Most people I know understand that growing up in the Caribbean always involved visits from family who moved abroad to the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. As a child, it meant staring in awe at whatever new-fangled technology my cousins had, often video games and consoles. It also meant relatives sending their older consoles back home for cousins to play with.
I was born in 1995, and my first ever video game experience involved watching my cousins play Super Mario World on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System gifted to them by an older relative when I was around 7 or 8 years old – over 12 years after the game’s release date in 1990. A few years later, I remember begging to play Mario Kart 64 and Castlevania 64 on my cousins’ hand-me-down Nintendo 64. This delay in experiencing things that American and European children were able to decades before me was my normal, and I never thought much about it until I went to Europe myself.
In 2006, I finished my primary school education a bit early. My parents decided to send me to my aunt’s in Germany for a year, where I had to learn German and also do well in school, somehow. It was during that year that I got my very own Nintendo console, a pink phat Nintendo DS, on my 11th birthday along with a copy of Nintendogs.
It was amazing. I couldn’t stop staring at it, I couldn’t believe that it belonged to me and that I didn’t have to beg any of my cousins to play games on it. My aunt only allowed us to have one hour of screen time per day, so I took refuge in poring over the manuals of both the console and its game when I wasn’t allowed to play, hungry to learn every last detail about them.
Suddenly, a whole new world opened up. I could just buy games, as they released. No more waiting on relatives abroad to be finished playing a game before you received it. I could also ask my family in Germany to buy me games I wanted, or talk to my peers at school or dance class about new games. It was unfathomable to me.
Upon returning home from Germany, I was fortunate enough to have a father who could make trips to the U.S. at least once a year. Not one to care about games or fiction himself, my father took to glancing at Best Seller lists of games in stores and bought whatever was popular at the time. Looking back, I’m thankful for that, as it introduced me to great games like Animal Crossing, my first love, the Mario + Luigi RPGs and the best Pokémon game ever, HeartGold (don’t @ me).
As time went on, I accrued a small collection of games for my Nintendo DS. My father’s travels meant I was fortunate enough to get games once or twice a year, so I cherished them immensely and handled them like crystal balls. Over the years I’ve lost some of them, lending them to friends who lost them in moves. My original DS is also no longer with us, I gave it to a friend whose parents could not afford to buy them games after I upgraded to a DS Lite. I’ve since replaced it, and it’s still my favourite design.
These games stuck with me, shaped me and most of all, got me through some really tough years in my childhood. I understand that I was given opportunities that not many have, and that year in Germany, although extremely difficult, was the catalyst for my immense appreciation for video games as an art form.