What follows is a discussion that features a not-pleasant truth about my childhood. I don’t go into detail and I don’t provide a lot of context, but there’s just one little sentence I know will upset some people if you’re not braced for it.
For anyone new to the blog, I suppose I need to provide the context that I was raised in a strict, religiously fundamentalist church-school arrangement. Music of all styles was regulated, mass media was forbidden, and there were demonic panics about almost everything that you could imagine. This was in the late eighties through to the nineties, when videogames were a new, exotic thing that the church hadn’t yet decided were terrible. This was furthered by there being some nerds in the church who quite liked their computers and computer games, who subtly pushed back against the idea their very expensive toys were bad things. The pastor owned a business that sold computers (or tried to).
Basically, videogames were a little bubble of media that, conventionally, the church would have disapproved of, but we were allowed, because some of the adults wanted it allowed.
Another important element of context:
My dad used to hit me.
Now, moving on.
Dad really liked first person shooter games of a particular generation. His preference has been stuck somewhere around the Doom generation, but those games tended to being enormous, level-filled slogfests. We played a lot of shareware games, too, because piracy wasn’t our thing (until it wound up becoming our thing). This meant that sometime when I was around seven years old, a videogame called Wolfenstein 3d arrived in our house, and boy, was it remarkable. It didn’t look or behave like any other game we’d really played to that point.
Dad really liked it. He played it a lot. I sat on the bed behind him, some evenings, and watched him play. I remembered noticing the ways we learned the technology of the game, technology that is to us now, quite old hat – things like strafing. I remember learning about ammunition conservation and learning the bad game habit of Never Using The Good Weapons because you were busy saving ammunition. And I, one day, when dad was out at work and I was on holidays, I played Wolfenstein.
I finished it in one session.
I don’t know if you’ve ever played it, but Wolfenstein 3D had that strange vestigial element known as a high score table. You could compare your Wolfenstein 3D score to someone else’s. I know this, and remember this, despite not remembering my score, because in my single play session of Wolfenstein 3D, I got the highest score.
That evening, dad came home, we had dinner, and he went to play his videogame. I went in to watch him and after a few minutes, I heard him say ‘Huh.’
Then, dad quit the game, booted up XTree Gold, spent half an hour searching around in his hard drive, and then edited the high score table to replace my name in the high score table with his own. He didn’t do this as a joke, he wasn’t teasing me. He just did it. I don’t even know if he realised I was in the room as he did it. It was just a tiny, weird little action of individual pettiness.
This action, and what it meant, stayed with me for years. I had no idea why he did it. I didn’t know what it proved, or what it signified. Dad didn’t believe in cheat codes, or hacking games, or editing them. This was a truly weird isolated incident and even now I still don’t know what he meant by it.
The day the child realizes that all adults are imperfect, he becomes an adolescent; the day he forgives them, he becomes an adult; the day he forgives himself, he becomes wise.
– Alden Nowlan
My relationship with my dad is not a perfect one. I love him, but part of that love has to come from a place where I don’t resent him for the things that happened to me, even the things he did. It needs to come with a recognition that he made a lot of decisions that were, to him, the best decisions, because of what he went through and what he believes to be true. When you spend your whole life dedicated to causes and ideas that are harmful, you often have to downplay that harm to cope with existing. It also helps me, a little bit, to consider that my dad didn’t really understand the scope of what was going on. It’s not a reasonable view of the world. I can’t judge him as an omniscient force – he is, and has always been, a human.
Part of that was coming to understand that my father was a person much like myself. He had an ego, it’d been bruised – and the thing that let me put my father on the same level as me, as a fallible person, was games.