My hands touched a gamepad for the first time when I was two years old. I was in Marietta, Georgia visiting my grandparents for Christmas. It was the first time I had been there to visit. Their house was a great old thing, part cozy family dwelling, part stoney museum. It was full of fragile antiques and rustic heirlooms. My dad cautioned me to be careful: “Don’t touch, Dakota. These are not your things.” I made it my mission to spread the word. “Don’t touch, Uncle Chris,” I said as I pointed to a two-foot porcelain elephant. “This is not yours. This is Grandma’s.” Uncle Chris and Uncle Mike, twins, invited me up into their room to distract me from the many breakable doodads. They sat me down in front of their tv, popped a cartridge into the NES console unit, and changed my life forever.
My uncles loved hockey. They played all throughout childhood. Even today, each of them middle-aged men and fathers of two, still play ice hockey in local leagues. It seemed as big to them as football is to my own father. Thanks to their love of hockey, the very first game I played was Ice Hockey on the NES. Ice Hockey was the sweetest! It was wildly simple to play, easy to understand for a youngin’ like myself, and even had some interesting team-building metagame strategy. A team was comprised of 4 skaters of light-, middle- or heavyweight size. The lighter skaters could move faster but would lose in physical contact with heavier skaters.
Of course, I didn’t understand any of this when I sat down to play that first day. In fact, I didn’t even really play the game! That’s right, my twin uncles pulled the old hand-the-child-an-unplugged-controller gag. But it worked! I fell in love. And only a few months later, my uncles went off to college and gifted me their NES, games and all. I continued to enjoy Ice Hockey with my dad, actually playing this time, and the rest is history.
The next time I went to visit the family in Georgia, my uncles had upgraded to a Sega Genesis. Sega’s first hockey entry was NHL Hockey. NHL Hockey began the longstanding tradition of hockey games being displayed top-to-bottom rather than left-to-right. The game had fully-implemented fighting, roster fatigue, and the coolest bitwise zambonis you could ask for. After playing the game with my uncles, NHL Hockey became an instant favorite of mine.
Today, I’m not much of a sports gamer. But these foundational experiences will stay with me. Although I don’t play very many sports games, I will always throw down if there’s a hockey game around. I also learned at an early age that the best video gaming is done with friends, family and a 4-way splitter. Multiplayer games are my bread and butter, and it’s largely thanks to Uncle Chris, Uncle Mike and Ice Hockey.
What was your first game? Do you still enjoy it today? Let me know in the comments!