by Richard Keech
As a 34 year old gamer, I’ve seen the games industry completely transform from a niche, nerd-in-the-basement pastime that only the pale kid in the corner of the playground knew anything about, into the billion dollar industry that attracts some of the world’s most talented individuals and commands more respect than I ever thought possible.
Just as gaming stands tall today, I, as a gamer with my own income and total control of my free time, get to stand tall, buy my own games, make my own decisions and enjoy the games I want to. However, just like the industry itself, my gaming story comes from very humble beginnings. Perhaps my story will resonate with some of you. Perhaps it will give you a window into the lives of those others in your family that had to grow up as a Player Two.
You see, though the debate as to who is our parent’s favourite child still rages to this day, the debate as to who was the first child was settled immediately. And it sure as hell wasn’t me.
My brother Dave is the eldest. The first. Numero Uno. The number one chronologically and, though like my other siblings, he could never hope to rival me as the favourite child, his greater age had a huge affect on my early life.
The first born gets all the coolest stuff, they get everything new and get to make the decisions on behalf of all the younger children. As second born children, we get the secondary toys, the ones that accompany the much cooler toys your big brother or sister gets. Think I’m being unfair? Are all toys created equal? Ok – how about when your big brother gets a Batman figure and you get Robin? Big brother gets He-Man and you get your very own… Skeletor? Or, as a comparison to span all ages, if my big brother got the Han Solo action figure, I’d be rocking the Princess Leia figure (yes, I know she’s a bad ass too – but you’re kidding yourself if you think she’s as cool as Han Solo!).
Ok, so now extend this to the early gaming experiences of the Player Two. We’ve all experienced the shame and embarrassment of having to use the shitty 3rd party controller (or joy pad or joystick – depending on how far back your own experiences go). Now imagine that was your default position. Big bro gets the first party, perfectly constructed, fits-like-a-glove controller for Every. Single. Game. Conversely, you get the malformed plastic lump the only vaguely resembles the majestic pad in your brother’s grubby mits!
This is maybe a tired old trope of the younger sibling complaints (also happens to be totally true), but actually – it’s the tip of the iceberg for Player Two. The elder sibling, deliberately or otherwise, doesn’t just leave you stuck with the crappy pad, they actually dictate almost all of your early gaming experiences.
It starts with the console.
Invariably, being the eldest means gaming catches their attention first. So when Christmas or birthdays roll around and your elder sibling/ nemesis starts to beg and plead for a console – is it the console you want? Hell no! You don’t even know the difference yet! They beg for the console THEY want and – in the hope of even being permitted to play alongside your sibling, (not unlike Stockholm syndrome) you probably add your voice to the plea!
So now the household has a new gaming console – that you both asked for – but somehow just belongs to your elder sibling!? Ok, now fast forward to your own birthday – maybe you like what you’ve seen and you request your own console? Guess what? “We’ve already got one! We don’t need two Playstations!” (In my case, it was the Super Nintendo – but it’s the exact same principal).
So now here we are. The ‘family’ has a console that your elder sibling chose, belongs to them and worse yet – this is now prohibiting we lowly Player Twos from having our own console, let alone branching out into something different!
So what options are you left with for your birthday? Games!
Although, yet again, you run into an instant, sibling-shaped obstacle. Because (calling on my own experience here) the big brother is wise. He is influential. And where his influence falls short, his manipulation can take over. You see, your lovely elder sibling has worked out that he or she can now get more games for their console for YOUR birthday.
It starts simple enough:
You: Yay! It’s my birthday! I want to get Road Rash!
Him: Road Rash isn’t on SNES, only Megadrive. We don’t have a Megadrive.
Ok, so the pool of available games is narrowed to the console he chose. Not his fault, but definitely under his influence. However, we’ve still not landed on the game he wants.
You: Ooh, ok. Then I want to get… Super bomber man!
Him: Have you seen Super Street Fighter 2? It looks really cool!
He starts out kind. Using his influence to guide you toward a game he thinks you might enjoy. Right? Or a game you’ll both enjoy? Nope. Just a game he wants. But you’re young, foolish you’ll probably fall for it anyway. And if you don’t…
You: I think I prefer Bomber Man. It’s more my kind of game.
Him: But Bomberman is for babies! I thought you’d grown up?
You: It’s suitable for any age, it looks really awesome! We could play together (please love me big brother)!
Him: Whatever, nerd. You’re not playing your baby game on my console.
Trump card played. His influence and manipulative powers take hold. Your desperation for acceptance and not wasting a birthday present on something you’re going to keep having to ask permission to play and even then get told ‘no’ leads to the familiar, defeated conversation that all Player Twos will have had at some point…
Mum: So have you decided what you’d like for your birthday?
You: I think I’d like Super Street Fighter 2.
Mum: Is that not a bit violent for you?
Him: It’s ok mum, I’ll watch him when he plays it.
Mum: Ok, thank you my wonderful darling first born. You’re such a good big brother.
Game over. While my (shitty 3rd Party) controller gently weeps.