Posted in Games, Life

My Life as a Gamer*

(* Wannabe Gamer)

GamePieces

My husband would laugh at me if I called myself a gamer.

It’s true that I can barely work our PS3 controller well enough to watch Netflix and I don’t play MMORPGs (or Massively-Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games for the rest of you n00bs). In fact, I just had to double check with the hubby regarding the correct spelling of “n00b” which I’m certain makes me one. No, in today’s terms, I definitely don’t qualify as a gamer. But the truth is that I LOVE games, and I’ve played them all my life.

When I reach back into my mind for my very first memories of games, I come up with three things: dominoes, the card stand, and the arcade at Richardson Square Mall.

We had lots of dominoes in our house. The adults used them for playing dominoes and 42, a game that all the kids in our family learn eventually and one we still play a lot today. I grew up with the soft clicks of the dominoes being shuffled on our old wooden table and a fascination with the dots long before I understood what they all meant. But when the adults weren’t playing “real” games with them, my brother and I were making swirling shapes on the floor, constructing long domino “snakes” to purposely (and often accidentally) knock down. We even had one of the original Domino Rally sets to add extra pizzazz to our creations.

DominoRally

The card stand was a wooden stand that my dad made for my brother when he was little and that I used later on. My mom taught us to play canasta and other rummy-type games when we were really young. Our little hands were too small to hold all the cards we collected, so we used the stand. My family still likes to play card games when we get together. One of our favorite variations is push rummy.

CardStand

Richardson Square Mall opened the year after I was born, and I spent a lot of time there when I was growing up. It had a Dillards and a Montgomery Wards and a Joske’s, but I spent most of my time in the wing where there was a Striderite (I loved wearing my new shoes home with the old ones in the box) and a Sbarro’s (I can still taste the thick slices of Sicilian pizza with piping hot cheese on top) and an ice cream store (my favorite flavor was fudge ripple). Just a little further down from that, outside the entrance to Sears, across from the movie theater (with TWO whole screens), was the arcade.

The arcade was a small, dark, carpeted room that was constantly beeping and whirring and flashing. My mom would give my older brother and me four quarters each and drop us off there while she shopped. My money would be gone in no time (I didn’t say I was a good gamer), and then I’d be left with nothing to do but watch Pat play Depthcharge or Joust for the next half hour. He was often still on his first twenty-five cents. If he was feeling extra nice or if I bugged him sufficiently, he would sometimes give me one of his quarters. I’d be *so* happy! Briefly. And then I’d be back sulking by his side. Eventually I got better at the arcade games, a few of them anyway. During my years at UT, I often popped into the Dobie Mall to play a few stress-relieving rounds of Galaga between classes.

When I was about eight, my parents bought an Apple IIe computer and we amassed a large number of games on floppy disks. Then a few years later we upgraded to a Nintendo NES and our game world expanded again.

FloppyDisks

But between the arcade games and the video games and the card games, there were always board games. My family bought practically every board game that existed in the late seventies and eighties. We had all the big ones—Candy Land, Operation, Trivial Pursuit, Pictionary—but we also had some really obscure ones like the Garfield game, the Little House on the Prairie game, Mostly Ghostly, and Laser Attack. My poor, sweet, patient mother played those games with me over and over during summer vacations. It must have been boring having to play the same things again and again, but she did, only finally cracking when I got tired of playing two-player and insisted that we use my stuffed animals to fill up all the other cars in the game of Life. An hour later, when we were still less than halfway to retirement and we couldn’t remember which unicorn was the doctor and which unicorn was the lawyer and whether it was Horsey Ears’s turn or Chocolate’s, she called it quits. I can’t really blame her.

These days, I play 42 and push rummy with my family and spider solitaire on my phone. I still know where all the good Galaga games are in town and love going to Pinballz, the huge arcade in north Austin with over 200 games. My husband and I play Scrabble once in a while and occasionally break out Trivial Pursuit. I’ve even started playing Pathfinder with him and his friends, which is a D&D-style role-playing game. I’m a level 6 elf druid named Gleep and I have a badger companion named Leroy who continually saves the butts of everyone else in the party. It’s fun, but it’s also work. Learning to play a game like that around people who’ve been doing it for more than twenty years is kind of like taking a math class in a language you don’t understand.

Pathfinder

But I miss board games, especially the weird ones from my youth. Those games were awesome, and I don’t think they should be discounted just because they use paper cards instead of graphics cards and spinners rather than short cut keys. So last weekend, when I was visiting my parents, I decided to raid their old storage shed. I knew that much of my childhood was sitting in there collecting dust, and I wanted to see what I could find. When I opened the door, I knew I’d hit the jackpot.

