Even in the earliest memories I have with my father, we played games together. In the
summer after I got my first baseball glove we'd play catch, just the two of us, in the park
across the street. When I got tired, sometimes we'd watch the Little League games taking
place down the hill.
When a batter swung but I didn't hear it until a moment later, he explained that light
traveled faster than sound. Those were the kind of lessons my father taught: things I
wasn't supposed to have known until much later, with lots of equations to back them up.
And yet it was obvious. Of course light has a speed and so does sound. Didn't you see the
bat just swing without making a sound?
When the world turned colder, we played Atari together.
This was the best controller I used for more than ten years, and it was also my first. My
father replaced the stock Atari 2600 joysticks with these, thank God. Where the stock
controllers were mushy, these things were solid. You could hit diagonals reliably and mash
on the buttons all you wanted. It would accept whatever force you wanted to apply.
It was also dead simple. There's a joystick and a button. If you wanted to pretend you were
flying a plane, you could switch it to use the button atop the joystick, but the big button on
its base had more feel to it anyway.
This joystick was how I learned to play video games, and how I learned to love playing
them with my dad.
We played all kinds of games, though I remember loving most of the Activision ones we
had like Pitfall!
, Grand Prix
, and Skiing
. The two games I remember most
are Ice Hockey
and Frogs and Flies
. Ice Hockey
was beautifully simple, two
men a side, and it gave you a surprising level of control over the angle of your shots.
Frogs and Flies
, now that I think about it, was the same way. You controlled a frog
leaping through the air at different angles, trying to snatch flies from the air, splashing into
the pond when you misjudged a jump.
There was a score to both these games, but it never mattered too much. It was the joy of
the game that kept us playing together.
My parents bought me a NES when I was in fourth grade but my father never played it with
me. If I pressed him about it, he said simply: there were too many buttons. What? It's only
one more than before, I thought. But somehow a line had been crossed, and as I moved
through a Sega Genesis, a Playstation, and then a PS2, my father remained distantly polite
on the subject of video games.
But one of the saving graces of the world is that if you're patient enough, every closed door
can be re-opened.
I don't think my father can reliably tell you where the 1 button is on a Wiimote, and I know
for sure that he has no clue that there's a C button on the nunchuk. But that doesn't stop
him from challenging me to games of Wii Sports
golf or Wii Play
when I visit.
Sure, these are simple games. I admit I still find the babby jokes funny. But these games
are also tremendously fun, especially with my dad. It's a sight to behold, how he analyzes
each shot in Boom Blox
while my mother kibitzes from across the room.
I think we fall in love for simple reasons, because things work without us understanding
why. Video games really aren't any different.