As young men, we live for our fathers’ love. We try to deny it – even to ourselves – but we live for those moments when, through some word or deed, the almighty father figure acknowledges that we matter, that we in some way are good.
For me, those moments were few. Circumstances prevented me from spending a lot of time with my dad, and when we were together, being stoic Texan types, we rarely spoke of important things. I was in my early 20s when he passed on, so a lot of the big things I’ve done with my life have transpired without the opportunity for comment from him. This is a shame, because I know that he would be proud of the things I’ve accomplished and the man I’ve become.
The meaningful moments we did share stand out in weird places. Like the afternoon we spent in his backyard, near the end of his life, drinking bourbon and sharing stories, or the day we hiked in the mountains north of Albuquerque. Nothing momentous happened on those occasions. We were just enjoying each others’ company, but for me they’re treasured memories. One of the best days, though, was the day he watched me play a videogame.
We were at the movie theater. He had taken me to see The Road Warrior, a movie we both loved and that is still one of my favorites. Later, we would stop at a convenience store on the way home for fountain soda and fruit roll-ups and talk about the film, comparing it to others we’d seen, but the best part of the outing was just after the credits rolled, when we were killing time in the lobby. It was one of the best days I remember spending with my dad, and it was all the better because it was just he and I.
He gave me a quarter to drop in the Yie Ar Kung Fu arcade cabinet and stood back to watch me play. That was one of my favorite games at the time, and I was great at it. As I kicked, punched and flew through the air, I attracted a very small crowd. Young men placed their quarters on the machine to challenge me to a match. Older men watched, shaking their heads.
“Amazing,” they said, speaking of the game itself. Games were new then. These men had grown up barely expecting such a thing was on the horizon, and most of them weren’t sure what to make of it. Admittedly, the idea I’d be making my living from them myself, years later, seemed like a fantasy. But I loved the games.
My father agreed that the machines were strange and amazing, which was to be expected. But what he said next blew my mind.
“Amazing what the kids can do with them, too,” he said. And then he told the other guys how good I was. Wouldn’t shut up about it. I pretended to be embarrassed, but underneath all that, I was ecstatic.
I blew the next match, but he didn’t care. He put his hand on my shoulder and we left, on our way to sodas and fruit roll-ups and whatever came next. A father and his videogaming son, of whom he was, perhaps irrationally, immensely proud. And that’s the story of how kung fu videogames remind me of my father.
For this week’s issue of The Escapist, Issue 246, “I Know Kung Fu,” our contributors share their own stories. Brendan Main relates his tale of triumph – and button mashing, Jonathan Palmer delves into the fantastical world of Bushido Blade, Robert Bevill looks at what works in fighting games today and what doesn’t and Marshal Cooper relates how videogames and martial arts are intrinsically linked – through his own experiences as both a gamer and martial artist. Enjoy!