It’s time for Ask Kotaku, the weekly feature in which Kotaku-ites deliberate on a single burning question. Then, we ask your take.
This week we Ask Kotaku: Did you have a gaming buddy growing up?
I’m lucky in that I’ve had a lot of close friends I can call up to hop in a game at any time. I’ve got World of Warcraft friends, Overwatch friends, and right now I’m in the middle of a playthrough of Little Hope with my partner. But for as much as I love all of my friends, I’ve only had one “video gaming buddy” who was critical to my development as a proper “gamer,” and that’s my cousin Jason.
My mother is the youngest of five siblings. My cousin Jason is actually the grandson of my mother’s oldest sister. We’re Black though so anyone who is not a direct sibling is your cousin no matter the degree of separation. Jason was born the same year I was, and he has a sister who was born the same year my younger sister, so it always felt like we all were made for each other — my sister and his sister and Jason and me. I loved him, even when he got on my nerves.
He was an overbearing boy who insisted on being “Player 1” but I never minded being relegated to the inferior position of “Player 2” because it still meant I had someone to play with. My mother didn’t like video games, and my sister (at least at that time) definitely didn’t, so Jason was the only one with whom I could share my burgeoning love of video games. We played Street Fighter II together and traded the Sega Genesis controller to see who could get the furthest in Sonic 3 & Knuckles and Ms. Pac-Man. We fought each other in Mortal Kombat and raced each other in Sonic the Hedgehog 2. The only reason I owned (and still own) Dragon Ball Z: Budokai on the PS2 was so we could play a game based on his favourite anime show together.
I love my cousin Jason and I miss him terribly. He passed away when I was 16 and I was so devastated I stopped speaking for a few days. He would be absolutely chuffed to see me now, and would take all the credit for it. He’d be right.
I was never much of a friends kid. My imagination is an awesome place I was taught to retreat to at an early age (thanks, dad), so I spent a lot of my time as a smaller child in my room trying not to get in trouble. The few times I attempted to get into friend stuff I always got smacked down. There was the eighth birthday party no one came to, though that was my fault — I forgot to give out the invitations. My bike got stolen by a friend. One of my first girlfriends left me because a “friend” told her I loved G.I. Joe more than her, which was true but none of their business. It’s sort of a trend for me.
I did not have a video game pal. Video games were my pals. I played Berzerk on the Atari 2600 alone in my bedroom on a black-and-white television until the web between my thumb and forefinger was raw. When the NES and Super NES came along I discovered fantasy role-playing games, which promised hours of me and no one else time.
This is turning out kind of sad, isn’t it? Thanks a lot, Ask Kotaku, you made my inner adorable child cry.
I totally had a gaming buddy growing up. She was built into my family, even, because she was my sister.
My sister is just a few years younger than me, but we didn’t always get along all that well. But as a younger sister, she typically wanted to do what I was doing, which meant playing video games. Of course, our rivalry often carried over into the digital world.
Some of the most heated gaming moments I’ve had came while playing Mario Kart or Mario Party with my sister. We were cutthroat. The winner would gloat. It got nasty. Later in our lives, we learned to cooperate in games like Rock Band and Borderlands, but as kids, we were definitely little shits to each other.
My sister and I are adults now, and as such have little time to game together anymore. But during our annual visit on Thanksgiving and Christmas, we’ll always set aside some time to talk trash in Super Smash Bros.
I met Ashley all the way back in preschool, and we were best friends from the start. Our mums hit it off, too, and we were always hanging out at each others’ houses for playdates and sleepovers. (I liked her place best, because her mum would make delicious “smörgåsbord” lunches consisting of cute little slices of grilled cheese, pizza, etc.) We were inseparable. In first grade my mum moved me away to a Catholic school but our friendship endured.
I don’t remember who got the video game bug first but once NES hit we were off to the races. She was the one person I’d always be either playing or talking about games with, whether in person or on the telephone. (Hilariously, I now live in fear of phone calls.) We came up with countless inside jokes and memes that would make absolutely no sense to another living soul (except perhaps her brother). So I won’t be mentioning any here, except that for some reason (I know the reason) we called the pink demons in Doom FPs (“eff-pees”). You’re welcome.
Our close friendship persisted all the way through college. We gradually drifted apart in adulthood, as our interests finally diverged in bigger ways (would you believe she didn’t care for David Bowie?) and moved to different parts of the country. But the rare times we’d get together back home, usually over some holiday, we’d pick things up like we hadn’t missed a beat. The old, warm memories lived on.
And they still do today, for me, even though Ashley unexpectedly passed away in 2018. It was a huge blow for both of our families, and I often find myself thinking, “I wonder what Ashley would think of this new thing?” or “Wow, she’d have loved this.” My friend’s gone, and now there’s a hole in my world where she used to be. Ought to be. I have a few regrets about not making better use of our time, but I’m grateful for the time we had…much of it with controllers in hand.
I had a few. There was my older brother who I mostly watched play stuff except when co-op was an option (I still remember waiting for him to come home from school so we could get back to smashing Buzz Bees in Gaia’s Navel in Secret of Mana). There was also my younger brother, who was always up to play me in Smash Bros. or Dragon Ball Z: Budokai. Even once I was in college we’d still throw down in Tenkaichi 3 when I was home on break, though by then he was beating my arse in any and every competitive multiplayer game we owned.
Then there were my two cousins and their next-door neighbour. I’d spend weekends at their place (which was actually our grandparents’ place, and is now my place — life is weird) playing video games, watching anime, and trading Pogs, Pokémon cards, and eventually Magic: The Gathering cards. Sometimes we played co-op or multiplayer games — there were more than a few rounds of Mario Party that threatened to end friendships — but mostly we just enjoyed enjoying games around each other. Someone would be reading a Game Informer, someone else on a Game Boy, another playing some long-arse PS1 or PS2 JRPG, and a fourth on the strategy guide to explain everything the game’s English language localizers had forgotten to.
Later in high school I fell in with another group with a similar dynamic. At one point one of them moved to a big townhouse where the basement was finished and was his dedicated game room (he was an only child). There were multiple TVs, computers, laptops, and consoles in there, tucked in-between a mishmash of folding tables, futons, and beanbags. A half-finished custom DDR mat leaned against one of the walls. There were more than a few nights where everyone was talking but no one was facing anyone else, each of us buried instead in a different screen, a different game, a different world. To an outsider it might have seemed antisocial, a worrying symptom of some deeper alienation. It was not.
How About You?
Kotaku’s weighed in, but what’s your story? Did you share your early love of games with someone else, or did you tend to fly solo in your pursuit of power-ups? Share down below, and we’ll be back next week to deliberate and debate on another nerdy issue. See you in the comments!