I love video games. Games have always held a place in my heart. As a kid, I was lucky. I always had console or two, at least since I was eight or nine and I got my first Nintendo. Because games were such a fixture in my life, it seems reasonable that I would have had some memorable experiences with them. However, there was one particular moment that I regularly reflect on.
The best memory I have when it comes to video games precedes my first Nintendo. I was in grade three and for some reason that escapes me, I had joined the school wrestling team.
Now, I was a small, spindly limbed kid. I believe the only muscle I had on my body was in my neck to support my oversized head but it didn’t matter. I wanted to wrestle. Thankfully, my parents indulged me and supported my decision.
My first wrestling tournament was at a neighbouring school. It was on a weekend so my dad was the one who took me. That in itself was exciting. My dad is in construction and as a result, he worked a lot. It was a rare moment where I had my father just to myself.
Anyways, I remember sitting with my dad in the bleachers, awaiting my turn on the mat. A volunteer called my name and my dad walked down to be in my corner with me. As I stood there talking to him, I heard cruel laughter coming from nearby. Meekly, I looked across the mat and saw my opponent for the first time.
I was terrified. For some inexplicable reason, I had placed against a much larger youth. He was huge! He seemed like a veritable mountain (albeit an ugly mountain) and I was a mere ant in his presence. For comparison purposes, I’ll just refer to him as Orc for the remainder of the tale. Like the brute he was, Orc was pointing and laughing at me with his friends. I remember the sounds their hands made clapping him on his back, as if Orc were already celebrating.
My dad turned me around. He had this look on his face, equal parts rage and sadness. Then, he looked at me and said, “if you win this fight, I’ll take you to the arcade”.
That took me aback. I had never heard my father express any interest in games nor do I recall ever mentioning the fun I had playing video games at my friends house to him. Even to this day, all signs point to his general distaste for games.
For some reason, though, he hung that as a carrot in front of my nose. It settled me down. It gave me focus.The bell sounded and Orc waded in. His footsteps boomed and for a moment, I froze. Then, Orc reached for me and I darted like a mouse between his legs. I pivoted and dove into his exposed side. My heart exploded in savage glee in my chest as I felt Orc topple over.
I was awarded a point and the referee separated us. My heart hammered in my chest. I had tasted blood and it tasted good! I could see Orc better now, he was tall but lanky. He didn’t have the mass that I had previously perceived anymore. His movements seemed awkward and clumsy as if he hadn’t grown accustomed to his height yet. I didn’t find Orc oppressive anymore.
Orc knew it too. I could see the look on Orc’s face. Fear, he wore it like a mask and I revelled in it. He couldn’t catch me! He tried but I would dart and twist out of his grasp. Each time I lunged in, I would sweep him to the ground and leap away. Orc’s friends roared in dismay each time Orc was left laying at my feet. In the end, I won utterly and convincingly and it was glorious.
I fought twice more after that through the day and won those matches, as well, but I don’t remember a thing. I don’t even remember getting my gold medal. I just remember seeing how proud my father was of me when Orc slunk away like a dog to lick his wounds.
True to his word, my father took me to the arcade afterwards. He gave me a double fistful of quarters (this is a big deal because we really didn’t have money when I was a kid) and walked me around the gloomy room. There were a few naked bulbs in the ceiling but most of the light from the actual arcade units themselves. Yellow, blue, green and white lights flickered in the shadows. People hurried left and right, and coins clattered loudly somewhere. The bleeps and bloops of the competing sounds coming from the arcade enveloped me. I was overwhelmed but excited.
Eager to play, I prowled the arcade. I quickly learned that the older kids crowded around the popular games so I was to scavenge through their left overs.
Eventually, I found an arcade cabinet with a game featuring a ninja and his dog. I don’t know the name of that particular game but it seemed interesting so I popped in a quarter to play. It was amazing. There were exciting colours and music and I was quickly immersed in this new and exciting world.
Through it all, my dad stayed by my side. I knew he didn’t really like games but he wanted to see me rewarded. I remember looking up at him as I played. He was backlit by the light just over this head but I could just make out the edges of his tattered denim jacket and the curl of his moustache. He would occasionally grunt at something that happened on the screen but he didn’t say much. He just stood there, with his hand resting on my shoulder.
It was a perfect moment. In my mind’s eye, I often remember us handing at that arcade machine, just a father and his son. I don’t know how long I was there with my dad but it wasn’t long enough.