhood. Thank you for sharing. Best wishes for you and ya kids!

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