Have you ever received a gift that fundamentally changes your path in life?
For the Christmas of 1990, I got the best and most influential suprise gift of my life: a Nintendo Entertainment System. Twenty seven years later, I still recall the shock and joy of unwrapping the Nintendo, with its included orange zapper light gun and the Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt combination cartridge. My grandmother surprised even my parents, who were not super keen on the idea of my owning a video game system at the time.
The memories I have of childhood are deeply entwined with that console.
I played Mario relentlessly. My little seven-year-old hands wrapped around that rectangular controller, mastering jump timings and racing through level after level to save the princess from fire breathing King Koopa. While I sat squarely in front of the television in a kid’s rocking chair, my toddler brother “played” too, holding the second controller upside down (and unplugged).
In those early years, I’d sometimes watch my dad, who would not claim to be any type of gamer, shoot down clay pidgeons from Duck Hunt’s skeet shooting mode. He was great at that game and I admired his skills (and, no, he wasn’t holding the light gun right up against the screen).
Over time, my collection of games grew to include Zelda, Final Fantasy, TMNT, NES Football, and many others. Each of these games holds some part of my memory. The games infected my other loves in life like drawing. I would sketch all the characters that I played with, use graph paper to recreate pixel-perfect sprites, and daydream about the fantasy worlds that the games crafted.
As I grew older, my love for playing extended into a desire to create. I decided, like many other kids my age, that I wanted to make videogames as my job. I read Nintendo Power and learned about schools like DigiPen and aimed for that path. With my neighborhood buddies, we explored some game development systems like MegaZuex, and I fantasized about creating my own Street Fighter clone. This desire to create games pushed me toward math and pushed me to excel in school, knowing that I would need that if I wanted to make games.
All of this influence directed me to a Computer Engineering degree at the University of Virginia. I learned how computers work, how software is created, and so much more. The course of my life has steered away from game development (though I recently made a Pong game for fun), but I still credit my path to that little grey box that appeared before my eyes on that Christmas many years ago.
Last week, my grandmother passed away, surrounded by those who loved her. She was dear to me, and I’m forever grateful for the influence that she had on my life, not only for the Nintendo, but for the person that she was, and the son that she raised that I am proud to call my father.
Goodbye, Grandma. I love you and I’ll miss you.
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