As an only child, I loved all things geek. I have many stories to share, but have recently wondered what it was like raising me. What does a budding gamer look like from the perspective of a parent? And also, how was I influenced by my exposure to geek and gaming culture?
With my mom as witness, my affinity for video games started early. I grew attracted to the near-mythological arcade machines before I could even retain much information. I personally can’t recall my first experience, but—
“I think it was Pac-Man,” my mom said. “I remember putting you up at the machine and…well, most kids would think it’s really playing. You would pull the knob back and forth but then put your hand out for money because you could see it was moving, but understood you needed money to play yourself.”
My mother, Phyllis Singletary, has been married to my father Charles Sr. for 28 years. I’m their only child. I was born on a military base (both parents were army) and I lived in a couple of states before settling down in Alabama. My mom didn’t get into games herself, but my father followed the culture a bit more closely.
The Arrival of Video Games
“Video games first came out for us in the arcade and we didn’t have home consoles yet. So you’d go to the arcade and play if you had a quarter. A lot of the time you were there watching and every once in a while there’d be a tournament that would break out on a game like Galaga,” my father said. “It seemed like everyone in America was into video games when they first came out.”
My memory of my early years in Germany and Virginia is spotty, but I do retain a feeling. There was a fleeting energy that drew me to pictures and the moving images were all the more interesting. “Just seeing it” sparked my interest, my mom noted. “The arcade machines were the only time you saw it that young while you were in Germany. You’d only see it on base or when we went into a store because we didn’t have one at the house at the time.”
“I knew you were smart because you’d pause the game and bring me the dirty diaper,” my mom said. “Then you’d get changed and go back and start the game.” That spark spread within me quickly, considering I experienced my first arcade machine at 2, and by age 3 games had trumped my potty training. My dad noted, “Yeah by age 3 you knew how to play games. You understood the concept of Pac-Man. Prior to that you just moved the joystick and didn’t know how to win.”
I fondly remember a great deal of arcade trips with my dad. Lucky and Wild, a driver/shooter for three players, was a time-sink that we dropped tons of quarters into. I recall the plain excitement of being able to team up with my pop. He remembers things a bit differently. “There was a motorcycle game I purchased when we got to Birmingham, Alabama. It was similar to Lucky and Wild and that’s when I noticed you were getting better than me at some games.”
Video Game Violence
While I grew, my mom just figured gaming was “something boys do,” but I became a great deal more self-aware during my teen years. I was aware of the stigma around video games that had to do with violence and antisocial behavior. But my gaming habits were rarely ever the source of any mocking or bullying. I also found a balance between gaming and my other responsibilities. And I met some of the people who have become my closest friends by gaming with them.
“I was worried because I would hear about kids playing certain games and doing something violent because of a game that they’d played,” my mom said when asked about the media’s spin on video games and violence, and her perception of the medium over time. “Me personally? If a kid goes out and mimics something like that I just feel that they already had an issue and the game may have enhanced it.”
I asked my dad if he had had any apprehensions of his own. “Not really, because games that were so called ‘violent’ weren’t as violent as they are now. Even those games I didn’t see a problem with because I remember growing up playing cops and robbers and that kind of stuff. I felt like as long as there was an adult and you didn’t get crazy with it, I didn’t see a problem with it.”
In my early years, I was rarely exposed to games with violence, not to mention any game with a Mature rating. At age 10 I received my first Teen rated game: Final Fantasy VII.
Blood, Fantasy Violence, Language, and Mild Suggestive Themes peppered the ESRB rating, but I didn’t tell my mom because I feared she wouldn’t let me get the game. At home, I popped the game in and FFVII catapulted into my top five, not based on any of the warnings listed on it, but for the incredible story unfolding with my input. This was the only time a game I personally owned was outside my age group. My mom paid attention to the games I asked for, but I was never that interested in “mature” games so much that I wished to own them. I recall watching a younger cousin play Grand Theft Auto and, though the open world was crazy appealing, the violence faded from memory quickly after it was out of sight. It was nothing I hadn’t seen in movie theaters at that point.
Raising a Gamer
As an adult, I’ve often wondered how I would approach raising my own children. Entertainment media is more available now than it has ever been. I wonder what effect it’s having on the curious youth. Even to this day, it’s important to me what my dad thought of the games I played. I’m still learning in my 20s. I assumed my mom thought poorly of my dad for playing so often with me, but the exact opposite was true.
“It was more comforting that he played with you,” my mom said. “I think I remember you would go in together to buy the systems between each other.” I remember those days as well, saving up what allowance I had to split the costs of whatever console or game was hot at that moment. My love of games raised mixed feelings in my parents.
“I think one of the biggest reasons I didn’t worry is because you were getting good grades in school. If you weren’t I’d have been more worried. Most parents would say ‘he’s spending too much time with games,’ but I knew you were still learning. You were still doing your math and your history work. You did what you were supposed to do in school so I didn’t think there was anything wrong with it,” my mom said. For a gamer starting the quest of raising a child of their own, words like these from my mom can offer comfort on the journey. “So if your child is into it, as long as they’re doing their school work it’s fine. And socializing. It can’t be games, games, games all day in their room all day. I think you should bring other people in with you and go somewhere with friends. Even your dad comes home and goes to play games as a way to unwind.”
My dad also shared that he had initial concern when it came to gaming socially, simply because of how he was brought up. “I had apprehensions. It seemed like a nerdy thing and, in my generation, the nerd was not someone you wanted to be.” Clearly things have changed, an observation that swiftly changed his ideal. “There are even shows about that nerdy person and shows that that ‘nerd’ normally grows up to be someone with some serious potential. I quickly got over that. I realized that you guys were the smarter kids and I enjoyed it. Whether you knew it or not your friends influence you a lot more than your parents do.”
I now know that my mom and dad were gradually equipping me with the tools to be a strong parent in my own right. The perspective of a parent is one not highlighted so often in the gaming community, but times have truly changed. I value the experiences my parents afforded me and I believe they, knowingly or not, cultivated a proud gaming spirit.