I’m gonna make a departure from my usual movie review format here and post an article I wrote that won me second prize in a competition over at Gaming Lives. They were asking for readers to write an article on pretty much anything and I chose to write about how I would defeat my Mother night after night on Super Puzzle Fighter 2 Turbo. I’m also posting this because I’m a little too busy to get a film review up as I have been asked to write an article for another site. Anyway, read on and I hope ya’ll enjoy it.
When I was a young, videogames were very much the pastime of the child; my friend Wayne and I would spend hours playing Bubble Bobble on the NES with a level of skill I’d never be able to recreate now. We’d swap tapes loaded with ZX Spectrum games on the playground blissfully unaware that we were contributing to the eventual evolution of DRM. The only times I would ever see an adult play a game was my father playing Snooker on the ZX Spectrum 48k and later games like Jimmy White’s Whirlwind Snooker and Archer Maclean’s Pool on the Amiga 500. My friends parents didn’t game, my teachers didn’t game and my mother didn’t game.
What my mother did like to do was comment on my gaming. The music, when it was there, was repetitive. She couldn’t make out what we were doing, and when she could it seemed pointless or wrong. Her comments on my driving in the Batman: The Movie game have always been a source of my fear of learning to drive: “I’m never getting in a car you’re driving” she’d say. I tried to explain that the Batmobile was a little trickier to drive than the average Ford Escort but that didn’t fly with her.
My gaming experiences as a child were confined mostly to the Spectrum, Amiga and various Game And Watch LCDs as My family never had the money for the flashy consoles of the day and if I wanted to play Kid Chameleon I’d have to do it around a friends’ house. That was OK though because they’d come around mine to play Magic Kingdom Dizzy, then that Dizzy whore turned up on the Mega Drive and I again yearned for a real console.
When I was thirteen and my brother was eleven my parents got divorced. I should have seen it coming but apparently we were both oblivious to the problems at home, probably because over the past year I had received a Gameboy, my brother a Game Gear, and we shared a Mega Drive. Honestly, there could have been a fire and we wouldn’t have noticed. The following couple of years weren’t always the happiest of times in our household but we got on. We’d visit our dad and have good times watching movies whilst eating chips from the local chippy, while at home we’d hog the tv to play Revenge of Shinobi. My mother didn’t mind, unless it got in the way of Coronation Street or The Generation Game, but one thing that always remained was that she didn’t “get” videogames.
When I was fifteen we all moved to live at our Nan’s and a few years after that we had a place of our own again; around this time I received a console as a present that would eventually allow myself and my mother to bond over videogames. That console was the gray slab of nightclub culture known as the Playstation One, or at least the “One” would be added later as it was still just Playstation at the time. It was a futuristic piece of kit for the day; I had seen CD Drive consoles before, a memory of playing an Amiga CD-32 is a strong one that still haunts me to this day, but no CD based console had forced its way into my home with more bravado than this one. When I got it I had Wipeout, Demolition Derby, Tekken and Twisted Metal World Tour which my mum thought were all loud, ugly and violent and, in retrospect, that was possibly the most accurate description of the early PSOne era anyone could have stated.
The game that eventually brought us together in gaming though wasn’t your typical PSOne game. It was bright, colourful, full of charm and involved blowing up a load of jewels that allowed giant headed characters to beat the hell out of each other. That game, of course, was Super Puzzle Fighter 2 Turbo. I don’t know what attracted my mother to this game as the only one I can recall her playing before this was Dragon Tiles on the Amiga; maybe it was because it had an inviting, friendly image. Maybe because it involved a little more obvious skill and brain power than say Tekken. Maybe my mother liked watching the cat lady hit the weird Japanese doll looking girl. Whatever the reason she eventually plucked up the courage to ask if she could play.
Looking back now, I wonder if it was difficult for her to ask; it’s not like I had ever thought to ask her to join in. These were the playthings of a child. Adults have things like knitting and the watching of soaps to keep themselves happy after all, but ask she did and accept the challenge I did. I won. Repeatedly. To the point where I started to feel like a bit of a jerk, but she kept asking to start the next round up and I did so. I picked Dan and still won. I played with the controller behind my back and still won. She didn’t mind at all though. “Next game, come on” she’d say; she was addicted. Eventually these sessions involved my brother, my friend Paul and anyone else that dropped by. We’d play winner stays on then, after a while, I’d start handing the pad over because it was really I stay on. I played this game a lot. After a while my mum wanted to try other games and Devil Dice became a favourite as did pretty much any puzzle game in my collection.
Flash forward about eight years and I’m watching TV because my mum has snatched my DS off me to play Zoo Keeper. Thankfully she turned the music off; If you’ve ever played the game you’ll understand why. We’d replaced Super Puzzle Fighter with Tetris on the Xbox, at least until one day when I had the custom soundtracks on and Metallica’s cover of “So What?” started to play; she was not impressed. My Uncle noticed how she was stealing my DS all the time and so he purchased one of her own as a Christmas present and it pretty much became the most expensive Game And Watch ever as she’d only play the one game, that game being Zoo Keeper. I tried to get her to play Advance Wars, really I did, but my efforts were wasted.
We had our little challenge matches on various puzzle games and it brought us closer together. It was something we shared. We hadn’t really had shared interests since I was a child, watching Cell Block H and Jasper Carrott on TV and occasionally do word searches together. Naturally the teenage years put an end to that; what teenager wants to bond with their parents?
I didn’t notice it at the time but my mother was ahead of the curve. These days the biggest change to gaming has been the influx of the “casual” gamer, those who are generally older gamers or people who, for some reason, don’t see the Wii as a games console but as some sort of self help guru in digital form. Yet I question how casual a gamer can be if they play one game all the time with no interest in buying a new one, because that’s what I see all the time. I work in retail these days and mothers tend to be either buying games for the kids or dad to play but rarely for themselves. When they do they’ll usually look for a new one and ask for something like a “casual” game they already have; one that they feel like they’ve played to death after a year of owning it. Casual gamers, it seems, know what they like and they like to stick to it.
My mother was a hardcore gamer. She just didn’t like to kill things or race around a track fifty times to gain a googolplex of exp. Who could blame her? It was far more interesting for her to herd various animals into lines of three, to collect gems into blocks of four and smash them, to line up dice so there were six die with the number six facing upwards in an adjoining configuration. Devil Dice sure was complex stuff.
My mother passed away in August 2008. Since then I’ve not played so many puzzle games; I have Super Puzzle Fighter HD Remix but I just don’t feel the need to play it without someone to enjoy it with. I still have my PSOne copy and I don’t think I’ll ever part with it. I see it as a memento of time spent with my mother, as much of a memento as the (currently) broken watch I am wearing on my wrist as I write this that she got me for my birthday two months earlier. Capcom’s chibi puzzle based re-imagining of their Street Fighter and Darkstalkers franchises will always remind me of how I enjoyed sharing something with her.
To end this article I have this to say this: if your parents ask to play a game, don’t be so afraid to let them. Even if it means you’ll beat them mercilessly… in the game I mean. It could not only be a great chance to share something with them but also a memory you’ll treasure in years to come when they’re gone. Being able to share an experience with someone is a valuable thing and something that nearly always can lead to happy memories. Also, my mum could have beaten your mum at Tetris.