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Ashley Davis's blog

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Ashley Davis avatar 11:52 AM on 05.11.2008  (server time)
My Mother, the Gamer.

When I try to think back on when exactly I became interested in video games and what prompted my fascination, many different memories come to mind. There's the old soda shop that I visited every day after school, where I would suck down chocolate malts and try to beat the high score on Galaga. There's all the Nintendo Cereal System I ate, all the crappy video game cartoons I watched regardless of their crappiness, and all the blue hedgehogs I doodled in school, hopping across the sentences on my assignments. There's the Friday afternoons spent browsing the video game section of the local movie rental shop, and all the times I chose to take home games such as Snake Rattle 'n Roll over Mega Man because I thought the cover was prettier (rookie mistake).

But before all that, my first video game related memories, and perhaps the fondest I have are not of myself playing them, but my mother playing them.

It was very strange to think about as a defiant (stupid) teenager, that a parent could, well, be interested in something cool, but as I've grown, the idea no longer seems so far-fetched. I am now roughly the same age as she was when she began playing video games, and at age twenty-two I am as avid a gamer as when I was a youngster, probably even more so. The young Mrs. Davis and I are now one and the same, except I am not living twenty years in the past, nor do I sport a hair-do containing enough hairspray to eat away a good chunk of the ozone layer. Gaming was still in its infancy when mother got pulled into it, and initially, it did not really appeal to her, if only because she had little to no knowledge of what they were like. She probably would have never even bothered with video games, if it were not for a chance happening; life threw a small accident at her that would alter her life forever.

In the years surrounding my birth, my mother was a semi-professional bowler. Nothing big, but she was very talented at the sport, loved it, and spent most of her free time at bowling alleys, brushing up on her game. But as fate would have it, one day she twisted the wrist on her bowling hand and was forced to drop out of the game for good, as her throw would never return to its former glory. Although she could no longer bowl, she could not tear herself away from the alley and continued to visit simply to watch other people play.

Ultimately, she began to get a little bored with just spectating, and likely a little depressed that she no longer could play like she once did. That was when the arcade machines that lined the back wall that she had overlooked so many times before suddenly reeled her in. She curiously put in her first quarter, and never looked back. This is where her obsession began. She did not need a good wrist to do some serious quarter pumping, and she found that she was just as good of a gamer as she was a bowler. It made her happy, and even in my oldest memories, I could sense that.

After a while, she wanted more than what the scant collection of arcade cabinets at the alley had to offer. As home consoles began to really take off, she jumped on every opportunity to bring a new one into the house. I can remember my mother playing rounds of Donkey Kong Jr. and Q*Bert on the first, an Atari 2600, but the memories are very bare-boned because I took no real interest in what was going on, other than the mesmerizing bright colors and the strange noises it emitted. I was probably around two at the time, so it is not surprising that my brain could not yet comprehend the magic taking place. My mother sure could, though. Home consoles fed her fascination with games, and it continued to grow and grow.

Not long after the birth of my younger sister in 1987, we welcomed another new member of the family into our home: the Nintendo Entertainment System. Ironically, I have a more vivid memory of the arrival of the NES than the arrival of the new baby. At first, I still had no interest in the console, besides watching other people play and gnawing on the controller wires (I went through a phase where I chewed on anything I could get my hands on; flip-flops and my older sister's Barbie dolls were my prime targets). But this would soon change.

I think it's safe to say that my mother can look back upon the NES in the same happy, nostalgic way that I can. The late 80s were unpleasant times in the Davis household; divorce and financial problems lay as a heavy burden upon mother's back, who suddenly found herself single, broke, and with three growing girls to feed. I do not know it for certain, but I believe my mother began to use games as a coping mechanism. It is not that far of a stretch, as I too use video games to console (pun intended) myself during hard times and a pick-me-up when I'm feeling a little down. But I remember waking in the middle of the night, after my little sister kicked me out of bed or rolled up all of the covers off of me in her sleep, and seeing a dim glow flickering underneath my door. It happened often enough for me to know right away what it was, and I crept out of the bedroom a few times to peek around the corner to see mom bathed in the light of Tetris at two 'o clock in the morning. I did not quite understand what she was doing up so late, and why she was playing so intensively, but I felt strangely calm as I watched her. I would sit and watch until she finally lumbered off to bed, where I would scurry back to my room before she noticed I was there. I remember these nights so fondly, because mother was in her happy place, and somehow, I could feel it too. To this day, the sound of B-Type playing still puts me in a happy mood, and I am fairly certain that my love of puzzle games stemmed from watching these late night sessions of Tetris and Dr. Mario.

In a scene that may or may not be looked upon as heartwarming in this day and age, a mother taught her young daughter how to correctly point a plastic gun and pull the trigger with the grim intentions to make the rivers run red with blood. Duck blood, but blood all the same. And there it was, like the arcade machines were for my mother, my hook was that glorious orange gun. From that moment on, I began to play more games and started my own life of gaming. My mother kept up with me every step of the way, and never stopped gaming herself. She has recently bought herself a Wii and Super Mario Galaxy, and plans to purchase Mario Kart Wii in the near future so that we can begin to play together again, even though we are more than eight hundred miles apart.

I may look confident, but my mom destroyed me in this game of Wii Sports bowling.

As our generation of gamers grows old and begins to produce offspring, worries abound that they cannot be good parents and still play games, what with all the stranglings with controller cords and babies being named Sephiroth going on. But my mother is living proof that a gamer parent can raise a child, and raise them very well, as long as they have some sense about it. I very well could have been named Ms. Pac Man Davis, but she held back and put parenting before the thing she loved so dearly. However, thankfully, she did not hold back completely; she found the perfect balance between raising children and her video games. And damn if she ain't the most awesome mother in the world for it.

I may not have ever started playing video games had it not been for her, and would not be here writing about all this, because it would have meant nothing to me. But she made it an important point to pass along the activity that brought her so much joy as she raised me and my sisters, in hopes that it would grow to bring joy to us as well. And it has. I can never thank you enough, mom, for that. My greatest hope is that one day, I too can pass on my love of video games, and when my children are grown, they can happily think back to where it all began for them as I can.

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