Friday, May 3, 2013

Family Fun Time

got this image right off the Nintendo website
Growing up with my Family, I was the undisputed #1 fan of video games.  I'm not sure when this was clear, but I do recall working hard to prove this point, even if no one particularly wanted to compete with me for the title.  I just knew that video games were for me.  When my family bought a new TV, I insisted that the old TG&Y piece of crap TV go into my room.  And even though I had to use a pair of pliers to turn it off and on, I was a rich child- I had what I wanted.  

I moved one game system, and eventually all game systems into my room, whereupon I held dominion over them.  I don't remember asking permission, I simply remember exercising Manifest Destiny over our family's NES and SNES.  After all, hadn't it been *I* who had badgered my parents, non-stop, for what seemed like years-- to buy a Super Nintendo?  And wasn't it me who saved up his own money to buy a Nintendo 64 the day it came out?  I deserved those systems, and that was all there was to it.  My younger sister Samz may have protested. After all, she played the most video games after me, and was a stalwart co-op game ally.  But I was insistent in my role as #1 game player of the household. 

It wasn't always this way.  There was a period when video games were for the whole family.  I can't quite place it, but it was a time before the Super Nintendo, but after the Original Nintendo.  My parents tended to drag their feet about buying me new toys, they didn't seem to understand that Nintendo was the greatest thing there was, and really, the best use of their money, as far as I was concerned.  Our Atari 2600 carried us through the first couple of years after NES was released, and we finally got a Nintendo with the Super Mario/Duck Hunt cart.   I can barely remember when this happened, but I know my age was still in single digits.

Anyhow, during the time before I  took over all matters of video gaming in our house, there was a golden period of the original Nintendo Entertainment System, where we all would play games, sometimes together, as a family.   Except my Mom - my Mom never got into any games at all, and I have a fuzzy memory of her holding a controller with a dumbfounded and annoyed look, like it was something the cat dragged in:  "What am I supposed to do with this thing?"    

My Dad would definitely do the funny move-the-controller-to-make-the-car-turn action that everyone does at some point when they're new to video games.  Action games weren't really his thing.  He and my older sister Emz both showed a preference for RPG and Adventure games.   Dad and Emz didn't play many games but they did play a few pretty seriously.  And when they got involved, then it was on!   

I have to tell you, having my Dad play video games with us was probably the coolest thing in all of gaming.  I had all the enthusiasm for gaming, I wanted to play NES more than anyone, and I dedicated the most time.  But I think fondly of the group effort that resulted whenever my Dad got involved.   I experienced that wonderful balance that many of us know- between playing the game, and watching others play it, and feeling involved all the time.  I miss that.

My Dad brought in other elements of his own.  The one that stands out most in my mind was mapping.  He broke out graph paper and a ruler, and proceeded to map every dungeon in Zelda II,  and also every dungeon in Ultima Exodus.  This allowed those of us who weren't playing to participate in a significant way.  And since I was pretty young at the time, it helped me to work on the new skill of cartography (after a fashion). 

Below, I'm going to say a little bit about the games that stand out to me as Family Games.  
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Zelda II: The Adventure of Link
Zelda II is the first game that I remember my Dad getting into.  He always referred to it as 'Link.'  In Zelda II, mapping wasn't strictly necessary - the dungeons aren't all that maze-like.  But we would faithfully consult our maps before moving forward.  It was super-useful for Death Mountain and the final Palace, which have the most challenging action in the game and also is a tough maze.  Any amount of superfluous mapping in other parts of the game was made up for with those portions. 

I have a very distinct memory of the first night we had this game, we all worked hard on the first region, and were having trouble with the cave that leads to the second region.  I fell asleep before we made it though, and  I remember my dad recounting their progress the next day.  There were bats in the cave, and this I knew, they were tough and annoying, but he told me that just before the exit, 'there was a bat that turns into a dragon.' I still remember the Smaug-like giant red dragon I imagined, and I was so annoyed that I missed it!  

Ultima III: Exodus
With Ultima: Exodus, mapping was essential.  The dungeons are all maze-like,  and have very little graphical detail to help you orient yourself.  Without mapping, we never would have made it anywhere in that game.  It also allowed us to leave something behind for others to use, since we didn't all crowd around the TV every time.

Ultima: Exodus stands as the second game that we played as a family.  I think all four of us played this game pretty extensively.  We never beat it, but we worked together to grind our way through this tough game.  I distinctly remember walking into the mysterious and rumored land of Ambrosia for the first time and my Dad reading the dialogue with satisfaction.  

Tetris stands out as a game we rented for 1 night, and the next day, one of my parents went to return it, and came back with a newly purchased copy for the house.  That was unprecedented. And awesome.  That's just the kind of game tetris is.

The NES version of Tetris will always be for me the basic, original version, before all others.  Even if it isn't.  

Final Fantasy
Final Fantasy hooked Emz and Dad, And of course, you know I was involved.  But we had a different approach than with Tetris.  We rented and re-rented it for ten nights straight and beat it.  We decided it was too easy a game and not worth a purchase (though I think we probably paid half the cost of the game to rent it for that long). 

Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar
Avatar was the first and only game that we as a family, sat in anticipation for release.  Another Ultima! -we were very excited.  Despite our anticipation, Avatar didn't take hold like Exodus did, I'm not sure why.  It could be that we had a harder time gathering to play together.  Maybe I was distracted by other games.  Maybe it was just the difficulty of playing a game without a clear objective.  Maybe we were just getting older and our interests were wandering. Emz stayed on for a while,  I'm pretty sure she got further into Avatar than anyone.

There were a few random games in the following years that Emz would play, but Ultima IV was pretty much the swan song for Family Fun Time.  Years later, my dad would get into Diablo II, hardcore.  But by then we were all living in different places, and weren't the same Family we were years before.  It was a great time while it lasted.  


  1. I remember you Dad talking about Final Fantasy and that he felt the instruction book gave too much of the story away.

    I also (vaguely) remember either you or your Dad getting upset/irritated when I collected one of the 1-up dolls in "The Adventure of Link" and so I reset the game without saving.

    I recall buying Ultima: Exodus because of how much fun it was creating parties from playing it at your house. All the years I had it I never got very far it in, mostly likely because I didn't make any maps, which is odd because I made maps for all sorts of things around that age.

    *AND* There were countless nights when our families were together and we switched off playing various games on your Atari 2600. "Space Invaders," "Demon Attack" (had to look that one up) and "Pitfall." Fun times.

  2. I'm glad you remembered Demon Attack! I had to look that one up myself once. It was such a distinctive Space Invader clone. Tough game, but neat.

    Sorry about the backseat playing of Zelda II :P I can imagine it, even if I don't have the exact memory. But the 1-up dolls are only good once! You need to save it for a special occasion.

    Making parties in Exodus is a blast. I am in agreement. Basic roleplaying: Make party, kill baddies, buy stuff. Wee!