It seems a bit strange to do things this way this week, but my Dad is sick. Very sick, as a matter of fact to the point where (I've been informed) he was on the verge of being clinically dead the day PAX started.
I didn't actually know at the time and was only informed of this fact yesterday morning, so understandably I've had family on the mind. And given that this regular feature was coming up, the only thing I could think about was the few memories I've shared with my Dad over video games.
Given that he's been away for half of my life due to work, I haven't played a great deal of video games with my Dad. It's not something he's particularly into anyway, and most of our bonding occurred over outdoor activities like golf, camping, rowing, putting up tents and what not. (Cubs and Scouts: still a thing.)
But when he returned from trips overseas, he worked as a computer programmer and that inevitably came with some shared PC time. So to tie this back to video games, here's some of my shared memories; share some of yours below in the comments.
My first exposure to Blizzard's space epic RTS came at the hands of some primary school friends who'd managed to secure a copy, on 20+ floppy disks. It was glorious, gritty and difficult: everything I wanted from another Blizzard RTS, and everything I wanted a space RTS to be.
That was how I came across my own copy too, with the friends happily lending me boxes of floppy disks so I could command zerglings and co. at home. My Dad had other ideas, however, and the sight of those boxes took a regular family evening into a full-throated screaming match within minutes.
I remember a fair few instances of my Dad being furious growing up. It was a tricky situation, having two children, sailing on a boat for six months at a time and then coming back to discover your offspring were radically different from what you remembered. I don't think he dealt with it well, and there was a lot of friction.
But the memory of this screaming match isn't an unhappy one. Later that year, it was organised so that the StarCraft Battle Chest was one of my Christmas presents, which was a nice recovery out of the world of piracy. And, in a genuine attempt to share some time with his youngest son, my Dad happily sat next to me as we fired up a multiplayer game of Starcraft on the lowest speed imaginable.
I don't think that lasted more than a minute because the mechanics were far too incomprehensible for someone who had never played a video game. But I'll never forget the fact that he tried.
My Dad played in quite a few pool halls as an early adult, and growing up he, my brother and I spent a good amount of time at our godfather's house. Our godfather was the fellow programmer who worked with my Dad, and he also had a small pool table in his house that we never got to enjoy.
I remember Virtua Pool for a few reasons. When we first got a CD-ROM, my Dad also had the foresight to get a copy of PC Gamer to go along with it. I'm pretty sure it was the UK edition from 1995. I remember the cover's background being white, with a large pool ball on the front and a demo of Virtua Pool being on the cover.
That was a good demo disc, and I've still got it — and many others — in those plastic CD folders at home. It's something I often fired up, and the appeal for my Dad was pretty obvious. We couldn't afford a pool table of our own and we certainly didn't have the space in the house for it.
How it all came about is a mystery to me, but I remember sitting with my Dad at the head of the kitchen table, staring at the blocky graphics trying to line up pockets and bank shots. That was unusual in and of itself, since the computer was moved from the study — and there was room there for the two of us to sit and enjoy the game together.
Still, it was peaceful. We enjoyed several games; I don't remember the house being filled with the noises of anyone else, or anything else, besides the sound of cues on pool balls, mouse clicks and our chatter.
For as long as I can remember, my Dad has had a Turbo 750cc Kawasaki motorcycle in his garage. It's more or less his pride and joy, although it doesn't — particularly now — get as much of a workout as it used to.
But it's been kept in pristine condition and it was certainly in good working order when I was younger. I remember being on the back of the bike for several rides. One of those was probably mounted to the coolest thing I ever did in high school, getting picked up after a HSC exam and my Dad slightly flooring it in the school car park as many onlookers — left stranded by a broken down bus — witnessed this ungainly fat kid hopping onto a bike and speeding away.
It scared the living shit out of me, and I've got no desire to hop back on. But it was the easiest way to communicate my Dad's love of motorsport; it certainly was more effective than trying to understand his passion for watching it at home.
A bit of a primer: I can't drive. It genuinely scares me to death; I can't even back the family car out of the driveaway without suffering heavy anxiety. I never liked holding the wheel for the driver when something happened. I don't like driving. One iota.
That fear doesn't come across to video games, mind you. I've never quite understood that — maybe it's the safety of the screen, or lack of fear, that lets me enjoy driving in a virtual space so much more. There's certainly no concern about crashing.
Anyway, when Project CARS came out earlier this year I was rather excited — I'd missed out on being able to back the project in the early stages and Slightly Mad Studios' run-in with the British financial regulator meant they couldn't open the project up to new backers. So when I'd finally gotten my hands on a code and was happily tearing up the straights and corners of Bathurst, I couldn't help but share the experience with my father.
I usually see my parents once a week for dinner, but that night I'd dragged my main PC out to the living room so I could hook it up to my PC. All I remember from the rest of the night was my Dad shouting out instructions about corners and braking as I slammed my way into the walls, hoardings and tyres surrounding Mount Panorama on the glory of a 60" TV screen.
It was kind of a special moment, that I was able to share a video game experience with my Dad once more — and that the fidelity of games had come so far, all the way from simple experiences such as MicroProse's F-117/A Stealth Fighter in the early 1990's on the dining room table to something so life-like that my Dad was unable to distinguish the difference between a British studio's crowdfunded video game and one of Australia's most iconic racing tracks.
It was brief, and like so many of the memories above, something I'm the only one who holds dear. But when you spend so much of your life enveloped by video games, it's nice to be able to share the smallest things with those you love, no matter how minuscule they may be.
Get well, Dad. I miss you.