I’ve played games with my Dad ever since I was very little. In fact, if it wasn’t for him, I’m not sure I would’ve gotten into gaming at all. He was the one that got us our first console, a Nintendo 64, after all. I remember long days of sitting around and playing the games with him. Or perhaps, more appropriately, through him, as he was the one holding the controller and doing the playing, while my twin brother and I routinely tried to direct him, or asked him to read the dialogue out loud to us (We couldn’t yet read).
He honestly did a job that was nothing short of miraculous. He was able to survive two demanding, backseat gaming sons shouting at him to read the dialogue while leaping through the platformer puzzles of Mario 64 or Donkey Kong 64, all while doing so with only one hand.
Gaming with my father presents me with two interesting thoughts, the first of which has to do with gaming not just as a group activity, but as a means of forging connections and bonds. When I was very little, my father was not in my life much at all. He was a banker in New York City, and worked the hours to prove it. Most of the time when he got home at night, my brother and I were already asleep. When he was there before we went to bed, our interactions could be strange or cold. My father was always a warm and affectionate person, but his schedule meant we didn’t really know him all that well.
Then the Nintendo 64 happened. Suddenly, it was an activity we could share together, experiences we could bond over. Playing games with my father opened up a means of communicating with him that my mother sometimes worried I’d never have, and its lead me to one of my strongest support relationships with someone I love with all of my heart. I am very grateful to gaming for that. To me, it represents not just a means of engaging with my friends, but something that is almost always a shared experience, even if the game is singleplayer. Gaming is a profoundly social activity for me, thanks to that.
There’s another part to gaming with my dad, though, and that has to do with his ability to actually play the game. When I was growing up, prosthetics were still not in a really great and usable place for people that suffered from congenital impairments like my father did, and before I was born, there was just nothing that could really help him. He’d made it his whole life on just one hand, finding ways to compensate for his situation, and he did so admirably. Gaming absolutely represents one of those places where he did this, and to this day, he can still play those games with more finesse and skill than I can.
It was a challenge for him to learn how to do that, though, and it’s the kind of little think that has me wondering about other forms of ableism in gaming, and if there are ways to combat it by creating appropriate peripherals. My father has received a prosthetic arm this year that is really functional, but it definitely doesn’t allow for the manual dexterity he might need to play games with it, he in fact does better without it. I wonder where we might stand on this issue in the next decade or so, and I am excited by the possibility of playing more with my father.