Even though I had been watching the street and listening for the sound of our mailbox's rusted hinges for what felt like weeks, I missed the delivery of the December issue of PC Gamer. When my father announced its arrival, I darted from my room to grab it. He handed me the sealed plastic bag containing the magazine and suggested we read it together. "Looks like a good one," he said.
Just holding it in my hands gave me a bit of a thrill. In delicate black script on a white satin background, PC Gamer's cover "cordially invited" me to join them for their annual Holiday Extravaganza in the year Nineteen Hundred and Ninety Seven. I felt like I was starring in the nerd version of a Fred Astaire movie, receiving an unexpected summons to a white-tie ball where I would quaff champagne with PC Gamer EIC Gary Whitta.
I'm not sure that cover would excite me now, but at 14, I appreciated the gesture. Christmas was the annual feast after months of videogame famine, and PC Gamer was there to remind people what dishes were worth sampling. Part buyer's guide and part affirmation that this year was even better than the last, the issue laid out a banquet for gamers of every stripe.
Unfortunately, it was getting harder and harder to reach the table with my family's aging PC. We had fitfully upgraded our Packard-Bell 386, but obsolescence overtook the machine in 1995 and, two years later, we were no closer to replacing it. I knew why that was the case, of course. My parents had only recently started to recover from a series of financial and personal disasters that struck them around the turn of the decade. New computer hardware was an expensive luxury, one that was too much to ask of them now that they were both over 40 and just starting the second careers they never expected they would need.
Placing the issue on the coffee table between my father and me, I whipped past the editors' notes and gift guides until I arrived at the spread I wanted: PC Gamer's review of Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II.
I had known, intellectually, that Dark Forces II would be more than our computer could handle. But that was no consolation when I saw the stark red "97 percent" in the summary box and a half-dozen screenshots of lightsaber duels. In my imagination, I instantly owned and loved the game - and it was with that love in my heart that I saw the hardware requirements. I had a better chance of building myself a lightsaber than I did of getting this game to run on my computer.
My father still thought we were having fun. "Oooh! Can you imagine how cool that would be?" he asked me as I sullenly thumbed through the review. Maybe he was caught up in holiday gaming excitement (or pretending to be for my benefit), but he seemed oblivious to my disappointment.
I wanted that game; I deserved that game. In the space of just a few seconds I stirred myself into a rage.
"What's the point?" I snapped, flinging the magazine to the floor. "Why are you acting like I should care? You know I can't play this. I can't play anything in this magazine. They aren't even making games for our piece of shit computer!"
He looked at me, surprised.