One of my father’s biggest hobbies was playing music. He owned a vast collection of vinyl records that he would play and mix on his two turntables, and as a child, I would sit in the basement with him seemingly for hours, listening to the latest funk, disco, and R&B records of the ’70s and ’80s. He was not a DJ, but it was because of him I developed my passion not only for music but also for the technology used to listen to music, from reel-to-reel players, mixers, amps, etc. Until his passing a few years ago, this bond we shared over music and technology remained strong.
I have my own son, affectionately nicknamed “The Sequel” because he shares the same name as me. We share our own bond when it comes to a hobby of mine: playing video games. Oftentimes in those early months, after he was born, I would hold The Sequel in my arms while he was swaddled in his blanket, trying to get him to go to sleep, manipulating a game controller during a late-night gaming session. Before he could walk, The Sequel was holding the grips of a dual analog stick. Like father, like son.
Gaming is a big part of my DNA. Going back to the days of the Atari 2600, I have been (lucky) enough to have game consoles in my home. For my birthday one year, I wished to one day have a job where I could play video games. Many years later, that wish turned true when I was hired as a game tester at Acclaim Entertainment, located in Glen Cove, NY, one of two cities on Long Island.
My job was to find as many defects as “bugs” in games before they were released to the public. “NFL Quarterback Club,” “NBA Jam,” and “The New Adventures of Mary Kate and Ashley” were just some of the titles I got my start with. I was pretty good at my job and ended up being called up by some former Acclaim folks to work for a new game company based out of SoHo, NY, called Rockstar Games in 2000, where I joined the Product Development team as a Game Analyst.
Up until this point, gaming was still considered “kid’s stuff” and not really a viable hobby for adults to engage with. Adults who were considered gamers back then had a stigma of still living in their parents’ basement and were not considered people who were married or had kids. Rockstar Games changed all of that. We believed in “making games for people who grew up playing games” and helped usher in the success of games with more mature content, such as the “Grand Theft Auto” and “Red Dead Redemption” franchises. All of a sudden, gaming was the cool thing to do as an adult, and if you were someone like me who grew up playing video games, you now had more choices to reflect content targeted at you. It was no different than watching a movie or TV show geared toward adults.
My time at Rockstar Games was full of tremendous highs. In the ten years I spent there, I went from being a Game Analyst to Lead Analyst to Senior Lead Analyst of the Quality Assurance Team, and the company launched numerous record-breaking titles for both PlayStation and Xbox game consoles. My image was used as part of the box art for “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas” (that’s me sitting on a bike on the right side of the box), and a year after “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas” launched I got married. Three years later, just a few short months after the April 2008 launch of “Grand Theft Auto IV,” our son was born. My first child is essentially a GTA Baby!
As much as gaming has been a part of my life as a hobby and later as a career path, I can remember what it was like before video games were around. For The Sequel, video games have always been here, and some of his earliest memories are tied to video games. The weekend the PlayStation 4 console launched may as well have been Christmas in our home. He discovered the box in the basement on a Saturday morning and screamed, “I GOT A PS4, I GOT PS4!” and had his little executive chair situated in the living room as he played games on the Nintendo’s Wii U system such as “The Legend of Zelda,” or “Super Mario Galaxy.” The swaddled child I used to hold in my arms, trying to put to sleep as I was playing games was long gone. He wanted to grow into his own person as a gamer.
As a Dad, I had to learn some lessons the hard way, like locking down my account after discovering The Sequel made some in-game purchases on “NBA 2K” to the tune of almost $100 dollars! Or when he accidentally deleted my game data in “The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword,” thus erasing all my progress. (To this day, that’s the only mainline “Legend of Zelda” game I never completed.) Also, today’s gaming generation needs more than just the console and the games to play—they must have headphones with a mic to communicate with their friends online. Growing up, my friends and I did not have these same concerns. If we wanted to play against each other, that was an in-person experience side by side in front of the TV and console for a two-player game. Nowadays, these kids are coordinating their whole crew of friends to play online.
The online component of video gaming is where I had the most trepidation for my son being a gamer. Online play is not something I had personal experience with growing up. I preferred playing single-player games with big stories, games I could get lost in, like “Fallout” or “Mass Effect.” The online part of gaming is normal for The Sequel and his generation, so I had to establish guidelines for him to follow, whether it was interacting with strangers, sharing personal information online, or being excessive with any name calling or taunting if he was beating someone he was playing. Ironically though, as the pandemic started in 2020 and his education switched to a virtual model, he transitioned almost seamlessly into it. I felt like it was in no small part due to his gaming hobby, particularly his online habits.
Watching his game taste evolve has probably been the best part of this journey of inter-generational gaming. His foundation is totally rooted in the Nintendo ecosystem of “Mario” and “Zelda” games and sports games like “Madden” and “NBA 2K.” Then one day, he discovered “Minecraft,” and the next thing I knew, he and all his friends were playing what would become the biggest game on the planet. Then before I knew it, he was asking me for his own email address so he could set up an Epic Games account to try out some game called “Fortnite.” A year later from when he first started playing “Fortnite” I had this bright idea to calculate all the money that was spent to get something called V-Bucks, and well … let’s say once we got to about $400 dollars and not even halfway through the calendar I stopped calculating! We had many conversations about why he wanted to spend money (my money, mind you) to buy things in the game that weren’t even real. I would constantly hear, “Because it looks cool, Dad!” as a response. Sigh.
The Sequel today is almost 15 years old, and he is still a gamer. He’s not costing me as much as he once did on V-Bucks or accidental purchases on the account. He does a healthy mix of gaming but also goes outside and plays with his friends, which is good. He still plays “Fortnite” but not nearly as much as he once did. Ironically, “GTA: Online” is one of his most played games today, although I had long since left Rockstar Games by the time this came out. He is aware that his Dad was on the cover of “GTA: San Andreas,” and he even admitted he’s “flexed” about this to his friends, but otherwise, he thinks it’s pretty cool.
Even more recently, we have both taken turns sharing the Nintendo Switch with the release of the latest “Legend of Zelda” game, “Tears of the Kingdom,” which we both think is phenomenal. I even took him and his little brother, my youngest son, who is dubbed “The Trilogy,” to see the “Super Mario Bros. Movie” on opening night. As the lights dimmed, I turned to both of them and said, “Well, here we go. If this movie does well, it would be almost guaranteed that we’ll get a ‘Legend of Zelda’ movie.” Without skipping a beat, the Sequel turned to me and said, “If they make a ‘Legend of Zelda’ movie, I might shed a tear.” I smiled, looked at him, and replied, “Me too, son, me too.”