With the holiday season fast approaching, you are, for better and for worse, going to have to spend some time with your family. For some of you, that might mean dipping into your grandfather's "medicine" cabinet to escape the awkward "Why don't you have a girlfriend/boyfriend yet?" jabs and the casually racist things your uncle keeps saying. But I hope that's not the case. Time spent with family can be special—especially if it's spent huddled around a computer monitor as you play games together.
While a lot can go wrong at a family gathering, I want to ditch all that and focus on the happy moments. That's why, two weeks ago, I asked our readers to share their best memories of playing PC games with their family. The thread quickly filled with stories that warmed my heart, and it's inspired me to find a way to get my own family playing games this holiday season. I've sifted through and picked out my favorites, but if you missed that thread, feel free to add your own story in the comments below.
Dad's biggest weakness
While this first story technically isn't about PC gaming, it's just too good not to share. Being a parent is tough, having to prioritize what's best for your family instead of selfishly feeding every quarter you have into a Golden Axe arcade cabinet. Dioscuri's tale of watching his dad flirt with videogaming addiction is a little troubling, but it's mostly just cute. His poor dad just wants to game his days away—who can't relate to that?
Back in the early '90s when I was about eight years old, my dad had to visit the US for work. Being a demanding little shit, I pestered him into letting me come along so we could visit Orlando and Disneyworld. During the trip, we came across an arcade which featured the original Golden Axe coin-op (a side-scrolling fantasy beat 'em up). Despite not being much of a gamer, my dad found it hopelessly addictive, and it took nearly an hour or so of me whining (and most of his pocket change) before he reluctantly walked away.
Fast forward six months, and my dad offers to get me my first gaming console for Christmas. Hm, what a choice, do I want a Megadrive? Maybe a SNES? Or even a Game Gear? "Nope, son, you're getting the Megadrive." Why? "Because that's the one that has Golden Axe."
We proceeded to get the Megadrive, and it quickly became clear that my dad had a problem because he'd stay up all night playing the damn thing. To make matters worse, my mum had insisted, perhaps in a generous but misguided attempt to make it clear that the Megadrive belonged to me, not my dad, that the console stay in my room. The end result was that I recall being woken several times in the middle of the night as a child by the 16-bit grunts of Tyris Flare and Gilius Thunderhammer.
In the end, the family had to stage an intervention of sort, and my mum banned my dad from using it. He hasn't touched a videogame since. But—and here's the PC connection—a couple of years ago, I booted up a Genesis emulator and installed Golden Axe.
"Here dad, you'll never guess what I'm running on here!" I said. The look of conflicted guilt, anxiety, and excitement on my dad's face as he heard the opening music was brilliant. It put me in mind of an alcoholic who's been clean for years and has their resolve momentarily tested by the offer of a glass of champagne. After a moment's pause, he shook his head.
"Never again. But... I might watch you play for a bit..."
The family that LANs together
We had a ton of great stories submitted about family LAN parties. All of the reminded me of being a kid and going to a friend's house where his dad had several PCs set up that we'd all play Command and Conquer on. We already asked our community about their best LAN party memories, but hell, here's a few more to enjoy.
I will never, ever forget the LAN parties I used to have with my brother and dad when I was about eight or nine. We had Quake set up and we would blow each other up endlessly on Saturday afternoons. My friends used to come over and we'd all take turns between our desktop, a laptop that barely ran the game, and an even older desktop that was only used for Quake.
I didn't realize it at the time, but they were some of the happiest times of my childhood for sure, and part of what made me a PC guy all these years later.
I am the eldest of five siblings, all four of whom are girls. The elder two sisters were very focused on glittery things and fashion when we were growing up, and never showed a strong interest in computer games, much to my chagrin. In my mid-20s I moved back in with my parents and discovered that my two younger sisters, aged 10 and 14, were eager to learn at the feet of the master.
