How my grampa made me a gamer

By Spencer Furniss

When I was a kid, I lived at my grandparents house with my mom for a while. Even after my mom got remarried I would spend the weekends that I wasn’t at my dad’s house at my grandparents, staying the night and spending time with my grandparents and cousin.

My cousin and I were more spoiled than the food on Kitchen Nightmares. Our grampa loved having us at his house more than anything in the world and would always do what he could to make sure we were both as happy as possible. This could mean fishing, or launching fireworks over the pond in his backyard, or taking us to Fun N Stuff to play bumper boats and laser tag. But more often than not it meant something related to video games. I even referenced him in my Pokemon story, always making sure my cousin and I always had each version of the games so neither of us felt like we were missing out.

My grampa passed away after a long struggle with multiple health issues on July 20th, 2010. It has been 10 long years since then, and while a lot has changed about me, my love for video games has only grown. Reflecting on him and how we spent time together, I wanted to write something to just show how much impact he had on my passion for gaming. I think he loved video games before I was even born, and it was him sharing his love for it on Sega that brought me to writing this article. From 90s PC and Sega games up through the 360 era, I experience vivid memories of him through most of my favorite games. If you lost someone you love, I hope this article makes you smile and takes you through some of your favorite memories as well.

The early years (Sega and educational games)

I LOVE the Sega Genesis. Playing Sonic 2 is the first memory I can recall, rolling around at the speed of sound through loops and drowning on the second level repeatedly because the music gave me anxiety attacks. It wasn’t until a few years after my grampa passed that I realized he was playing games on Sega before I was even born.

I was looking through a photo album at my grandma’s house one day when I saw a series of Christmas pictures. My grampa had a gift that looked like it could have been a book, VHS, or a beautiful Sega Genesis clamshell. The next page confirmed that it was indeed a Sega game, and it also gave me the explanation of how my cousin and I had so many Sega games that we had no interest in.

One of these games was 688 Attack Sub. It was one of the few non-sport games that my cousin and I rarely played. After playing a little bit of it again, I could just imagine my grandpa sitting in his chair, cigarette lit, and playing a game that tried to imitate The Hunt for Red October

The game felt more like a PC title as you worked from the control room of a submarine and moved a cursor around to control the different aspects of the submarine. You went on a variety of missions, such as escorting cargo ships or destroying enemy vessels,  and boy was it all lost on a couple of four-year-old kids. The manual was the size of a short novel, and I couldn’t help but smile when I found a picture of my grampa reading through it in that set of Christmas photos. It was something I always did when games came with manuals – trying to learn everything I could before playing it for the first time.

Besides Sonic, two other games grew my love for Sega, both of which belong to some of my favorite franchises today – Jurassic Park and Battletech.

Jurassic Park: Rage Edition was my first of many Jurassic Park video games, and boy was it a trip going back and playing it again. From the options menu you can pick two gameplay options. You can play as Alan Grant, blowing away dinos and poachers with a Tesla gun, or play as a velociraptor, doing what you can to save your species and get off the island before it’s destroyed. I never got far, but the art always sticks out in my mind and the soundtrack is still great today.

Battletech, however, was the most difficult game I had ever played. Firing your weapon for too long would overheat and destroy your mech, leading me to dying just from playing around. I would let the game play its demo mode just so I could see what other levels looked like since there was a zero percent chance of me ever beating the first level. 

As for PC, my cousin and I were never at a loss for educational video games like Reader Rabbit. I know educational games don’t sound exciting, but they were the reason I could understand the games I played as a little kid in the first place. Sure, I couldn’t read everything on the screen, but I could recognize enough of the words to know what I was doing. 

Besides Reader Rabbit, we also had Freddi Fish games. Humongous Entertainment holds a spot on many 90’s kids minds, and we were no different. I remember the vivid colors and voice acting like it was yesterday, and I probably spent as much time playing the demos for their other games as much as I spent with Freddi. Through all of the Sega and PC games I remember my grampa sitting there, encouraging us, helping us, or just being there to smile with us as we dove ever deeper into them.

Growing up, the Xbox, and the world of online gaming

Between the time of Sonic the Hedgehog and the release of the Xbox, my cousin and I would bring and play our own systems at our grandparent’s house. I had a PSX at my mom’s and he had an Nintendo 64 at his dad’s. We would still turn on the Sega from time to time, but it wasn’t the new hot thing and would lose our interest.

Imagine our excitement during the Christmas of 2001 when under the tree we found a gift-wrapped original Xbox. The future was here and in our hands! We only had a few games at first, including the fever dream that was the first Shrek game, but it wouldn’t be long until our idea of what games could be changed.

While Halo was a release title for the Xbox it wasn’t until early that next year that we got our hands on it. I remember we stopped to look at game rentals for the Xbox, and by some chance we were able to convince our grampa that we were old enough to play it. We got back to his house, popped the game in, grabbed some snacks and pop, and didn’t move from the TV all weekend. We didn’t even finish the game that weekend since the 343 Guilty Spark level scared the hell out of us. Leaving that weekend, I’m pretty sure we asked our grampa if we could rent it again the next time we were over.

Two weeks later, sitting on the table ready for us was a brand new copy of Halo: Combat Evolved. Again, we spent all weekend playing and we were actually able to beat it this time. Our grampa sat and watched us play some of it, even reassuring our grandma that we could handle the violence and cursing and that we weren’t going to emulate it. He was just happy to see us enjoying ourselves. 

