By Combining Christmas Gifts, My Brother Helped Me Fall in Love With Games
How the gift of an SNES marked the moment my brother and I started to walk our own paths.
Image courtesy of Lukie Games
Ever since my parents dragged a machine that could play Pong into our home, video games have been part of my life. And for a good while, it wasn't just part of my life, it was part of my brother's, too. A hair under two years younger than me, our hobbies were intertwined as we grew up: Ghostbusters, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, video games. (Often, they weren't mutually exclusive!) The SNES Classic got me thinking about those times again, and it reminded me how the SNES marked the moment the road diverged for me and my brother.
Games have always been an expensive hobby, which helps explain why my mom was on the phone with Nintendo after me, my brother, and a friend beat Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time after only two hours. I still feel bad for the poor customer service representative who had to sit through her yelling about wasting $80, and worse still for not telling my mom that Konami, not Nintendo, was responsible for the extremely short game.
(This Kotaku article helps explain why cartridges cost so much back then.)
The presence of a new video game was common at the Klepek household, partially driven by the ability to regularly sell games back (Funcoland!), but largely because my brother and I were both interested in playing, so my parents would combine two gifts into one.
This formula became especially important at Christmas; that's when we'd use double gift math to (hopefully) get a new console from our parents. It landed us an NES, and later, a SNES. Because we were often opening presents among family, sometimes with kids half our age, my parents would buy lots of tiny, inexpensive gifts to keep us occupied before the main event. Furthermore, even though everyone knew the final, big present was holding the console, it had to be opened last. The suspense was agonizing.
(One good side story: when Mortal Kombat came out (aka Mortal Monday), my mom had promised to pick up our reservation while we were at school. Upon returning home, she announced the game had sold out before she got there. She waited just long enough for the crushing disappointment to devour our souls before asking one of us to get something from a nearby cabinet. Inside, there was Mortal Kombat.)
The SNES came out in 1991, meaning I was six years old, my brother four. The SNES is where my interest in video games began to pivot from a hobby that almost everyone my age was interested in, to something more. I started reading magazines dedicated to video games, and rather than being surprised at the rental store when there were new games, I knew release dates. (If only I could go back and tell that version of me that I'd eventually write for EGM. Hoo boy.)
And while my brother remained interested in games, we were on different tracks.
This culminated when the original PlayStation was released in 1995. That puts me at 10 years old, my brother six, around the age when it's perfectly normal for siblings, even ones who like each other very much, to start having divergent tastes. It was also the first time I had to pitch my brother on what made the PlayStation amazing enough that we needed to get it.
Even if we combined forces, it would prove a stretch for "Santa" to show up with a PlayStation at Christmas. It would mean the facade of other, tiny presents would have to be dropped; a PlayStation with a single game was going to be all my parents could afford.
I'm not sure what 10-year-old Patrick told 6-year-old Timothy, but it probably had more to do with my brother following my lead than actually making a convincing argument. I'm not sure if blurry screen shots of Street Fighter: The Movie would have done much to get him on board.
Still, it worked.
We had a great time with NFL GameDay on Christmas morning, and while my brother would later fall in love with games like Final Fantasy VII and Twisted Metal, it had transitioned into a part-time hobby, not a passion. Like many young kids, he was drawn to things like music, and his future Christmas presents would consist of amplifiers and effects pedals.
There wouldn't be another Christmas where we combined forces for games.
Coincidentally, this was around the time that I started playing around with building Geocities websites about video games and discovered writing. At an absurdly young age, I even conned someone into paying me to write about them. (At one point, I was making like $500 per month at an age when I did not need anything close to that much money, so my parents would pocket most of it for a college fund, while letting me blow the rest on the games I wanted. It was weird!)
Thankfully, I didn't need the double gift math to work in my favor anymore, but it was nice while it lasted.