When I was very small, I remember begging my father, pleading, groveling, for a video game system. Specifically, a Gameboy or an N64. My father, however, strongly believed that video games rotted your brain and had no beneficial effect on children. Even the computer games he got for my sister and I were strictly educational; Jump-Start X Grades, Reader Rabbits, that sort of thing. And we were only allowed a certain amount of time playing these games per day. So the thought of his daughters owning a game system was unthinkable.
The only saving grace my sister and I had was the Eagle’s Nest. There’s a grocery store line around me called Giant Eagle, and they have this really nifty room for kids 3-10 to hang out and play while their parents shop. You can color, watch movies, play in the play-kitchen, build with blocks, and… play video games. At the time we started going to the Eagle’s Nest, there were two N64s, two Playstations, and a computer. Of course, as the video game industry evolved, systems were replaced by others; the Playstations became PS2s, and one of the N64s was replaced by a Gamecube. I spent hours on those machines. It was difficult at first, of course; how the heck was I supposed to look at the screen AND the buttons? And on the N64 controller, where was I supposed to put my hands? Hand-eye coordination was learned, problem solving skills were learned, and cunning was learned; you don’t just play Mario Party against your little sister without learning cunning, and how to “accidentally” screw her over. It just doesn’t happen.
One year, around Christmas time, Toys R Us sent us the big catalog of toys and games, like they did every year. Every year, my sister and I would go through with pens and put our initials next to the things we wanted. But this year, we had a plan. We had waited long enough for our own video games, and dammit, this year we were going to get them. We didn’t touch the Toys R Us catalog, or the KB Toys one, or the Oriental Trading one. There was one thing on our Christmas lists.
“Dear Santa, for Christmas, I would like a Game Boy Advance. Love Senna/Annie.”
We handed them to our mother to be sent out, who looked over it and handed it to our father, who read it several times over before looking at us.
“Girls,” he sighed, “why do you want a Game Boy?” (He made it two deliberate words, the way parents do when they don’t know what they’re talking about. Everyone knew it was supposed to be slurred together like one word. Gameboy.) My sister and I looked at each other. We’d known just saying “because it’s fun” wouldn’t cut it. We pulled out the list of reasons why we wanted one and began reading it off.
“We’ve played Rachel’s and it’s really fun. A lot of other kids play them, and even play together with games like Pokemon, and we feel very left out.” We rattled off many things, mostly bandwagon and pity reasons, but finally came to our coup de grâce; “it would give us something to do on the way to Delaware.”
Almost our entire family lived in Delaware; aunts, uncles, cousins, grand parents, great-grand parents, great-aunts, great-uncles, and all our family friends we called aunt or uncle. We never, ever took a plane. We drove. We drove six agonizing hours in mini van, trying to agree on who got what CD or tape we were going to listen to, who was going to read what book or color in which coloring book or use what set of window clings for their side of the car. For a kid, five minutes is a long time to wait when you can move about freely and distract yourself with other things. Six hours in an enclosed space, sitting still, fighting off vague car sickness, was agonizingly painful. And like any children, we made sure our parents knew it. After an hour or so, the air was punctuated with “I’m bored,” and “Are we there yet?” and “Can we listen to a different CD?” “No, this is my favorite one!” “But I’m tired of it!” and the like.
So the idea that we would take the Game Boy on car trips was an earth-shattering one. My father looked at the list again, and not another word was said about the topic.
Christmas came. There were many presents beneath the tree and in our stockings, and my sister and I looked at them, and we knew, we just knew, that none of them would be a Game Boy. We only asked for one thing, so that meant we shouldn’t get so many presents. Our parents came into the living room with the video camera, and we started unwrapping the way we did every year; taking turns, one at a time, opening our gifts. Stockings first, then the things under the tree. There was just one labeled “To Senna AND Annie, from Santa.” This was odd. We hardly ever shared presents. So we looked at each other.
“I wanna open it,” I said. I was the one who had pitched the idea to Annie of how to get the Game Boy in the first place, so if this was it, I thought I deserved to open it. She nodded, and I carefully peeled the wrapping paper off of the box.
And there it was.
