He towered over me, an imposing figure that I was all too familiar with. He wielded no weapons and he did not utter a single word but his stare was enough to turn me into stone. I was terrified. No, he was not Slender Man and I wasn’t trapped in some eerie survival horror game. He was my father.
This is a tale of how video games changed the way I saw my old man.
Image: Heihachi from Tekken/Namco
My earliest memory was playing in the corridor outside my grandparents’ small apartment in Kowloon, Hong Kong. I grew up there. My parents both worked full-time and lived a few suburbs away. Every weekend my mum would drop by and whisk me and my sister away to take us ‘home’. It was always an exciting time for me as we took the MTR subway on our weekly excursions. But I also dreaded it. Waiting at the other end of the trip was the demon lord himself.
My dad was a taciturn and emotionless man. Very early on in my life I knew he wasn’t very fond of children. Sometimes he would stare into space, lost in his own thoughts, and his wide eyes would bulge out a bit. It scared the hell out of me. He was the polar opposite to my mother, a loquacious and passionate woman with a fiery temper to match.
Even though I wasn’t particularly fond of him or his disciplinary methods that were akin to Captain Vontrapp in The Sound of Music, I never hated him. He just felt like a stranger most of the time and I was happy to keep our meetings to weekends.
And then we immigrated to Australia. Just me, my sister and my parents. What I thought was an extended weekend trip with my parents turned out to be a permanent stay. No wonder my grandma was crying so much at the airport.
It took us a few weeks to find a place to live and unpack all our stuff. The night that we moved into our first home in Australia was the first day I was exposed to video games. I was five at the time. My dad set up a Super Nintendo in front of the TV, complete with a hacked unit that mounted into the cartridge slot so we could play games loaded onto floppy discs.
The whole family crowded around the console as he booted up Super Mario World and started gingerly moving Mario across the TV. I was transfixed as I watched Mario jump around, stomping on enemies and collecting coins. The vibrant colours and the electronic music were mesmerising. I had never seen anything like it. I looked over at my dad who was clearly enjoying it a lot as he mashed away at the buttons on the controller.
“Do you and your sister want to play?” he asked, holding the controller out to us.
And that was the first time I played a video game. That was also the time I became less fearful of my dad. Just a little bit. But it was a start.
I found out later that the Super Nintendo was pitched to my mum as more of a baby sitting device. Both my parents continued to work and barely had any free time for us. I spent a lot of my childhood playing through a box full of Super Nintendo games on floppy discs with my sister.
My dad remained a distant figure as I was growing up. I was still scared of him but I also yearned for his approval and acknowledgement.
And then, a breakthrough came, in the form of the fighting game Tekken 3. My sister had received a PlayStation as a birthday gift from a family friend and Tekken 3 came as part of the package.
It was strange at first, sitting next to my dad while we played Tekken 3. I was mostly silent, almost too afraid to breathe in case the noise annoyed him. I glimpsed over briefly and saw his face was expressionless.
That was until his character landed a punch on mine.
“Yeah!” he shouted and he flashed me a ‘Ha! Gotcha!’ smile, but a smile nonetheless.
I thought my dad was possessed. All of a sudden this uptight man was expressive and gesticulating as our characters exchanged blows. Each punch and kick broke down his icy exterior and the wall between us.
I began to let my guard down and taunted him when I won. The trash talking intensified and I wasn’t afraid of the possible repercussions.
My dad and I became hooked on Tekken for a few years and even teamed up to buy a PlayStation 2 so we could play Tekken Tag. During this time, he was more like a friend than the cold stranger I knew in my youth. On his days off, we would sit and play Tekken together and he would ask about my week at school and about my friends. It was the best kind of father-daughter bonding activity I could ask for.
Then my dad developed a bad case of the tennis elbow and using the controller began to hurt. He held back on playing with me as much and we slowly began to drift apart again. I hadn’t realised just how much we had drifted until one day I cracked a joke at him. He got mad.
“How DARE you? I am NOT one of your friends,” he fired back.
The message was loud and clear. He was my father and there will always be a distance between us that cannot be closed. But video games did build a bridge over the void. Even though my father and I are not extremely close these days, he is no longer a stranger. The dark cloud has been lifted.
To me, I did slay the demon lord and all that was left was a mortal man.