Here on Halloween, you get a story about Hanukkah. By the time 1991 rolled around, I was ten years old and deeply entrenched into the world of Nintendo. I'd owned a Nintendo Entertainment System for several years, happily played Game Boy, and was dreaming of a Super NES for the holidays. I was a young man of Mario. My parents were happy to encourage this, giving me games and Nintendo-related books and media for holiday gifts and allowing me to spend my allowance and other savings on more games. My father's side of the family, however, was not so understanding. Ever since I had been bitten by the gaming bug a few years prior, they went out of their way to discourage my gaming interests. They refused to give me games as gifts and even tried to forbid me from ducking away to a corner chair to play Game Boy when my family would visit them. The terrible thing was, my grandparents never wanted much to do with me and, from my point of view, did not understand me. From a very young age, they never wanted to talk to me or were curious about my interests. Any attempt I made to connect with them was rebuffed. My grandfather spoke sharply about me or over me, mostly barking to my father why I always had my face in "that damn game". I did my best to ignore them and go back to Super Mario Land. "It's a waste of his time! It'll never get him anywhere!"
So there we were in December 1991 as that entire side of the family gathered for Hanukkah: grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and my grandparents' god-awful little dog who was always trying to take a bite out of me when I was trying to save Sarasaland in a corner somewhere. We ate the traditional dinner of my grandmother's bland meatloaf, then unwrapped the presents. Mixed in with boring stuff like socks and practical gifts like a clock/radio was, to my astonishment, Castlevania II: Belmont's Revenge for the Game Boy, and the card on the gift said it was from my grandparents. I couldn't believe it. Perhaps, after all this time, they were trying to reach out to me and be a part of my hobbies. Maybe they were, in their own way, trying to work with me on my level. I happily tore into the game and was exploring the Crystal Castle level before we left for the long drive back home upstate.
Sitting in the backseat and playing in the dark aided by my Light Boy, I cranked up the headphone volume and reveled in the handheld Castlevania experience. In between levels, I said to my parents how surprised I was that my grandparents who did not seem to like me at all had given me something I actually wanted that they had professed to hate. "About that," my mother told me, "They didn't know what to get you, so they just gave me some money and told me to buy you something to give from them." Giving me a video game was my mother's little dig at them, for they weren't very crazy about her either.
My grandmother died soon after and my grandfather passed away just as I graduated high school, so they missed seeing how "that damn game" and others like it led me into my successful career in technology and opened up opportunities like covering E3, meeting talented developers, and forming long-lasting friendships. Video games will never get me anywhere? Actually, they've taken me everywhere. I still have that clock/radio, too.