What impact did my parents have on my appreciation of video games?
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Their acceptance of my obsessions allowed my relationship with video games to flourish, and I'm beginning to realise that this sense of tolerance is one of the most important things they tried to instill in me. More and more so, as I get older.
It's difficult to describe who my parents are, in terms of modern social-media yardsticks. Both of them grew up in a small Welsh valley during the middle of the previous century, where your trajectory in life was heavily predetermined: You left school at 16, landed a blue-collar job, found a prospective marriage partner with an eye to reaping some kids and a mortgage by your mid-twenties, (early-thirties at the latest, or else risk becoming an outcast, of sorts). And that was that. Few high-level professional qualifications. A life lived almost entirely locally, with negligible concern for much beyond that. My mother was a housewife, and my father a fire deputy for the coal mines.
Family life was pretty stable, until the late 80s, when a swathe of the UK's domestic-industrial production was ended. This meant my father had to scrabble around just to find basic work; we were evicted from our home, and had to move in with my widowed grandfather, six of us cooped in a small terraced house, and with little income to speak of. It compounded the sense of upheaval that accompanied becoming a teenager. Was a tricky time.
While this phase of upbringing was poor, but far from deprived. I had access to an education, a library, and a slightly-mad quizshow-obsessed grandmother who would give me all kinds of books that she'd found, and then walk with me through the countryside while naming every tree, flower, bird and insect. And: I had parents who were supremely tolerant of my undulating obsessions.
I was an introverted kid with a natural appetite for abstraction, that was catalysed by the awkward living situation we were in. And so I found great sustenance and restitution in fiction, initially movies and books. This grew into a fascination with video games, as expressed through the various groups of friends I would have across my teenage years.
And the way that my parents regarded video games was a lesson in acceptance and affordance that I'm still trying to get my head around, frankly. I was this overweight, self-absorbed little idiot barrelling about the place, switching from nerdism to nerdism on a whim, never stopping to appreciate the effort that my parents placed into nurturing those whims. When I settled on video games, they did everything within their limited means to support a hobby that was unfurling into something much more, arguably forming the basis for the 20 years I've now spent working in the games industry. They never once blamed video games for, well, anything. Not a single tut of disapproval, although they could've disapproved plenty - much to my frustration - as video games were regularly scapegoated in the press as the latest harbinger of society's cyclical ills.
There are plenty of stories I could tell you about the sacrifices they made, but I'll spare most of the detail. For example, there was one Christmas in the early 90s where - somehow - they'd managed to get me a Mega CD (that doomed, bulky hardware extension for the Sega Megadrive/Genesis), which completely blew my mind at the time. The Mega CD game library was limited, and patchy to boot, but it still felt like goddamn magic, as if new universes were falling from the sky like glittering raindrops.
Ahhh, the Mega CD (aka Sega CD). A pricey platform that achieved little, unless you *really* wanted one, and your parents somehow scraped to buy you one, and, if you squinted just right, it offered a certain taste of console gaming's near future (image via wikiwand.com)
Am I romanticising these matters? Totally. But I don't think that I'm doing so from an illegitimate basis. Their support was real, and relatively staggering, given the limitations of our situation. But there's a counterpoint to be made: if video games were to have a negative effect on me, would they have known when to step in? I don't know. I think they would have, but perhaps a little later than would be considered healthy in such scenarios. But in retrospect, I don't think video games were having any great negative effect on me at that time, compared to other, more fundamental circumstances. In terms of the stance that my parents fought to hold, I was on the receiving end of the lesser of two evils.
We now live in a world whose social-connectivity toolset is able to facilitate near-infinite bickering. Where labyrinths of false-opposition can be manufactured with ease, and any speck of truth can be spun so violently as to generate stupefying braids of nonsense that may require whole lifetimes to counteract. These are hyperbolic times, of perpetual crisis and righteous busywork, and the juddering of this hyperbole affects video games, as much as it does any other landscapes that define our lives. I'm sure many of you are familiar with the various fractious clogs and molten tangles that have become an increasingly visible part of the culture of discussion surrounding video games in recent years. The need for patience, reason, and co-responsibility has never been higher.
As kids, we create imaginary friends. But as grown-ups, we tend to create imaginary enemies. Avoiding falling into this latter trap, is exactly what my parents imparted, via their acceptance of my strange, noisy, expensive, alien obsession. It's one of those thoughts which kinda breaks my heart, but also kinda holds it together, y'know? Makes it easier for me to uphold the realisation that someone's genuine enjoyment is worth more than my practised disgruntlement, certainly when it comes to how we play games.
I've written a huge amount about video games over the years, both professionally and personally. Thinking back, some of it will have come across as needlessly aggressive, but that was never my intention - it was simply that I had so much to say, my words will have had been blundering, regardless. As I get older, the thought of pushing to do justice to self-expression without imposing on other people - perhaps even encouraging them in the process - remains a tricky goal, but one that feels increasingly worthwhile.
If I succeed any in that effort, it is something that will have began with my parents, and what they allowed in me, through video games.
Thanks, mam and dad.