Hey Harvey!

Posted on Nov 20th 2021 at 08:00:00 AM by (slackur)
Posted under Generations Lost, Family Gaming, Co Op

My dad was not a gamer, video or otherwise.  He played me at chess exactly twice, handily winning both times and had no interest in playing again as he said he had nothing else to prove.  When it came to the fairly new invention of video games, it wasn't as if computers and technology were foreign to him; he was one of the punch-card programmers who set up terminals for the Army's ARPANET, laying the backbone for what became the internet of today.  His purchase of a Commodore 64 during my youth was completely transformative for me and shaped my future in many ways, including my introduction into the burgeoning world of video games.

Even as my parents in no way shared my youthful obsession with video games, they did respect my interests and rarely critiqued the hours I spent playing games, reading about games, drawing games, and daydreaming about games.  We could only afford the occasional rental or cheap item on sale, so with comparatively little to play I was always trading with friends and working odd jobs to save for another game.  Perhaps one of the reasons I'm open to playing almost anything is due to not having the option to be picky with what I played as a kid.  I may have been apathetic to sports even in my preteen years, but if Double Dribble was the only rental left on the shelf it was still better than nothing.  (Incidentally, it did become one of my favorite NES carts.)  Point being, when I think about my connection with video games throughout much of my life, even with few options and no familial connections, it is easy to trace back and reminisce over many wonderful memories.

If it were not for one of these beige beasts, I'd probably not be writing this.

Now that I'm a dad, it is fascinating to realize I'm helping to create memories for my own sons and their gaming experiences.  Unlike in my childhood, our entire family consists of gamers, each of us has plenty to play, and each of us enjoy very different things.  My Beloved mostly enjoys visual novels and more laid-back fare such as Animal Crossing, although she does occasionally get hooked on games like Diablo III.  Our oldest son also likes visual novels and used to be big on competitive multiplayer like Call of Duty, Titanfall 2, and Apex Legends, although recently he's been more into Persona 5.  Our youngest son, who is on the autism spectrum, enjoys touch-screen tablet games and has recently moved up to DS renditions of his favorite movies such as Kung Fu Panda and Cars.

And then there is my middle son, who has been going by the online moniker of Koola.  He's been connecting with some of our fellow RFGeners here and is a budding game designer, musician, and video game enthusiast.  He's been teaching himself coding for a few years and slowly working on his own game which has gone through many iterations.  He is often far less interested in the content of a game as much as he is interested in how it is built, how it works, and how it can be broken.  Not to say he doesn't ever play game to simply play; he enjoys Minecraft, loves Scribblenauts, enjoys much of Nintendo's output, and he's getting pretty good at Tetris 99.  But by and large he doesn't play games as much as pick them apart.

Koola and I haven't really played many games together, as our interests are usually too divergent for games of more long-term play than a round of Trivia Murder Party 2.  Still, he's been instrumental in helping to get our Autism and Gaming Convention, Spec Con, from dinner talk and into an actual event moving forward.  We are working on starting a podcast project together based around our respective gaming interests and reflections.  And as our family has begun attending conventions together, he's taken to branching out and starting his own physical game collection.

Not long ago our family attended the Cleveland Gaming Classic convention.  Having saved up from allowance and chores, Koola picked up a few games for himself including the Game Boy Donkey Kong Land, universal NES staple Super Mario Bros. 3, and... the Genesis obscurity Generations Lost.  When I asked him about that last one, he shrugged and stated he'd never heard of it before and it looked interesting.

Once we were home, we fired up a JVC X'Eye to let him try his new purchase for the first time.  Black screen.  After some cleaning and another attempt on an original Model 2, we encountered the same result.  Disappointment was understandably visible on his face so I grabbed our copy from the family collection and sat back down with him, with the promise to give his copy a more thorough cleaning later.

If you've never played Generations Lost on the Genesis, (and according to our lists, probably fewer than 70 people have, which likely accounts for about half of everyone who ever has) it is the definition of grand ideas and potential with mediocre execution.  It is ostensibly a narrative-based side-scroller in the vein of Prince of Persia or more accurately Flashback.  The graphics and animation are detailed, the plot interesting and original, the sound design about average, and the controls... well the controls are pretty rough.  If you've played the Genesis X-Men games and found them interesting but clunky and not as fun to play as you wanted, Generations Lost was made by many from the same team and it arguably plays even clunkier.  Koola and I struggled with basic navigation, poor collision and hit detection, frustrating jumping, and unexplained but required traversal mechanics.

pic from vgmuseum.com

And yet as we continued to play it together, an appreciation for the game developed between us.  Koola liked the minimalist but atmospheric sound design.  The story, of which I won't spoil here, ends up quite fascinating and interestingly told.  The awkward controls never really improve, but in many ways the game is more about puzzling out each level to reach the end and less about platforming and action.  I began learning what the game demanded, and after some experimentation we started making progress.  After a short while I had a better understanding of what the game was and what it was not, and with expectations more firmly established it really did begin to grow on me.  In the end I think Koola won't spend much more time on it, but Lost Generations has already become another small bonding experience between father and son.

Upon reflection, this is really my favorite part of video games; making memories and connections.  It is the reason a game that would otherwise be forgotten and abandoned becomes a thoughtful fixed point in the mind and memory.  It is also why I tend to be forgiving when it comes to how 'good' a game is; the circumstances surrounding a game may make it far more important to me.  Dispersed throughout our video game collection are several memories from childhood, contemporary favorites I enjoy with family and friends, and even scraps of paper with passwords or save-games from friends who have passed away.  If tragedy struck and our home burned to the ground, I could still visit a retro game convention or visit a mom-and-pop game store and smile at every title I'd see that reminds me of a lifetime full of great experiences anchored across four decades.

As my Beloved and I raise the next generation of gamers, such connections have become some of the best times we've spent in video games.  We've enjoyed family games of Towerfall, Risk, Castle Crashers, Smash Bros., and several of the Jack Box games (a favorite series of Koola's.)  We had to pick up three copies of Miitopia on the 3DS, and then later the Switch, so several family members could play at the same time.  My oldest and I are about halfway through a Cuphead run, and he's desperate to guide me through a Subnautica playthrough.  Once Halo Infinite releases a co-op campaign, I know that will be next on the list.

There is a part of me who looks at the ol' C64 and knows my own kids will never really connect with that era of gaming.  My future grandkids will just as likely have no real connection to the PS5, Series X, or Switch.  That's how it goes with a technology-driven pastime such as video games.  Still, there is much joy to be had in sharing between generations, and vigilantly searching for those experiences that connect across ages and genre preferences.  We are now decades removed from our hobby being constrained to noisy arcades and expensive home computers; almost everyone now carries a super computer in their pocket that can play countless games. Not to mention, it is no longer strange to see a Switch, DS variant, and soon a Steam deck in someone's hands.  With all of these available games across various ways to play, a little vigilance and intentionality can create another great memory no matter what platform or preference.

One day, my sons will likely be connecting with their own children over whatever new technology brings to video games.  Hopefully, at a Spec Con near you.


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Every time I read one of your articles, I get that nostalgic feeling for gaming, no matter what it's about. Something about the way you write, man. Good stuff, as usual.
@MetalFRO: Thanks! I do hope to always keep the candle burning for us old-timers. 😉

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