I was three. Just turned three, in fact. Late December, 1985.
I was spending Christmas with my family at my Aunt and Uncle's house.
My Mom was pregnant with my baby sister, and I was a criminally-precocious kid who had rocketed out of toddler status and had become a being made of very strong curiosities. I liked electronics. I loved my Dad's Atari 2600, we would play River Raid
, and loads of other fun stuff. I remember the smell of the controllers, the feel of the plastic. But it was just a toy to me. Video games were loud, blinky things you found in dark corners of skating rinks and bowling alleys. They weren't something you seriously played at home, because the games you played at home just weren't as colorful, as musical, or as much fun.
But this was Christmas, late December, 1985. And shit just got real.
My Aunt and Uncle never had children, so their enjoyment of children stemmed from being the cool Aunt and Uncle that never grew up. My Aunt Vicky, especially. She was the kind of lady who would let kids eat Oreos for breakfast (true story - the best days were Friday mornings). She was the kind of lady who would take off from work to take my sister and I on bike rides and beach trips. She was the kind of lady who would read trashy romance novels and watch classic cartoons every morning. She was the ultimate big kid.
She showed me their new Nintendo Entertainment System. I played Super Mario Bros.
and Duck Hunt
for hours that week. Hours. We all got into it, really. But as everyone else's interest began to wane into boredom, two people were still having a blast: my Aunt Vicky and I. And it was the start of something very profound for me.
Fast forward about six months. My sister was a scant three months old, and it was the summer of 1986. I was soon to be four, and was spending a hot June right on the Gulf of Mexico (I'm a Floridian) with my Aunt and Uncle. We did the normal summer stuff, the beach, baseball games, etc. - but while my Uncle was at work, my Aunt and I would play Nintendo games. My Uncle Davis had bought a magical golden game, something called "Zelda
." I saw him playing it at night, saw the maps he had carefully and meticulously drawn on graph paper, and how he would reference them when looking for hidden objects and other things. I knew I wanted to play it, too, and my Aunt let me use my Uncle's save file. I played around with all of his equipment he had found, wandering the magical lands that lay before me until I had my ass kicked by a bunch of things popping out of the water (I would later find their name to be Zora). I was dropped out of the game and back to the main screen, where I decided I would forge my own path rather than walk a trail blazed by another.
I erased his save file to start my own. It was a mistake I would never make twice, as I was barred from ever playing someone else's save ever again. This taught me a new sort of self-reliance, though - my progress was forever my own from that day forward, and every game had a save file reserved for my use. We went through adventures on our own, but compared notes almost constantly.
Soon, we were playing Ultima
. Final Fantasy
. The Guardian Legend
. The Magic Of Scherezade
. Zelda II
. Tombs & Treasure
. Kickle Cubicle
. Legendary Wings
. Dragon Warrior
. Nobody else seemed to share my love of Megaman
games, but then again, I didn't seem to grasp the charm behind my Uncle's love affair with Solomon's Key
, either. All of these games had saves or passwords devoted to my progress, and when I was there, I played. God, did I play. I didn't have an NES of my own, so I had to make do with what meager time I had.
But seriously, fuck Solomon's Key
Until 1992, that is. I got her collection as a surprise present, and she moved on to the Super Nintendo, while I burned through all the games I possibly could. All the things I never had time to finish. All the things I never had the chance to play. New games that I would get for myself. It was the ultimate in wish fulfillment. A year later, I had a SNES, and we would trade games back and forth. We played the Final Fantasy
games together. We played my Uncle's shmup collection (Darius
, etc.). Wario's Woods
. Tetris Vs. Dr. Mario
. I played Chrono Trigger
with her, beat it with her, and went on a mad quest to find all the hidden endings (we succeeded). It was amazing times, and it kept going until my 14th birthday in 1996.
She got a Nintendo 64, and when I stayed at her house for my family to celebrate my birthday, we spent all weekend - and I mean all weekend - playing Super Mario 64
. I had a blast, and when it was time to go, she told me that I could play that system whenever I wanted to, because I had to pack up the N64 before I left. Her new N64 was my new N64, that my family had purchased for my birthday. She didn't follow me, though - she followed Square, and thus, she picked up a PlayStation for herself. I wouldn't catch back up with her until 2000, when I bought a PS2 at launch.
But by this time, my Aunt Vicky, the person who proudly 100%'d Final Fantasy 7
, was fighting a much, much tougher battle. And she wasn't winning. She had already lost much of her insides to ovarian cancer, and while she was fighting it like a champ, it was a story where we all knew the ending. She started to play less and less, and as I was 18 and owned no less than seven different consoles, I started to get more games from her to finish what I never could play before. I played all the good stuff she had, and asked her for her advice and guidance through unfamiliar places. I played Wild Arms
, Final Fantasy 7 / 8 / 9
, Chrono Cross
, all the Ace Combat
series (my Uncle's passion - he was a pilot in the Navy), all of her vast collection of JRPGs were mine to experience. And I shared that experience with her.
Fun fact: I cannot listen to the overworld music of FF7
without tears. It reminds me of my aunt and I playing it together when shit got really rough.
She saw me get married in June of 2007. I had never seen her happier. Ever.
She was gone that September.
She left me her entire collection. Everything I didn't already have, she had given to me. Every NES, SNES, PlayStation 1 & 2 game she owned, it was to be given to me. I was the only steward capable of realizing the magnitude of the treasure trove that had been bequeathed, the only one who knew the tales of all of those worlds we had conquered together.
She also left a desire to never truly grow up, to never forget what it was like being three years old on shag carpet in the mid-eighties, clutching an alien piece of plastic with buttons that made the sword throw light at the things that scared you. She instilled a sense of learning from my mistakes by doing things myself, the hard way being the only way. My daughter has a piece of her middle name, "Lynn," as part of her own. I tell her stories about her Aunt Vicky all the time, and as my daughter gets older, I'll be taking her on a lot of those same adventures with me.
To me, it seems right.
And when I wake up on Saturday mornings, and my daughter asks for me to turn on "headband man," I can't help but think that my Aunt is still very much here in some fashion, laughing all the while with me as I put Street Fighter
into my PlayStation, as per adorable toddler request.
If there is an afterlife, I know there's a second controller and a bag of Oreos waiting for me.