When I was growing up in the 80s, many of the adults around me were disparaging towards video games, considering them a bad influence that detracted from school work. I don’t want to over-generalise, but many of my friends were, like myself, Asian-American, and their parents wanted them to pursue more “serious” careers like becoming a doctor or lawyer, and felt that games were roadblocks along that path.
I had zero interest in becoming either, and remember calling in sick at school just so I could play video games like Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger. Games not only made my childhood bearable, but helped me dream of better worlds. They’ve also had a huge influence in my career path, giving me opportunities to work in game development, make visual effects on movies, and become a science fiction author.
We recently had a baby, and I am of the opposite mind from the adults that I grew up with. I eagerly want to share my love of gaming with her and want to encourage her to play good games (as long as they don’t clash with her schoolwork). At the same time, I know I have to wait a few years before she can actually play them, so I’m trying to share my love of games with her in a number of different ways before then.
Toys R Us right before it closed (Photo: Angela Xu)
There was something magical back as a kid going to Toys ‘R’ Us, seeing the long aisle full of Nintendo Entertainment System game covers and their price slips. I had no idea what I was going to buy and carefully inspected all the cover art, knowing whichever game I bought would probably be the only one I got for the year. It wasn’t just playing the game, though, that made it so special. It was the experience of going to the store, picking the game, opening up the box in the car ride back, reading the manual from end to end, holding the cartridge in my hands, smelling the factory-fresh scent of the box, and pulling out the styrofoam insert—and this was all before I even started the game!
Unfortunately, Toys ‘R’ Us has closed down, and many physical gaming stores are shutting down as well. I’m especially pained when favourite retro stores close down. I’ve wondered if any game stores will actually exist by the time my kid can visit them, as I’ve discovered some really cool games thanks to the recommendation of gaming store workers. Hopefully, online shopping won’t be the only option open to my kid.
I’ve actually started collecting complete editions of all the retro games I used to love so I can share them in their entirety when she’s older. Some are easier to find than others and I try to keep these great tips in mind. For example, I was able to get a complete Super Mario Bros. 3 for £30 on eBay (thanks to my wonderful wife). Others, like the original The Legend of Zelda complete in box, were a bit pricier because of higher demand, but the included map and the illustrated manual are so wonderful, as are the tiny tips at the bottom of the pages, that I had to get them. Plus, that golden cartridge is still a thing of beauty.
With patience, I’ve also been able to snag expensive games on eBay auctions at a reasonable rate, like I did with Kid Icarus and Mega Man 6 (although most times in auctions, it’s 7 days of me feeling like I’m going to get a steal of a deal and then finding out at the last minute someone completely outbid me). This is especially important as I’ve noticed many new games don’t include manuals or any special extras. The larger manuals like the ones I got for the original Final Fantasy, Ultima IV, and Crystalis, are still some of my favourites. Phantasy Star II is almost unplayable without the giant hint book that came with the cartridge. These are the kind of things that modern emulation collections don’t include and that I want to make sure to pick up. When the graphics were only 8-bit, the stories and character portraits in the manual filled in the extra details for the simplistic sprites; I remember the stories I’d make up in my head thanks to the illustrations within them.
I do realise by the time she starts playing games, we’ll be in an even more advanced generation of consoles with super realistic graphics. Maybe we’ll all be using VR and AR gear! I honestly don’t know if the original Super Mario Bros. or The Legend of Zelda will appeal to her. I would love for her to experience games the way I did, starting with the 8-bit retro classics and working her way through the 16-bit RPGs to the PlayStation and Sega Saturn era. In pursuit of that goal, I’ve gotten the SNES and NES Classic Editions to make it easier for her to play the older games. I’m also keeping all my consoles in as shipshape form as I can. When she’s of the right ESRB age, it would be great to fire up a classic tactical strategy game like Herzog Zwei on the Sega Genesis and combat each other in a split-screen battle, or play through some of the more pivotal moments in Terranigma, Suikoden II, and Dragon Quest Builders so we can discuss them as a family, since they’re all games I’ve played through with my wife.
Hunting down video game accessories for the baby has been as cool as finding special gear in RPGs. I was appreciative that fellow writer Ben Bertoli got us a wonderful Zelda bib. Also, fellow writer Narelle Ho Sang sent us a Mario mushroom teether which was also a lot of fun, though I was disappointed to find that our baby did not grow super-sized when she bit it.
I’ve also bought several art books in the hope of sharing them with our baby as she gets older, including The Legend of Zelda Encyclopedia and the Dragon Quest Illustrations artbook. During a few reading sessions, I’ve snuck in The Official Nintendo Player’s Guide and guided her through images of my favourite retro games.
I’ve read a lot about how we should play classical music like Mozart to help develop our baby’s brain. We do play a lot of classical music. But there’s also a few retrogaming tunes I throw in between the orchestral tracks. My three favourites are:
1. Flower Garden from Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island. This is one of my favourite games on the SNES, where Yoshi is the hero and a baby Mario is under his protection. Something about this song reminds me of the vibrant colours of Yoshi’s Island, and it’s a playful joy that I can swing my head to for hours.
2. The Prelude from the Final Fantasy series is not just one of my favourite songs to hum, but one of the most serene as well. It intimates familiarity and mystery, but also calm and a timeless feeling. It’s almost like the crystals from the series are singing in a unified chorus about a tranquillity that can hopefully help baby sleep just a few minutes more.
3. The Dragon Quest Intermezzo is just so dang catchy that I can listen to this all day. Like in all the Dragon Quest menus, there are moments with baby and wife I wish I could pause, save, and replay forever.
There’s many more songs I play for her depending on the time of the day and my own mood. In general, I avoid the faster songs, so Mega Man 2 will have to wait. While there’s a lot of Mozart and Beethoven, I love squeezing in those retrogaming tunes that were such a big part of my life.
I read a lot of baby books, but even then, I find every day a new challenge. Obviously, there’s no one universal FAQ that provides all the solutions for raising a kid. It’s more about finding the best answers as I go along and working together with my wife to adapt to the situation. We take it day by day, excited to see her grow and develop.
But I cannot wait to play some of my favourite games with her. It’ll be a bridge, not just to the fantastic worlds created by game developers, but a part of my own childhood.