Dad says things weren't that different back then. "Parents had the same concerns as they do today," he tells me. "They worried that excessive game playing would turn their kids into illiterate zombies. To get around that, some game developers argued that gaming could be educational; I think that's when I first heard the term 'infotainment.' Now, the greater concern is whether games will turn their kids into killer zombies."
And he wasn't afraid my impressionable mind would get mushed. "I saw it for what it was: a pastime. Like anything else, if you do too much of something, it's probably not good for you. Besides, I had my face in games all the time, so it wasn't like me to tell you not to do it."
Dad played Zaxxon, Donkey Kong and Centipede; I evolved into obscure text-parser adventure games. We put our heads together on titles of the early 16-bit console era; I'd call him at work (often to his consternation) to tell him when I'd cleared a new level in Keith Courage in Alpha Zones or Legendary Axe. My mother never embraced technology - on the contrary. She called me downstairs once in hysterics to "fix" the computer; I complied, moving the mouse to disengage the screen saver.
For eight years, Dad wrote the weekly Home Technology column in The Boston Globe. But as technology evolved, and gaming became less a mere extension of newfangled gadget culture and more its own complicated industry, Dad began to get a little bored of it and started covering PCs instead. "I enjoyed mindless games because I wanted to relax. Once I started having to wave girlish magic wands and put on dopey armor, I began to lose interest," he says. "Obviously, gameplay today is far more complex - it has to be -because today's gamers are far more sophisticated than they were in the '80s or even '90s. I don't have the patience any more."
But I wasn't left alone in game time. I spent my early years as a protégé of my dad's; in 1988 arrived the kid to whom I intended to pass the torch. My sister, Jessie, was born, and I made it clear to her that she was going to be my new co-pilot, like it or not. Fortunately, I didn't have to push her very hard; she idolized everything I did, as little sisters often do, and I often found her holding the controller and mashing buttons, gleefully watching the pre-start demo play, a hold-over from the arcades, that was still popular at the time. "I used to think I was actually playing," she says.
I raised her on Sonic, Klax and Super Mario Bros., and she didn't even mind watching me spend hours on RPGs, sharing in my every little victory. Aside from one nightmarish day when I excitedly called her in to witness my exit from a Phantasy Star 2 dungeon it had taken me hours to solve and she, running in, tripped over the Genesis' power cord and unplugged it, all was peaceable, and I was assured Jessie would properly assume my image.
It didn't happen.