Remembering My Dad Through Video Games

Over the last few weeks, I've been receiving emails with a particular tone. Father's Day is coming. Is there a gift guide? What's on offer for Dad. What would Dad want this year? What's he missing out on?

Every time one of those emails arrive, I think of the same thing. I nearly lost my father a few years ago to cardiac arrest. I think of it every Father's Day rolls around, and because brains will always link one thing to the next, I inevtiably think about some of the fonder memories he and I have shared.

Gaming has a special place because it was the space where Dad tried to connect with me. It was unnatural terrtiory even though he was a programmer by trade, although his main role, one that sent him away from family for six months of the year, was on the seas as an engineer.

But when he did return, we'd often share a room together, either with or alongside my brother. That's where the computers were, where the video games could be found, and naturally, us too.

Virtua Pool

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.

Project CARS

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.

F117-A Nighthawk Stealth Fighter

My first introduction to video games came from the fine folks at Microprose. It was Released as F-19 Stealth Fighter on various platforms from 1988, the version my family had access to was on an old-school 286, the sequel F-117A Stealth Fighter 2.0.

The computer was set up on the kitchen table and plugged in was a cute, two-button Gravis joystick that's still in my family's computer room today. "Hey Alex, come and give this a try," my mother said, while my older brother and father watched on.

Obviously, it was a bit of a setup. There's a reason why small children aren't supposed to operate heavy machinery, particularly in the form of virtual stealth bombers. But can you blame a family for wanting to watch their youngest spawn take off and hover in the air for a few seconds before nosediving into the runway? Not really.

StarCraft

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.


There was some rancour this weekend with the Melbourne Esports Open. Apparently, the venue booking meant that the semi-final for the national netball championships had to be played at a smaller venue, minimising the size of the potential crowd. But the bit that cropped across my social feed was the distaste from fans — and both teams — that a sports final was being displaced for video games.

The incevtive was pretty clear: It's all fake. Video games aren't real. They don't matter. And in a very specific, very literal context, there might be a nugget of truth there.

But the memories from video games are certainly real. And they certainly matter to me, these ones most of all.

This story has been rewritten and updated to commerorate Father's Day.


Comments

    I'm really sorry to hear that Alex. However this article is heart warming. Love your work, and this is up there. Wish you and your family the best

    All the best to you and yours, bud. Great article. :)

    Edit: I, too, have a crippling fear of driving. Nice to see I'm not alone.

    Last edited 05/11/15 6:26 pm

      I can't stand driving, 3 years on my Ls and I freak out for every hour I'm behind the wheel so much that I can't do it again for a week at least. I don't expect I'll ever drive regularly but I'm still trying to get my license purely because no-one likes a the drummer without their own transport.

      On the article; I really hope you're Dad will get better, nice article, it seems a really nice way to write about him and your memories of him.

      I think this fear is a sensible attitude. Though I drive when I have to, I never lost the fear. I think (and my wife agrees) that it makes me a good, safe driver.

    I sure hope your dad pulls through, mate.

    The best gaming memory I have with my dad was one night in the mid 90s. We had two PCs hooked up via LAN cable in the study and would regularly play rounds of Doom deathmatch. One night my parents had some friends over and they were all out in the loungeroom drinking and catching up. Around 11pm or so my dad came in to the study, quite drunk, claiming he wanted to play Doom, and was going to wipe the floor with me. Well, he managed to last all of about a minute and a half before the first-person camera sway started making him feel nauseous. He then got up and walked out.

    It's an amusing little story that I still love reminding him of 20 years later.

    Great article Mr Walker. It's funny to read the different games shared. For me it would be Popeye, Helmet, Octopus and Parachute on Game & Watch and stuff like Taxman (PacMan) and Alien Rain on the Apple IIe

    my dad plays chess titans on win vista and now 7...1 game everyday

    he will play any driving game and GTA although I just got a graphics card working on PC and he cant use keyboard controls, he is used to playstation or n64 controller, driver, goldeneye ect.

    he thinks gran turismo is his favourite game

    he used to take me to timezone as a kid when he got divorced from mum, I still remember those days fondly

    My old man just 2 months ago conceded defeat in a 12 year war with cancer, a lot of this article has rung true for me as well. Though not Starcraft, I never got into that.

    My old man was a licenced surveyor, as such he always had the latest computer gear at home for me to play with, my first experience with games was when he brought home a copy of Digger. Not long after that I'd got hold of a copy of Kings Quest (1) which he sat down with and helped figure out some of the puzzles. One game he did play was called Elevator (screenie: http://www.bunnzy.org/wp-content/uploads/2007/01/elevator2.gif ). One day, for a laugh, I modified the high-score table and gave myself 999999 points, suffice to say he was not impressed and despite my restoring the table to how it was, he didn't play it again.

    Several years pass, he came home from work to my brother and I playing Double Dragon, to which he didn't take kindly to what my brother and I were saying. Something like "Throw that guy off the cliff, he dies quicker" and "Bash that chick before she whips you", not the sort of thing you'd expect a 10 and 8 year old to say, so he took the disk away and said we weren't to play the game until we turned 18. Looking back, was probably fair, and sure enough 18th birthday he presented me with a 5.25" disk containing a pirate copy of Double Dragon.

