My dad is ultra-competitive. As a kid, he’d only play a game with me if he knew he’d win. We used to play a lot of checkers. He consistently crushed me, but I was either a glutton for punishment or just enjoyed spending time with him, so I kept resetting the board. Then, one day, I beat him. That was the last day we played checkers. Occasionally, I’d have my friend Matt over and my dad would play the two of us in basketball. It was like playing NBA2k13 wherein my dad was the Miami Heat and my friend and I were the injury ravaged Minnesota Timberwolves. We played with a lot of heart, and although I could pass like Rubio, we both shot like him too. Eventually my dad would have a sizeable lead and we’d cry mercy. My dad was a state champion wrestler, played football on a team that featured a future NFL defensive lineman and could run like the wind, anchoring the mile relay for his high school track team. As he crept towards 50, he took up running marathons, completing over 20 at this point. Now edging 60, he runs obstacle course races complete with barbed wire and the possibility of being electrocuted. You know, for fun. My dad can beat your dad. But not at video games.
If he played video games, my dad would know where all the best weapons were on a map, gather them and then spawn camp the hell out of you. If he were playing Halo, he’d be that guy jumping around like an epileptic kangaroo to avoid enemy fire. My dad didn’t play video games though. He was staunchly against them actually. This was especially hard growing up during the heyday of 8 and 16 bit video gaming. The year the Nintendo Game Boy came out, that was all I wanted for Christmas. And I knew I was going to get it. I had to. It was pretty much the only thing on my list in an attempt to force my parents’ hand. Christmas morning was upon us and I ran downstairs, excited to throw a little gray cartridge in my new toy and play it for hours on end. I opened the first package. It was a Chicago Blackhawks sweatshirt. Now, I had asked for a Blackhawks sweater, so I could already tell something was amiss. Emblazoned on the chest was the slogan “kick ice.” The euphemism wasn’t lost on my dad and he told my mom that she would have to take it back. Fine. Undeterred, I ripped paper off package after package in a whirlwind of red and green until I came to the end. There was no Game Boy. Santa Claus was dead to me. The only thing I received for Christmas that year that I was allowed to keep was a pair of fuzzy pink bunny pajamas from my Aunt Clara. My dad tried explaining to me something about the importance of buying things that would increase in value, but I wasn’t having it. My mom was scarred the most by my despondency. That was the year Santa lost all creativity when it came to gift giving in our house.
Much like The King was able to covertly bring meals to hungry people in Sneak King, I was still able to get my video game fix. During sleepovers, a friend would bring a system over and we’d hook it to my parents’ tube television. We set up elaborate NBA Jam tournaments with each of us selecting a team and then constructing seeded brackets that we taped to the wall. We played until callouses raised on our thumbs and we needed Malcolm McDowell to teach us how to keep our eyes pried open. The next day over breakfast, I tried to convince my dad to come downstairs to play a game or two, but it was akin to crying mercy during Mortal Kombat fatality. Pointless. I was able to convince my mom to play with me once. I was the Denver Nuggets, believing I could dunk and defend my way to victory. I gave her the Golden State Warriors, reasoning that it was fair to give her a team with the best three pointer ranking. It was the last time I played video games with her. Dikembe Mutombo and LaPhonso Ellis’s defense was no match for Tim Hardaway and Chris Mullin’s three point barrage. (If my mom can beat me, it’s a logical assumption that she could beat all of the friends I had defeated before right?)
I did eventually get that Game Boy. I may not have learned the lesson about decreasing value, but I learned the lesson of saving for what you wanted. My dad drove a friend and me to the store where I also purchased Bo Jackson: Two Games in One. We connected our devices and marveled as the nondescript 8-bit athletes competed. Since escaping to college I’ve owned a Playstation 2, an Xbox, a Wii and an Xbox 360. At some point in the near future I’ll also have an Xbox One. I’ve been honing my skills like Ryu preparing for a street fight. Come and get it E-Honda1985. Next year, my daughter will start kindergarten and, inevitably, some kid will start taunting her. Saying their dad can beat her dad. She’ll be able to look them straight in the eye and say, “Yeah maybe, but not at video games.”