Games have been an accepted and well-understood pastime for many years. eSports is a multi-million dollar industry, many homes have two or more devices used to play, and the success of television series like The Last of Us has shown that gaming is gaining widespread acceptance as an art form that encompasses other forms influenced by media.
However, this isn’t the gaming industry I’ve always known and loved. I’m a child of the 1980’s and while I can’t claim to be a first generation gamer, I would argue that I’m probably the last generation to live in a world that sees gamers as a subculture of outcasts and social outcasts considered. During my high school years, gaming gained increasing societal acceptance. Console games had led the way, but PC gamers like me continued to be perceived as “nerds” who were often teased a bit. It rarely escalated into bullying, as even the “cool, sporty kids” would enjoy a little GoldenEye 64 or Resident Evil from time to time. But gaming, and PC gaming in particular, was still considered a somewhat anti-social niche hobby.
For me, this general lack of acceptance of gaming was compounded by the fact that my parents were sorely lacking in technological literacy. My mother came from a former Soviet bloc country where exposure to Western technology was largely unknown. Both work and leisure meant sweat and dirt. My father was born in 1943 and grew up in post-war Scotland. He and his three brothers, mother and father, had all shared a two-bedroom flat in a poor part of Aberdeen. His father died in 1953, leaving my father’s mother with four boys and little money. A rugby scholarship and the personal connections of my apparently very charismatic grandfather had helped my father find a way out of his poor upbringing, which eventually led to his graduating from Strathclyde University in Glasgow. My father was well read and, in the Scottish tradition, very progressive. However, he still held on to this adoration of the “elbow fat” approach to life, a perspective that has very little room for the sedentary, intellectual hobby of being a gamer.
Neither of my parents were particularly taken with my passion for gaming. From their perspective, they viewed games as a simple button-push affair where the goal was to get a high score, and they had little interest in validating their perception of it. They were seldom hostile to the hobby, and I certainly enjoyed one of the perks of having an Eastern European mother indulge her little boy’s passions with a birthday or Christmas PC game. This was, of course, offset by the other side of the coin – an Eastern European mother’s anger when you played too many games. But for the most part, my parents accepted my passion for games, if not entirely with understanding.
I am grateful to say that my relationship with my father was always very strong – unlike many of his generation, he was deeply loving and warm. As a kid he would take me to museums, bush walks and all sorts of local events every weekend. The teenage years were challenging at times (as expected) but as I entered young adulthood our relationship blossomed and I spent many hours in intense conversations with him as we shared our passion for storytelling, jokes, philosophy and nostalgic anecdotes. We often had long debates; Long past the point where others would walk away in despair, my father and I carried on as if we were ancient Greek philosophers verbally arguing in the marble forums.
A popular time of year for these chats was Christmas. Once lunch was ready and we’d both had plenty of beer, wine, and/or whiskey on our hands, we struck up a conversation that would no doubt roll my mother’s eyes. A common line of conversation began with my father sharing his critical analysis of a particular classic film or novel. Sometimes I’d interrupt a discussion about a game I’d played and share the witty dialogue of a LucasArts adventure like Sam & Max Hit the Road or a deeply introspective narrative like Planescape: Torment.
The thing is – my dad just didn’t understand games. He couldn’t imagine that they had evolved far beyond the coin-operated Galaga or Pac-Man of the ’70s and ’80s and revolutionized the storytelling experience. As much as I tried to convey the incredible power of games as a unique interactive medium, my father just couldn’t understand it as he was so far from being even remotely exposed to the medium.
Dad knew I loved and respected games, that I saw something in them but just didn’t get it. I’d long accepted that it was just a reality of this generational gap, and I appreciated that Dad would listen to me praise the merits of gaming as a valuable art form, even though I knew he didn’t quite appreciate my arguments. While he may not have agreed with my claims, he has always shown the deepest respect for my beliefs.
And so it was until December 2020. Dad was in his 70s but his vibrant life had taken its toll; This Christmas more than any other I could see the years weighing heavily on him. As so many years before, we took part in an incredible Christmas dinner, accompanied by copious amounts of wine and finally whiskey. Everyone else eventually went to bed, but my father and I talked well into the evening.
At the time I was listening to Mike Duncan’s Revolution Podcast. It’s an incredible podcast and takes an in-depth look at famous revolutions in history over ten seasons – the English Civil War, the American Revolution, the Haitian Revolution, the French Revolution and the Russian Revolution. A conversation with my father finally led to the topic of this podcast, and I shared the insights that Mike Duncan’s inimitable style had conveyed so effectively.
We chatted for a while about history, the Age of Enlightenment and (at my father’s suggestion of course) the significant role progressive Scots had played in that era. Suddenly, out of nowhere, my father asked me a question:
“How did you become so interested in history?”
I thought for a second – why was I am so interested in this period of history? The answer jumped into my head – Creative Assembly’s Empire: Total War. Of all the games in the Total War franchise, Empire had captured my imagination like no other and held a deep fascination in the transformative centuries of the 17th and 18th centuries.
As a lifelong gamer, I naturally jumped at the opportunity to explain this to my father. I told him how the Total War series and other series like Age of Empires and Paradox Grand Strategy Games had sown the seeds of curiosity that had led me to seek more knowledge and the history of the world we live in, to understand.
For the first time in my life, I saw a spark of sudden understanding in my father’s eyes. Although the rather liberal distribution of whiskey clouds his exact words, I can paraphrase his answer: “Interesting. I never thought games could do that.”. We were then propelled into a discussion about the nature of games and how valuable and unique they were as an entertainment medium. Games inspire curiosity, and curiosity is the most important motivating factor that drives someone to learn. My father finally understood the value I saw in games; I could see the realization in his eyes.
I have no doubt a psychologist could have a great day with this – here, after so many decades, I finally found myself gaining tacit approval and respect from my father for a hobby I loved but he had never understood . But that doesn’t matter. This was a special moment with my father on a special day, and after decades he finally understood more about me.
A few months later, I got a call from Dad, and he informed me, in his typical matter-of-fact tone, that he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer — a condition that had likely been developing for several months, including while we were sitting last Christmas together. A few months later, at the end of May 2021, he finally passed away.
Games have always been very special to me. I’ve never experienced anything as emotionally powerful as Planescape: Torment or Red Dead Redemption 2. I’ve been endlessly inspired by the artistic genius of INSIDE and Fez. I was transported to vibrant worlds by Baldur’s Gate, Disco Elysium and Half-Life.
At the very end, after so many years, my father finally understood something new about me. For so long, games seemed like a distraction from doing my homework or going outside and kicking a ball. But a simple connection between a history podcast and Total War had uncovered that bias and led to a deeper understanding that strengthened our bond in its final days. Nothing can heal the hole left by this loss, but nothing could be more special than connecting with someone you love through a personal passion.
At SUPERJUMP, I’m honored to be surrounded by writers who share this passion for this unique medium. I firmly believe that games have a power that no other medium can reproduce – the choices are yours, the consequences are yours, and the right game can leave a lasting impression that defines you as a person. Share your gaming experiences and encourage those around you to take the plunge if they haven’t already. The right game can change everything.