Growing Up Gamer
My father was responsible for getting me into gaming. I had no concept what a video game even was and then one day out of nowhere he showed up with a Nintendo Entertainment System, Super Mario Bros., and Hogan’s Alley. Within a short time frame, he added Excitebike and Popeye to our collection. It wasn’t Christmas, or my brother or I’s birthday, so I never understood why he and my mother made this purchase.
As I’ve matured, I’ve come to the realization that it may have been for himself. When we first got the system, he played it about as much as we did, but over time, it transferred into the kids’ toy. Those early days, though, he would sit down with us, traversing Bowser’s castles, taking down bad guys with the Zapper, and speeding along dirt-bike courses.
In the fall of 1990, I got a Game Boy. At the time of purchase, I could only afford one additional game; split between Super Mario Land and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Fall of the Foot Clan, I chose the latter. I stand by that choice, but due to the game’s stage select feature, I quickly saw all the game had to offer and grew bored with it. With Christmas months away, it would be a while before I would get another game for the handheld.
Changing the Game
Fortunately, the Game Boy came with one of the greatest pack-in games of all time: Tetris.
As great as the game is, the story of its creation and impact on the world is equally tremendous, and I encourage those who have not watched the Gaming Historians’ excellent video on the game to check it out:
Although most people have some concept of the game, I’ll try to summarize it. One of seven random shapes, known as Tetrominos, fall from the top of the screen. Configure these shapes into a horizontal line, and they will disappear. Clearing four lines at a time is known as a “Tetris”. Once the blocks are stacked to the top of the screen, the game is over.
There is a B style of gameplay that starts with random blocks already filled in on the screen, and the player only has 25 lines to clear them. But I prefer the classic style of Tetris play.
There really is no point to the game other than what the player makes. I was never a high score fiend, but I would keep trying to surpass the number of total lines I could form. Back in the 90s, the cap for this was around 100, but I think I’ve peaked at 130-ish.
Growing up, systems came and went, but the Game Boy was a staple on the random road trips I would endure. A large part of that longevity is due to how great the gameplay of Tetris is. As a child, I would play it so much I would envision falling blocks in my mind as I tried to drift off to sleep. Even today, I find myself pushing for one more game as I frequently sit down to play it in order to kill a few minutes.
More Than a Game
So that’s great and all, but I’m sure most kids from my generation could say the same thing. What makes Tetris special for me, though, is it was the last time my father and I truly bonded over a video game.
When he came home from work, my dad would typically relax by having a drink and a smoke and reading whatever volume of Reader’s Digest Condensed Books he had at the moment. For a brief moment in time, though, he would occasionally swap out the book and play a few rounds of Tetris.
We would have conversations about strategies and how many lines we were able to score. In a random magazine I would have never picked up otherwise, he pointed out an article about Alexey Pajitnov, the man who created the game. The last time I remember my father playing on our original NES was when we borrowed our friend’s copy of the game, just for the novelty of playing it on the big screen.
I’m not sure why he fell out of the routine of playing it, but he eventually did and, outside of a brief foray with a Sega Saturn light-gun game, he never really picked up a video game again.
A Bittersweet Legacy
My father died unexpectedly when I was 19. At first I was mad that I was cheated out of so much time that I could have spent with him, but I think about the times I did have and felt grateful that at least I had that.
Although he brought the NES into my life, the Game Boy is where we truly bonded. He randomly surprised me with Lode Runner and he would tryout Dr. Mario from time-to-time, but nothing grabbed him like Tetris.
Now that I’m a father myself, I’ve tried to pass on my love of gaming to my daughter. She is venturing into the Mario games, but hasn’t quite mastered the functionality of an NES controller. Luckily, modern handhelds have evolved a more intuitive interface, and, recently, I picked her up a copy of a Dora the Explorer Nintendogs rip-off that keeps her amused because she can use the touch interface of the DS and communicate with the game via the microphone. A few nights ago, as she was trying different colored hats on her digital dog and filling his water bowl, I fired up the old Game Boy and sat down with her to share a gaming session.