A few days ago I got an e-mail from my 82 year old grandfather proclaiming that with my background in History, I should write something related to that and get away from writing about games, saying that it could really help my writing. I haven’t replied to him, but it got me thinking about why I’m writing about video games. I never really have declared a mission statement for why I waste my time writing about them.
I think about the episodes of 1UP’s Retronauts podcast where Jenn Frank, the former community manager of the site, would come on and enlighten the gang with anecdotes about her family and the way she associated her memories of video games as a child with her father, who passed away when she was ten years old. One of the specific stories was about how she grew up not knowing if she imagined a specific memory she associated with a game that might not even exist. A friend of hers gave her a pile of Atari 2600 games to try and help her find the game, which turned out to be Haunted House. Her memories weren’t deceiving her, and her memories of her father were true.
That story really struck a chord with me the first time I heard it. I have plenty of memories of my childhood, some of which I’m not completely sure actually happened. I hate the possibility that some memories of my own life might not even be real. I’ve found myself using video games as a way to verify that some of these moments really happened, and that my childhood was how I remember it. I have various associations of specific video games that I attribute to certain moments in my own life.
I’m writing to remember, and I’m writing to keep my own thoughts straight.
My friends know I’m not the happiest person all the time. To be quite honest, I’m actually pretty upset on a regular basis. I have mild freakouts from time to time, but I don’t know if I’d go as far as calling them panic attacks. I get really uncomfortable around new people and I generally don’t sleep well. To put it lightly, I’m a mess. I grew up playing video games and now I find myself using them not only as a way to authenticate my own memories, but as a form of escapism to keep me from completely falling apart.
Though I had been playing video games for a little while, my first real memory of it that I remember was playing The Legend of Zelda with my dad when I was about seven years old. It was the last time I remember him getting really into a video game. I mostly just sat there and watched him play over the course of a few weeks as we tried to navigate the game’s dungeons and puzzles in hope of saving Princess Zelda and retrieving the rest of the Triforce. This was before the mass proliferation of the internet, so when there were problems, we just had to go by trial and error, or find someone who know what we were supposed to do. One of the members of the family was also playing the game, so we were able to talk to them and solve a few puzzles. In retrospect it was interesting to see that level of schoolyard puzzle solving portrayed through adults.
We had taken to extremes to figure out this game. My dad actually graphed out maps on paper, noting every false wall, boss room, and treasure to be found. No stone was being left unturned. Every little riddle from every crazy old man in a cave was written down and deciphered. We were thoroughly tearing the game apart.
Finally, the eight dungeons had been defeated, and we had found the entrance to the final, ninth dungeon. It took a few days to actually get through it. Like the earlier ones, this dungeon was mapped, and everything about it was written down. After a while of pushing through it, we made it. We had found Ganon. It was time to save Hyrule and Princess Zelda from his terrible rule. Nothing was going to stop us.
And then we were slaughtered.
We could never figure out exactly how to defeat Ganon. No matter what we did, we never stumbled upon using the silver arrow to make him vulnerable. We just walked in every time and were killed almost immediately. One summer afternoon, my dad had come home early, and picked me up from my grandparents house. It was going to be a day full of Zelda. Today we were going to finish what we had started. I go to load up the game, and all of our save data is gone.
All of the save files had been wiped out. It wasn’t uncommon. It could happen to anyone. NES cartridges weren’t exactly the most durable video game medium when it came to battery backups. For a split second, I’m sure he blamed me, but he quickly got over that and realized that it just happened. I hadn’t touched it. Because of this, our Zelda adventure was over. I tried to start my own, but it wasn’t the same. Aside from a couple of games here and there, my dad never really tried to seriously play a video game ever again.
I know I’ve told part of this story before, but I felt the whole thing warranted telling. Him and I have never been very close, and the older I get, the more him and I change. I’m not an outdoors-y sort of person, while both of my parents have become such. I still get blamed from time to time if there are computer or internet troubles at home. Of course, over the years we both tried to find some sort of common interest. I myself remember trying to get him to play Link to the Past, though he never took to it.
I know that the only reason I still remember these moments is because of the video game attachment to them. Most of what I remember about the Legend of Zelda is from when I was just a little kid, even though I’ve played the game numerous times since then. I wish I still had some of those original maps that my dad made. They were actually pretty impressive, and I love that long gone age of having to figure things out without the internet to save the day.
That game is what got me into the Legend of Zelda series, and it was one of the only times my dad and I ever really did anything together. Any time I think about it, that’s what my brain goes to, and no Zelda game since then gives me the same feeling that the original gave me, all because of these memory associations. I’m not upset that my dad and I aren’t that close. We just aren’t. We’re different people, and it definitely shows. We just don’t have that sort of connection, and I understand it.
This is why I write about video games, and this is why they mean so much to me. I want to share these feelings with people, and I want to tell these stories in hopes that they’ll help keep my own memory straight. The power of context with memories is truly magical, and it is what keeps me writing.