It was a long stretch of road in the middle of an Indiana cornfield. A drab Kidzbop song emanated from the radio and my eyelids got heavy with the monotony. The sounds of Mario Kart 7 blared from the kids’ 2DSes in the backseat. I reached over to turn the radio dial when I heard the distinct and lovely “dododo do do do do.”
It was the opening rift from Super Mario Bros. I smiled, slowly at first and then flashed a toothy grin.
“Who’s playing Super Mario?” I asked.
“Me,” my seven-year-old answered. “I found another 8-bit Mario on the eShop.”
Achievement unlocked. Getting my child to show interest in the classics.
My son’s first experience with 8-bit Mario came from my Super Mario Bros. T-shirt. He had his interest peaked in Super Mario Odyssey, a game he’s invested more than 100 hours into and the first game he beat on his own yet one I could never get into. I had more success getting him into Super Mario World on our SNES Classic.
Why did I consider this a parental accomplishment? I’ve made a conscious effort to force my children to enjoy the same things I liked but they were surely going to be exposed to it. I had introduced them to Star Wars and Spider-Man but the only interest of mine they shared was video games. So what if they wanted to play the Switch while I was content with an NES or PlayStation 2, we still had a shared interest.
It’s about history. Family history.
It was Christmas 1982. I was three years old and my father had bought me my first video game console, the Atari 2600. I was confused. How do you play with this thing? It doesn’t have wheels. Dad hooked it up to the television and popped in Defender and I was floored. Dad dodged alien ships as I watched in awe, not-so-patiently waiting for my turn. After a few minutes, he handed the controller to me. It was oversized for my small hand. I gripped the joystick and tried to emulate my father.
I lasted six seconds.
We played countless hours on that 2600 over the next three years. He taught me to play Pacman but I could never match his score. I’d gotten pretty good and could hang with him in Combat. We’d take turns in Pitfall and we even tried to make heads or tails out of E.T.
When Christmas Eve of 1986 rolled around, we took the next step in our gaming lives with the NES. My game came with Super Mario Bros and we stayed up til midnight playing it. Dad had found the first warp zone and we made it to World 5 before I conked out in front of the TV. The next morning, Santa brought Metroid and Karate Champ and I didn’t see daylight for a while, opting instead to spend my days fighting Mother Brain.
Over time, we shared frustration at some of the impossible jumps in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and amazement when Samus Aran was revealed to be a woman. I lost that connection with my father as I got older, when my preferences tilted towards RPGs or, even more so, the latest hit for the SNES and Genesis. Dad had no interest in 16-bit gaming, preferring to stick with the the 2600. Except for the occasional game of John Madden Football on the SEGA Genesis, we’d never again play a game together.
As my dad and I grew apart and eventually estranged, I looked back at those days, longing for a simpler time when my only worry was saving the princess. It’s one of the reasons I got into retro gaming. I could look at my collection of 2600 or NES games and smile at the memories.
“Aw, man, I fell down the hole,” my exasperated son said, snapping me back into the present. I expected him to change games at that point but he kept on. Thoughts began to race in my head. When we arrived home, I would break out the NES Classic and introduce him to the best Mario game of them all – Super Mario Bros. 3! And then I can introduce him to Final Fantasy III and Chrono Trigger! Oh, the times we’d share and the memories we’d make.
“Forget this,” and he clamped the 2DSXL shut and put on his headphones. And that was that. As he bobbed his head to whatever top 40 pop artist he was listening to, I pulled out a CD-R from my visor and popped it into the CD player. The soundtrack to Chrono Trigger emitted from my speakers as I continued down the interstate.
“Yes, son?” I turned down the radio
“When we get home, can we hook up the Gamecube? I want to play Super Mario Sunshine.”
I smiled. Maybe I’d turn him on to retro gaming after all.