BoardGames

To quote my all time favorite Nintendo game, “Now is the beginning of a fantastic story! Let us journey into the cave of monsters!” I journeyed into that dark, dusty cave and I emerged with treasure, in the form of a large stack of board games from my youth. (This pile doesn’t even scratch the surface. I have several more trips to make. Soon my house is going to look like a Toys R Us, circa 1986.) My husband and I have started playing the games I brought home. We’re trying to figure out which ones are fun to play at least once for nostalgia’s sake (i.e. all of them) and which ones best stand the test of time. (Spoiler alert: It’s not Sneaky Snake.) I’ll share our results with you soon.

In the meantime, I will leave you with two top ten lists—my favorite video games (and how/where I played them) and my favorite board games. I made these lists off the top of my head before I began this post, without researching or thinking too hard about it. Chances are, some good ones have been left off, but these are the ones that left the biggest impressions on me.

I may not be a “gamer” by today’s standards, but games have certainly been a big part of my life.

Me, on a visit home from college, still playing Bubble Bobble.
Me, on a visit home from college, still playing Bubble Bobble.

Carie’s Top Ten Favorite Video Games:

1. Bubble Bobble – Nintendo NES
(Yep, this is the source of the “cave of monsters” quote. My Cousin Kelley and I *LOVED* this game! And we loved how you couldn’t beat it alone, you had to do it together. For that reason, I would sometimes ask my brother to play the last screen with me. His only job was NOT TO DIE while I killed the final boss. That was one game that I was actually better at than he was.)
2. Super Mario Bros. – Nintendo NES
3. Galaga – arcade
4. Jumpman – Apple IIe
5. Battle of Olympus – Nintendo NES
6. Ultima V – Apple IIe
7. Lode Runner – Apple IIe
8. Oregon Trail – in the computer lab in junior high
9. Centipede – arcade
10. Various pinball games – arcade

[Note: One arcade game that I have strong negative feelings about is Asteroids, because it was the one in the waiting room of my dentist’s office when I was a kid. I don’t care that it was free. If you want to ruin a game for somebody forever, just associate it with the sound of a dentist drill.]

Memorabilia from Ultima V, including notes between myself and my friend Richard as we collectively tried to beat the game.
Memorabilia from Ultima V, including notes between myself and my friend Richard as we collectively tried to beat the game.

Carie’s Top Ten Favorite Board Games:

1. Pictionary
(Again, this is a Cousin Kelley association. We used to be unbeatable at Pictionary. We had the mind meld. However, there were also some hilarious almost-pee-your-pants moments when one of us failed epically, like the time Kelley got “saber toothed tiger” and drew an impressive walrus.)
2. Trouble
3. Yahtzee
4. Life
5. Mystery Mansion
6. Memory (specifically the game where you had to match mother animals to their babies)
7. Sorry
8. The Magnificent Race
9. Outburst
10. Trivial Pursuit

What should have made the lists?
Share your own favorite childhood games in the comments!

Author:

Carie Juettner is a teacher and writer in Austin, Texas. Her poems and short stories have appeared in publications such as Daily Science Fiction, Nature Futures, The Texas Poetry Calendar, and HelloHorror. She is currently working on a novel for the middle grade audience. Well, CURRENTLY she is drinking a cup of coffee and petting a dog, but she promises to get back to the novel in just a few minutes.

2 thoughts on “My Life as a Gamer*

  1. I appreciate the post on gaming!

    Some of my favorite board games are, in no particular order:
    Chess
    Yahtzee
    Stratego
    Monopoly
    Risk

    And more recently, Settlers of Cataan.

    I play a couple of MMORPGS today. But most of my favorite classic computer games are from the PC, the original NES, or the Super NES.

    King’s Quest
    The Legend of Zelda
    all the Super Mario Bros. games
    all the Donkey Kong games for Super NES
    Ultima 4 (never got around to 5)
    Marble Madness
    Oregon Trail
    Super Mario Cart
    Arkanoid

    1. Thanks, Ryan! I never played Risk, but I watched my brother play it a lot. And Marble Madness would’ve been on my top ten list if I’d been better at it. I wanted to love that game, but I was terrible! 🙂 I’ve only played Settlers a couple of times, but I could see myself getting into that one too. Thanks for sharing!

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