We managed to cobble together a low-end PC LAN at home courtesy of my dad, who worked in IT and always had a few spare computers about. We weren't able to run any new games on the budget network, but we did manage to get Diablo 2 running across all three computers, and what more do you need? I have some very fond memories of shouting commands out across the house, directing my sisters as we fought boss battles, frantically dividing up loot according to character class, maniacally diving as we all heard the distinct 'ping' sounding a gem drop that we all wanted…
I'm in my mid-30s now and computer games still feature heavily at our family gatherings. Even the eldest two sisters get excited when we boot up the Jackbox Party Pack. My wife and I will be having our first child within the week; a little girl. I have an extensive gaming curriculum lined up to teach her. First up? Kung Fu Master on the Atari…
My dad and I made a Thanksgiving betting pot about 12 years ago where we would play an FPS and see who won in a deathmatch. My game of choice? Half-Life! He didn't stand a chance, and bemoaned how "the last thing I saw was a goddamned crowbar coming out of nowhere."
We've always been a gaming family. I remember having my first-born daughter on my lap while playing Quake 2. She was about eight when she wanted her own computer to play World of Warcraft, so I slapped some spares together and she joined me and her mum in Azeroth. She had her own subscription for about four years. In spite her youth she was a constructive member of the guild and helped in many dungeon runs.
Roll on the years, our firstborn is now 17 and each of her four siblings have their own computer of varying power. Terraria is a firm family favourite, building amazing beautiful citadels only for the younger ones to dig massive holes through them!
I love this story in particular because it perfectly demonstrates how videogames can form wonderful bonds and don't always have to be competitions of skill and prowess. Sometimes what matters most is that you're together.
My six-year-old son is on the autism spectrum and one struggle he has is with fine motor skills. He has enjoyed playing joystick games like the "Six-in-One" Atari joystick games that come preloaded with Pac-Man and the like. He also likes tablet games but hadn't really played a game using a modern controller.
One day I decided to sit with him and try Lego Jurassic World on the PC. He quickly took to it and we spent the next several days playing a chapter at a time. The game setup itself was perfect since he couldn't really die and I could do most of the heavy lifting for puzzles. But, by the time we were done, two changes were evident. One, he was better at listening to instructions to help solve puzzles. And, more importantly, he went from have a minor melt down about in-game things to saying things like "I don't want to play a dinosaur now, I wanted to play the boy *deep breath* But I want to play the game with you so it's okay."
Obviously we play together with other toys and games but something about that combination of sitting with his dad, playing a "real" videogame with the same controllers his dad and brother use and helping to solve puzzles and win the game really got through to him in a rare way. Needless to say, we'll be trying our next Lego game soon.
A dash of magic
Having a dad that's already a PC gamer would probably be one of the coolest things ever. Michael's story of him and his father beating Hocus Pocus is great for all kinds of reasons. The floppy-disk nostalgia not being the least of those reasons.
My dad ran the IT department for a company, so computers and parts were never in short supply. Heck, we didn't even get a new console until the original Xbox came out. My dad maintained that PC gaming was superior to anything Nintendo or Sony could make. I still remember helping him build a Windows 3.1 rig when I was six or so.
This was back in the days of floppy disk sharing, so my dad would always come home with new games for us to play. One of those floppy disks contained a game called Hocus Pocus. For those who haven't played it, Hocus Pocus is an absolute classic side-scroller from Apogee that has, in fact, stood the test of time... though I may be slightly biased.
I remember playing Hocus Pocus for hours with him. The last level was one that seemed impossible. One of my fondest memories was sitting on my dad's lap as he beat that final level, and celebrating with him when we finally beat the game. We were both ecstatic... it was like we won the lottery. The only difference is we didn't win by chance or luck. We accomplished something together.
Michael wasn't the only person to share stories about sitting on their dad's lap while playing games, either. We had tons of submissions that told similar stories. Here's another favorite of mine because commenter LosNipplos is very aware of how little he contributed. But hey, what can you expect of a five year old?
