Inherited love: A story of generational gaming


“Who taught you how to do this stuff?”

“You, dad. I learned it from watching you.” 

I’ve never felt prouder as a father. My youngest son was 8 and just landed in the Super Mario Bros. Level 1-2 Warp Zone.


Hindsight is a .400 batting average

My father was born in 1937. Some 40 plus years later, he regaled my older brother and I with stories of the “woulda, coulda, and shoulda” of his youth — more specifically, how he tortured the likes of Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams, Willie Mays, and Hank Aaron rookie cards by clothepinning them onto his bike so the spokes made a motorcycle noise. He talked about what he would do with those cards now and how much they must be worth. And that’s the rub about the present: not understanding what you have in your hand at the time.

My brother and I started obsessively collecting baseball cards. We were fanatical about them — begging, borrowing, and scrounging every penny we could find to buy wax packs of the current year’s cards. With a wry smile on his face, my father would watch us tear open the packs (stopping only to pop the cardboard-stiff stick of gum into our mouths) and fan through the cards to see who we got. Any player who was even remotely popular or played for the Yankees, would go directly into a plastic slipcase and collected in a book filled with pages and pages of baseball cards. We did not want to end up like our father, full of card regret.


Dodging barrels, saving princesses

Around this same time, my parents bought my brother and I our first video game system, ColecoVision, along with two games, Carnival and Donkey Kong. We were instantly entranced, so much so that we tore through both the system and game boxes to get to the plastic-cartridge prizes within. Over the next year, we collected as many Coleco cartridges as we could, but paid no attention to the boxes or the instructions; it was about the 8-bit entertainment of the best kind.

Several years later, my brother and I had moved on to Nintendo. The simplified controllers, the breadth of games — it was unparalleled at the time. As old habits never die, we treated our games and their boxes with little fanfare or respect. It was about instant gratification and fun with no thought about the future. The Nintendo cartridges had plastic slip covers to keep the gaming board clean but as kids, we didn’t understand the importance of preserving boxes or keeping games in good condition. It was like the baseball cards all over again.


Preserving memories

Flashforward many years, a wife, and three kids later; my PlayStation 2 was collecting dust as we focused on our family. As the kids started to reach sentient ages, Nintendo announced a new gaming system called the Wii — focused on kids, families, motion controls, and whatever the heck a Mii was. I turned to my wife and the look on my face said it all; she knew we were going to have a Wii. 

My 9-year-old daughter and I went to the local Circuit City at 7:00 am on a Saturday to wait in line with 30 others for the chance to maybe buy a console. Full of hope, we rushed in as the doors opened and were able to secure a brand new Nintendo Wii — along with 3 extra controllers and nunchucks, rubber controller covers, 2 games, and the steering wheel attachment. 

We walked back into the house like heroes that day, holding the bags above our heads and shouting for everyone to come check out our score. My kids couldn’t wait to tear open everything. But I stopped them. I took my time and opened every box as carefully as I could. I kept every twist tie, every plastic bag, every component of the system and games. After everything was plugged in, I repackaged the empty boxes, put them back in the Circuit City bag and tucked everything away in a closet.

I’ve kept an eye on eBay over the years, as my hunger for nostalgia and memories was alive and well. I noticed that a lot of the games I used to have, if they were complete and clean, were being sold for decent money. So when my kids looked at me like I was crazy, I explained that all of the stuff we just bought might be “worth something someday.” I told them the stories my father shared about his baseball cards and that by being careful with the Wii, we might be preserving something to collect later on.


More than just “silly” games

I’m not sure how much they digested that information when we bought and played with the Wii, but over the last 10–12 years as we went from Xbox 360 to Xbox 1, and Xbox Series X to Nintendo Switch, every system box and every controller box is neatly repackaged and placed in a basement closet. All the games are methodically organized on a shelf with all inserts intact. Now that game collecting has materialized and become popular over the last decade, my kids are seeing first-hand why we took so much care throughout the years with our systems and games. 

For us, it also went much further beyond the preservation of a “game” or “system.” It was about a shared interest — the beauty captured in the design of the hardware. It was the box art — now appreciated for much more than just enticing imagery. The instant gratification and fun was replaced with admiration, one for an industry that evolved over the years from entertainment to lifestyle. Whether you just play games or collect and appreciate them for the value beyond the pixels and joysticks, video games are part of who we are culturally and — for me — as a family.


End credits

Now I’m the “old guy”in the scenario. I still game occasionally with my youngest son but I have to admit, either my reflexes are just getting slower, or today’s games are moving at a much faster pace. As he learns and adapts to each new game’s specific mechanics, he often has to wait for me to catch up on screen or explain why I need to do a 3-button combo to invoke the big gun while we face another end-stage boss. But the time we do spend together playing is amazing and something I couldn’t share with my father.

Here’s another glaring sign of just how far gaming has come and how different generations experience the same thing. For my entire game-playing life, video games have been about entertainment, escapism, a touch of disbelief as graphics and games get better and better — but it was all something to do with my free time. However, as I write this, my middle-son is finishing his junior year at college with a partial scholarship for gaming. He’s on his university’s Rocket League A-team, which entitles him to a yearly scholarship. Try explaining that to my father.