June 1st is my only brother’s birthday. Since he passed away a few years ago, I celebrate it each year by eating Chinese food (his favorite). I thought this year I’d also honor him by posting a remixed version of a post from my old blog. I enjoyed writing it at the time; truthfully, it felt like a necessary thing to get off my chest. Revisiting it along with this personal holiday seems especially poignant to me this year since I also get to remember it with my mother too.
Nostalgia is one of my favorite topics to talk about, especially when it comes to video games. Video games have a great way of capturing a time and a place, forever embedding themselves in our conscious or subconscious. We all remember the first times we booted up classics like Super Mario Brothers or DOOM. We all remember those first moments of new exploration and discovery. We also remember these memories even more when we shared them with friends or family.
I am eight years younger than my brother. We couldn’t have been more different, though that’s more or less the case for me with everyone in my family. Growing up in south Alabama, there was a cultural expectation that you’ll be a good Christian hunter who loves football and doesn’t mind spending every hour of sunlight outside playing sports. I, on the other hand, wanted peace and quiet to read, play video games, and write some very bad short stories.
When we were both still young, my brother had his own Nintendo. He hoarded it away in his room, which only made me want to play it more. I was the obnoxious little brother, always sneaking into his older brother’s room while he was away. Sometimes when he was there, they let me watch. I fondly remember my brother and my cousins playing all of the classics – games like Dragon Warrior, The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, and Mega Man 2 – but I was too young to play any of them seriously. I had to settle with watching or, if I had snuck in to play by myself, button mashing my way to an expected (but still thrilling) death.
As my brother and my oldest cousins grew older, video games became less and less important to them. Instead, they were replaced with bad rap music and illegal drug use. I doubled down though. I had seen those classic games and I wanted nothing more than to play lots of them for myself. The next youngest member of my family, a cousin four years my senior, and I spent a great deal of time exploring the corridors of Wolfenstein 3D. When I had finally saved up enough money, she and I moved onto the SNES and games like Yoshi’s Island and Killer Instinct. Given the age difference, our days of co-oping through some of gaming’s greatest were always numbered. She had friends and parties and boys to chase. By then, however, I had moved on to playing a Playstation which more or less guaranteed that I was going to be a gamer for life.
My brother and I weren’t close until much later in his life, but for at least one year, the Playstation brought us much closer together. When he was younger, my brother had been a big Castlevania fan (unbeknownst to me as I only remember playing 8 Eyes which I do not recommend). One day he showed up in my room randomly with a copy of Symphony of the Night he wanted to play in my Playstation. After we fought and yelled and I yelled for mom to intervene, I finally relented to let him play his silly game.
It was absolutely amazing. Symphony of the Night stands as one of my favorite games of all time for many obvious reasons. First of all, the fact that it is actually really good. But you also can’t forget the great art, music, level design, and boss battles. My brother and I traded it back and forth, even going so far as to trade stories about our individual play sessions when we didn’t play together. For that reason alone, I will never forget the game. It perfectly captured a place and a time where my brother wasn’t cursed quite so horribly with addiction and depression. A time when our relationship was normal. We started on Final Fantasy VII together, but he soon found other things to do. We drifted back apart as I lost myself in the affairs of Cloud, Aerith, and Sephiroth.
Those were the last games he and I ever played together. While I grew as a gamer, he developed mental illnesses on top of his dependency on drugs. He began stealing from other members of the family. He slowly regressed into less and less of a human being. At times, he was still the loving, caring brother that I enjoyed fighting with, but our relationship was never the same. As my father (his stepfather) became more and more absent and my mother found it harder and harder to deal with his constant bullshit, I stepped in as a sort of ‘go-between’. My mom and my brother could have some very heated fights, but I’d always find a way to intervene, hear both sides, and usually explain to him why he couldn’t have his way exactly as he wanted it. Most days, I felt like the older brother or even an interim father figure while he paraded around as an adult-sized child.
When my brother died in 2008 after a couple of really bad years where I tried my best to get close enough to him to help him change his path, I was devastated. To be honest, I have forgotten what it felt like to be a younger brother and sometimes I find it hard to remember having a brother at all. While we weren’t especially close at any point in time, there is still an obvious hole in my life and a wistful wondering of what could have been often on my mind. I will never be an uncle. If I have children, they won’t have an uncle either. Family holidays aren’t the same anymore. My mother isn’t the same anymore.
Still, you move on, heavier heart and all.
You keep going so that you can carry on old memories and make new ones. You don’t stop celebrating the holidays, because there are still loved ones left to celebrate them with. Sometimes, it is best to make up new ones to give you a day to remember. All the times my brother and I played games together and all the times I have played them since by myself have taught me a valuable lesson: true gamers don’t quit – they always press continue. They’ve also given me some amazing memories to cherish forever.
It’s tough, but you have to do your best to remember those great moments of togetherness you had bonding over games (or anything else, really). Remember the first time someone showed you how to get the whistle and skip worlds in Super Mario Brother 3. Remember that time you and someone else sat up all night trying to finish a Donkey Kong game. Remember all of your great ‘war’ stories from GoldenEye or Mario Kart or Street Fighter.
Most of all, remembering the people you played those games with and how much you loved them. Life is better with good games, and good games are better with great people.
#Nostalgia #Memories #Family