My dad got me into gaming a long time ago. I still remember what was essentially the starting point: Spending days beating Dune 2000 as all three factions. When I say days, I do mean days. The last mission of each of the factions was paused Saturday evening when little five-year-old me had bedtime, and then early Sunday morning we were at it again.
We beat the whole game even though my mom wasn't too fond of having the blasted thing "waste" electricity through the night, but we had to beat it and either didn't know how to save or it wasn't actually a feature back then. The developers probably didn't imagine people progressing as slowly as we did through a single mission. Not even the last ones.
But our progression speed does, in hindsight, make sense. With all respect to my dad, who apparently was not only the most tech savvy of his brothers, but also an "original gamer" from back when the Atari came out, all that experience playing games, all those years of gaming wisdom... It doesn't show. Which does explain why I remember Dune 2000 as the first game I played and completed, with the emphasis on I.
Probably not though. Most likely I was eating boogers staring at the pretty moving pictures engulfed by my dad retelling the Dune storyline.
The first videogames I ever played were Wolfenstein 3D and Doom. Sitting on my father's lap age four or five, I just mashed the space bar while he did everything else, but said things like "good kill buddy!" while rubbing my head to make me think I took out that Cyberdemon.
Our first home console was a Genesis and I remember me and my brother playing through the levels in Sonic, but then handing the controller off to Dad whenever Robotnik showed up.
Those are very fond memories.
Years and years later as my mother was recovering from a brain aneurysm I introduced her to Papers, Please, which was kind of similar to recall and discrepancy worksheets her doctors had her doing. She absolutely loved it and she now has her own Steam account and loves playing 2D point and click adventure games.
It wouldn't an article about the joys of playing games with family unless it, at some point, included a story about two people playing a game using only one keyboard. We live in an era of luxury, so I'll forgive you if you've forgotten that pain.
My dad had a computer that my brother and I would play games on, but PC games weren't notorious for offering split-screen multiplayer. The one exception was Serious Sam. My brother got the arrow keys and mouse (because he is the older sibling, duh) and I got whatever keys I could scrounge together on the left side. Aiming with the F, G, H, and T keys was not easy.
It's always an amazing moment when you find the perfect game for a non-gamer. You can see something click in their brain as it all comes together and, in that moment, they see what you see in videogames.
My mom has no gaming ability whatsoever. She has watched as four boys grew up under her roof going back from the NES days, so she's seen her share but never cared to play. I really wanted to find an activity to do with my mom since we have very few interests in common, so I had to get sneaky. My mom's weakness is self-contained crime dramas like Law & Order, CSI, etc. If it has a cast of characters with no personality and a hive-mind where each employee takes turns sharing exactly one piece of information relevant to the case, she is all over it. Which is why when I heard about Her Story, I knew her love of crime dramas could overcome her apathy towards videogames.
Her Story is the absolute perfect game for non gamers—minimal UI, no coordination required, really it's just like watching a bunch of YouTube videos and trying to piece together the clues. I especially like how nebulous the game is. We ended up grabbing some sheets of paper to write down all the leads in an attempt to solve the case. We beat it over the course of a weekend and had a great time being detectives together. Up next? Contradiction - Spot the Liar! Judging from the trailer, it should be right up her alley.
Might and Magic
When I was just a kid, my favorite thing about getting PC Gamer magazines was the demo disc. I was far too young to really appreciate the excellent writing of that era, but those discs ensured I was begging my mom for each new issue. This story gets a special shoutout because my first ever experience with Heroes of Might and Magic 2 also came from a PC Gamer demo disc. My heart is bursting from the nostalgia right now.
My big brother and I spent many a Saturday when we were kids hotseat playing the Heroes of Might and Magic 2 demo we got with our PC Gamer magazine. Pretty sure I still have that disc here somewhere…
These are just a sampling of the great stories you all shared about playing games with your family. If you want more, be sure to check out the original comment thread from two weeks ago.
Comments were edited for grammar and clarity.