Other notable games during this time period were Halo 2 (obviously) and Mech Assault 2 because one colossal reason; – Xbox Live.

By this time my grandpa had invested pretty heavily into Microsoft, so he was staying pretty up-to-date with the gaming news. When Halo 2 was about to come out, he updated his Internet connection, jumped on the wifi train, and purchased the centerpiece of his finished basement, the 92-inch HD CRT that is almost as big as my kitchen. Imagine our excitement as two 12-year-old kids sitting down to play Halo 2 for the first time, only to find out on Christmas that one of our presents was an Xbox Live starter kit. We could finally get cursed out over a microphone online! I’m pretty sure my face got red a couple of times when someone started cursing and my grampa heard it. He never made a comment, just smiled and watched me play.

Beware, Oblivion is at hand

While we didn’t get an Xbox 360 at release, my grampa had always planned on getting us one. Spring break of 2006 I waited outside my house on the porch for my grampa to pick me up for a few nights at his house. When I got in the car, I asked if we could go to EBGames so I could spend some held over Christmas money on a new PSP game. He said, “Sure, I wanted to stop by there anyways.”

While I browsed the store, he said he wanted to go and look at some things, and after I picked out Vice City Stories, I turned around to see him standing there with an Xbox 360 box. 

He said, “Give that to me and go pick out a game for yourself and a game for your cousin.” Astounded by what happened, I walked over to the gleaming stand of 360 games and poured over my options. I gravitated towards The Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion, and picked out Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter for my cousin. My grampa paid for everything, stopped to grab us a pizza on the way home, and helped me get everything set up on the TV, which would become my shrine for the next few days. 

He sat there with me when I booted up Oblivion for the first time, watched me create my first character,  and remarked on how it was crazy that big time actors like Patrick Stewart were getting involved in video game voice acting. He smiled while watching me experience a game that changed my outlook on what a game could be.

There was no other experience like that first night of playing Oblivion. Not reaching max level in any WoW expansion, not beating Sonic 2 for the first time, not playing Halo 2 or Mechassault 2 online for the first time –  this was in a class of its own. 

I remember not knowing that you could equip torches, so throughout the tutorial dungeon I would constantly use the healing spell to illuminate the area around me. Leaving the sewers, I was amazed at the expanse before me. All of this was free for me to roam? This is what an open-world RPG was really like? I promptly wandered off, finding an Ayleid ruin where a necromancer ripped me apart. 

Grampa ended up falling asleep on the couch next to me while I played, eventually going off to bed, but we spent much more time together the next few days away from the TV and just talked and hung out together. And I’m forever grateful that we had that time, because just a few months later, he would get sick.

I remember that morning. It was the summer of 2006, and I was going to go play in a Yu-Gi-Oh! tournament later that morning. My mom came into the room and told me that my grampa was very sick. He had severe trouble breathing from a serious case of pneumonia, as well as some other complications, and had been rushed to the hospital. No one knew if he was going to make it or not, just that grandma was with him and we would find out more later in the day. 

I grabbed a bookbag, my zombie/ritual deck and my PS2, and rode my bike to the card shop as fast as I could. The shop, named Game Traders, was a place where I felt safe. I had dozens of friends there and I was friendly with all of the staff. When I explained what happened, they let me post up on a TV and play my PS2 until it was time for the tournament. I stayed distracted through the day and when I got home that night I spent time with my mom, grandma, and aunt. I remember being told that he made it through the day, but we didn’t know what the future was going to be like. I remember us huddled in our driveway hugging and crying as if I was watching us from above.

While he made it through that time period, the next four years were increasingly hard on him. He was in and out of the hospital, getting better and getting worse interchangeably every other month. He was still my grampa and I loved him so much, but I knew that time was fleeting. I still went over to his house on the weekends when I could, but I had started high school and marching band. More and more we had less time than I wanted. He was always doing his best to learn about what I was doing, what I was playing and interested in, and even got me an Xbox 360 for my mom’s house so that I could keep playing the games I loved to play at his house when I couldn’t be there. 

Forever yours

I know that this isn’t the most gaming related article. I know that this isn’t a review or news or anything even remotely analytical to video games. But it is so important to me to write down how I came to love video games so much in the first place. There are a hundred more stories I could write down about games related to my grampa, and I owe my love for my favorite franchises to him. Without him, I wouldn’t have the love for games that prompted Alex to invite me to write for this website.

I want to leave off this article with the most personal part of my relationship with my grampa. My grampa had two chairs on his front stoop that we would sit in at the end of every visit. We would talk about anything and everything, and a lot of the time we would just sit and enjoy each other’s company. 

When it was time to leave (and multiple times throughout the visit), he would look at me and ask me, “Whose boy are you?” This was something that started when I was little, probably starting from the time I could actually talk. I can’t remember a time when he didn’t ask me that question. And every time he asked me that, my response was always, “Yours, grampa.” Even when I was a teenager, that was my response. Always, “Yours.” 

I had a relationship with my grampa that I know a lot of people never had with any of their family members. All he ever wanted was to see me happy and to make sure I was always taken care of. He always did the best he could to make sure that was the case. I hope he knew how much I appreciated him and everything he did for me.

Thank you for every memory and every moment, grampa. I’m happy that every time I boot up a new playthrough of Oblivion or Halo, it feels like you’re right there beside me again, and I hope one day I can be to my family like you were to ours. 

Forever yours.

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