"How do you shoot?" On screen, Dad's character barely dodges an alien missile as he searches for the correct button.
"Y," I reply. Another shot whizzes by the orange-colored hero of Contra III.
"Because I need to know how to shoot!" comes the panicked retort.
"Y!" I say louder. Another wave of green enemies spawns, cluttering the screen and further hindering our movements.
"Look! I need to know!" he shouts as his character flails about the screen.
It's a scene straight out of Abbot and Costello. Voices raise, tempers flare and for two solid minutes neither of us actually takes the time to fully construct the simple sentence that would have solved the miscommunication. Mom and my sister Karen appeared at the doorway to make sure everything was OK. No, everything was not OK; Dad's orange soldier never stood a chance, because his apparent pacifist of a son refused to divulge the secret of returning fire.
That little episode aside, Dad and I have shared a unique relationship over the years. You see, Dad's been in the business since people figured out there was money in these so called "video-games," and it's about the coolest business there is to a 7-year-old boy. My two older siblings, however, were less than enthusiastic. After a particularly colorful incident involving a taut power cord and my dad's partially finished Monopoly pet project, my brother excused himself from the running and found something more constructive to do with his life. My other sibling, Karen, showed more promise. She and Dad would spend hours sitting in front of Sierra Entertainment's 1988 classic Gold Rush! trying to plot her way from the comfort of 1840s New England to the wealth and fame of the California coast. She handled every step of the way masterfully: avoided being smashed by any runaway carts on the main road, successfully hid her mosquito netting from the murderous natives of the Panama Canal and had even made sure to sell the house before she left.
The problems began as the miles of dirt and sand added up. The wagon slowly made its way to the crest of some fateful hill. Here, the parched mule team happened to glimpse the cool rushing waters of a river far below. Instinct took over, and the mules lurched forward, pulling the wagon down at a perilous angle. Powerless, my sister watched in horror as the bounding stage coach toppled headlong into the rocky basin. As the skull and crossbones laughed at her from within the realm of megabytes and pixels, it became clear that Karen would never again be comfortable there.
That's where I came in. I was my father's last, best hope for keeping the gaming tradition alive in our family. After my siblings' incredible failures, Dad couldn't have been happier when I first showed an interest in his favorite pastime. I proudly made my entrance onto the scene as his copilot in Lord British's Ultima VII: The Black Gate. During my apprenticeship, I learned timeless dungeon crawling strategies and tips from a master: Save your game in multiple files, eat food to heal your wounds and never, under any circumstances, trust a mage who joins your party "for his own reasons." He will undoubtedly betray you in the final battle only to be reduced to dust upon asking for a reward from his dark master.