    He never got into gaming, despite my attempts. He was a big fan of the Formula 1, and enjoyed sitting down with him to F1 2013 and more recently Forza Motorsport. He never played but loved to sit and watch and was blown away at how far games had come in such a short time.

    I miss you dad.

      Kings Quest 1. My dad helped me with Kings Quest 1 too. Sweet Story.

    There definitely are gaming memories we form with our parents in our youth. The only really pleasant one I have is bouts of Bloody Roar on the PS1. My dad has never been much for games or hand-eye co-ordination, but a single button press that transformed his character into a great beast was up his alley.

    Good luck with your dad Alex.

    The only game I ever played with my dad was a racing game on Nintendo. I think it was named after Nigel Mansell. He seemed to really get into it for a while so I thought it was something the two of us could enjoy. Boy was I wrong! The only other game he ever played was Singstar over Christmas when everyone had a few drinks and I always had to set up the next song for him.

    Funny how articles like this can make you think. I won't prattle on too much, but my best video game memory with my dad is playing GoldenEye on the N64. He'd always play as Borris and yell, "Run, Borris, run!" as I'd chase him down and shoot him.

    Hope things turn out alright for you and your family.

    Good luck to your dad, Alex ! I remember my dad being obsessed with Starcraft, Rise of Nation, AoE, almost all C&C's etc. He is now playing Empire Earth (don't know which one), thou not so often as when I was a kid.

    I'm so sorry :(

    My dad is the nerd who loves new electronic toys, but my mum is the one who always pwn'd us at games when we were kids. Racing and shooting are her forte <3

    Really sorry to hear that Alex :o(
    I personally don't have any memories of my dad at all, he passed away not long after I was born.
    This is something I have always sworn to make up for when my wife and I finally have a little one of our own

    Genuinely sorry for you Alex, and a great article.

    Don't really know my dad, but mum. She bought me my first console, and helped fund several others. Didn't play much, but when she did, oh boy. The results were fantastic.

    Like, opening cupboards in Zombies Ate My Neighbours with a bazooka, fantastic :-P

    I hope your dad gets well again soon Alex. It's always unsettling to consider our own mortality, or that of those we are close to. One 'benefit' is that it makes us reflect on our relationships and gives us a desire to strengthen them in the time we have together. I hope you and your dad will be able to share some more experiences, either with or without games, that will make lasting memories for you.

    Sorry to hear that Alex, my father passed away last year from cancer.

    He wasn't much of a gamer to be honest, but I do have memories playing some sports games with him, and when I first got my Atari Lynx he used to play that too.

    Most importantly though he used to own an old tabletop electronic game called Astro Wars (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Astro_Wars) which was one of my very first exposures to electronic games. That game, along with our Intellivision system we got a couple of years later, started my passion for video games.

    Last edited 06/11/15 9:25 am

    I am so sorry Alex. I hope everything works out for the best.

    My biggest fear has and always will be losing my Dad and ive been in tears from about the second line of this article.

    My Dad has never been much of a gamer. but oh boy! when we got out first computer in the house in the very early 90's I have so many memories of sitting on his lap or next to him while we played Commander Keen or Doom together.

    and When we got the Original Playstation (97ish?) he didn't know much about it and didn't get a memory card and I can remember playing Medievil with him until the early hours of the morning trying to get as far as we could together because we couldn't save the game ;)

    I don't know what i would do without my dad. He is my role model and my best friend and the thought of losing him scares the absolute shit out of me.

    I really do hope everything works out for you mate.

    Fantastic article. Just perfect.

    My dad passed away several years ago now, but I'll always credit him for introducing me to video games. It started with games like Little Brick Out on the Apple //e, and I remember playing through several sessions of Goldfields on that computer as well. I always needed his help to get through Muirs Gulley, as I was petrified by the flash flooding!

    Then came Sega Mega Drive, and it was all good times from there.

    That is sad news Alex, my heart goes out to you and your family.

    My dad has never really played games with me but has always been supportive of me doing so. I remember when I was younger that he was the one who usually bought them for me (much to the ire of my Mum at the time). He also reads the newspaper every day and often asks me if I have played this game or that because he has seen articles on them.

    Thank you so much for sharing some of your happier times with him with us, I feel privileged that you have done so in what has to be such a difficult time. Take care.

    So beautifully written, this has been on my mind all day.

    A couple of months ago, my Dad decided to surprise his two adult kids with a copy of Destiny for PS4 (NOTE: this is a huge deal, he hates shopping centres; his sense of direction is awful).

    We let him play the first level; he verrrrrrrry slowly made his way through each turn of The Breach, killing groups of the Fallen. After killing a group of the Fallen, he would walk all the way down a corridor to a new section of enemies and back the other way again to the areas he had already cleared. He had to shoot every.single.enemy THREE TIMES "to make sure they're dead and don't come back to life and attack us again".

    The whole first level/mission took 1.5 hours. We haven't been able to touch the game since.

    Other than that, though, he's a fairly good gamer. He's great with Liu Kang in any and every version of MK, he's unbeatable as the ghost in Luigi's Ghost Mansion in Nintendo Land oh and POKEMON STADIUM! We've been doing 2v2 battles (Mum + Dad vs me + sister) every now and then and for many, many years, Mum + Dad would win by a crazy margin; Dad would K.O like half of our team with Gyarados.

    You can't imagine the amount of FB bragging we did when we FINALLY beat them for the first time earlier this year!

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