Some of my earliest gaming memories involve visits to my grandparents’ house.
My grandmother was a gamer. It felt a little strange writing that sentence, but it’s true. My grandmother played games on a bulky old Dell that sat on a crowded little desk. In that same room at my grandparent’s house sat a piano against one wall and a line of boxes on the other. It was a tight space that managed to offer hours of entertainment when my siblings and I visited. To be clear, we didn’t only play video games when we visited (there was pool to play in the basement and Disney cartoons to watch). But that dusty desktop was an enticing part of our visits.
I imagine my grandmother had that Dell desktop so she could do some work from home, but there was a collection of 80s arcade games installed along with games like Cabela’s Big Game Hunter and Zuma. I can also imagine that it was one of my uncles who bought those games and installed them on the computer. Regardless of how they got there, those games were apart of my first PC gaming experiences. I’m not talking Minesweeper or Myst. These games were part of a collection that included Vortex, Tempest, and other classic arcade games (at least, that’s how I remember it). I thought these games might have been part of an Atari collection of games, like the one pictured below, but I’ve been having trouble identifying the exact CD-ROM. My uncle had most of the high scores, but that just motivated my siblings and I. Tempest stands out in my memory the most because it seemed so visually different from the other arcade games I had played. It wasn’t like Centipede, Pac-Man, or Frogger. The jumpy animation, colorful lanes, and varied levels intrigued me.
One of the funny things I recall is that we didn’t really talk to my grandparents about these games. My siblings and I would take turns at the computer, huddled around with anticipation. Obviously, they knew we were playing (after all, we had to ask politely), but they left us to our own devices. Sometimes my uncle would watch as we tried getting a high score in Tempest. That was one of his favorite games. On a few occasions my grandpa would see what we were up to when we played one of the hunting games. My grandpa played those games, and when we were visiting, he would sometimes check in on us to see if we’d shot a big buck. Those memories are fuzzy to me now, but I remember appreciating his attention. It was a small point of connection but a connection all the same.
My grandmother played computer games more than my grandfather. But I don’t recall seeing her play that collection of arcade games. She liked playing Zuma and card games like Solitaire. She seemed most interested in Zuma though, and because of that, I’ll never be able to separate that game from memories of her. A mental connection like that is a pleasant thing to carry (she passed in 2010). While those moments gaming at my grandparents’ house were brief (my mom didn’t want us playing for too long), they were an important part of feeding my interest in technology and gaming.
In 2017, I wrote about some of the women who game in my family. At the time I focused on my mom and my sister, but I’ve been meaning to write about gaming and my grandmother for some time now. This post is self-serving, to be sure. But the reflection felt worth sharing. I’d love to see more stories about gaming that involve childhood and the women who played a part in those stories. If I could track down that collection of arcade games, I’d love to hold a copy of it again. To relive those days for another moment. To picture myself sitting at that Dell in my grandmother’s house on a warm summer day.