It was a purple-clear GBA, nestled in a box that was not it’s original box, but I couldn’t care less. Neither could my sister. We had a typical kid-at-Christmas moment – we jumped up and down, yelling “A GAME BOY! A GAME BOY! A GAME BOY, IT’S A GAME BOY!” for about three minutes before my dad settled us down and had us sit back down and handed a very small package to my sister. What could it be? What could possibly be better than a Game Boy for Christmas?
A Pokemon game. Pokemon Crystal, to be exact.
We played that sucker like there was no tomorrow. We didn’t even care that we had to share a save file. We loved that game to bits. We were only allowed to play it on car trips, and because it wasn’t backlit we couldn’t play it at night, but it was enough.
Of course, it was enough until our friend Samantha got a DS, and introduced us to Nintendogs.
We were older by then, wiser, and our father was convinced that we only needed one game system, that was it, no more. We’d already tried to get a Gamecube and a Playstation. (My mom had even tried; she’d worked in the Eagle’s Nest for a while now, and when there was no kids there or someone wanted to play a 2 player game, she would be playing the PS2.) So we took matters into our own hands. We made an allowance every week if we did all of our chores, and we got money if we got straight As, and our grand parents would give us money for Christmas and birthdays. We looked up how much a DS cost: too much, not to mention we needed Nintendogs. So we saved. We saved for years. We saved until the DS Lite was almost old news. And then we struck.
“We want to buy a DS.”
My father at us from his office chair. He was the one who kept all of our money in a bank so it would gain interest, and he was the one who decided what it could be spent on. He was used to us asking to spend it on books or computer games, even the occasional Game Boy game, or things of the like.
“You don’t need another game system. Why is this one so different?”
We rattled off the reasons. Two screens. Backlit. Touch screen. Games weren’t being made for the Gameboy anymore. He wouldn’t ever let us get a real dog in a million years, and this would be the closest we would ever get. It was our money, we should decide what we wanted to do with it. (That statement didn’t go over well.) He didn’t give us an answer, rather, went back to work with a “we’ll see,” which in Adulteese meant “No.”
But we were adamant. We waited. We waited until we were in Delaware, ready to go home, and I spoke up and said “There’s no tax here in Delaware. Can we go buy a DS?” (My father, being the one who held all out money, made sure we understood how tax worked, and that Delaware had none. We bought most of our important things in Delaware.)
He heaved a sigh and turned around to look at us. He looked at us a long, long time, before finally speaking. “Yes. I suppose.” And we drove to the nearest GameStop and picked one up that was (miraculously) already charged, and two copies of Nintendogs, and we swapped off every half hour. We were the most content we’d ever been.
Every game system we bought was a struggle. Our uncle gave us a PS2 for Christmas one year, along with We Love Katamari, which my father was not happy about. Nonetheless he went out and bought us a memory stick so we could save our games. (Katamari, by the way, was the most bizarre but amazing game we’d ever played.) We pushed long and hard for a Wii, and though we were old enough to understand the value of our money, we still had to promise we’d always play standing up, and we’d get a good amount of exercise from playing before our dad would let us get one.
And this bothered me. While other kids were getting their consoles and games for Christmas or Easter or their birthdays or bat mitzvahs or anything like that, not only did I have to buy them myself, but I had to fight with my father over whether or not I was allowed to buy them with my own money. How was that fair? And when I did get them, I was kept on a strict timer of how much time I was allowed to spend playing games of any kind. Even over the summer, when there was very little to do, considering that my dad worked from home and most days couldn’t drive me to go see friends or take me to the library where I could read books I hadn’t read before. I ended up sitting in front of the old typewriter he’d gotten me so I could write without staring at a computer screen, plunking out one-page stories that I would inevitably throw away shortly after finishing.
The only system he didn’t put up a fight about while I still lived with him was my Xbox; by that time I was 16, and he’d given up entirely on the idea of regulating how much we spent on what. Was he happy that my first three games, besides Kinect Adventures, which came with the system, were first-person shooters? No. (Though I wouldn’t really categorize Portal 2 as a shooter game.) But he let me buy them, he let me play them as long as I wanted so long as he didn’t want to use the TV, and he didn’t say a word. I guess he figured if video games were going to turn me into some rot-brained awful person, it would have already happened.