As a kid, when I told people that I was the youngest in my family and had three older brothers, they would often say, “Three older brothers? Oh, you poor thing!”
My brothers Bob, Mike, and Joe are 11, 10, and 7 years older than me, respectively. At first, I didn’t understand why adults thought the gender and age differences between us were such a big deal. As I grew older, their pity annoyed me. Their apologetic tone seemed to imply that, because I had no sisters, there was some sort of abysmal black hole in my life that could never be filled. But my brothers made my childhood awesome.
My earliest memory of my brothers is eating mac and cheese with hotdog chunks while we watched The Simpsons on our tiny white television. But the times that I bonded with them the most were when we played video games. In the 90s, we owned a Nintendo 64, a Super Nintendo, and the original PlayStation. My brothers subscribed to Official U.S. PlayStation Magazine and used to receive demo discs in the mail. When I was two years old, my brother Bob passed me the controller and invited me to play a Teletubbies demo. I don’t remember this at all, but as my brother Bob tells me, I loved it.
“You were totally thrilled with the fact that it was like ‘Oh my God Teletubbies,’and you could control with the controller and everything,” Bob told me over the phone. “So I taught you how to play that game.”
My brothers kept teaching me how to play on the PlayStation, little by little, despite the fact I couldn’t say “PlayStation.” “You’d be like, ‘Hey Bobby, can we play Play?’” Bob recalled, chuckling.
Mike, my second-oldest brother, said that video games served as a useful babysitting tool. “You were too young to keep up with us if we tried to go outside and play and ride bikes and do something like that,” Mike explained to me over the phone. “Back then, besides the few TV shows that you liked to watch, even though those weren’t terribly entertaining, [games were] the main activity we could all get behind.”
Aside from Mario Kart, Pokémon, and Super Nintendo co-op games, Nightfire 007 for the PlayStation 2 was the next major game that my brothers and I all played together. I was about six when the game was first released, and, as Bob tells me, I was pretty good.
“You were freaking scary, Chloe,” Bob said. “You were getting to the point where if it wasn’t for the fact that I was old enough to know exactly where to use the terrain to my advantage to get the sniper shots off and everything like that... if you managed to close the distance on me, you could take me out.”
I wasn’t this good at every game, of course. I remember pitching huge fits as a kid if I lost the games we played together, but Mike and Bob remember things differently. Bob told me, “You may have been a little upset, but I always remember me, Mike and Joe were always just super competitive with that stuff.”
As I got older, my appreciation for video games grew, and so did my skills. Mike said that I would watch him play games like Mega Man Legends. After he finished, I would start a playthrough of my own, and he would watch me. I usually had to ask for help if I got stuck, which I remember happening constantly. I asked Mike if that ever bothered him.
“The only frustrating thing for me would be when I see something and it’s obvious to me what you should do and you weren’t either doing it or weren’t able to do it,” Mike answered.
Watching me play Ape Escape for the PlayStation was probably one of the more painful experiences for Mike. I just could not do things in the proper order.
“‘You just gotta go get the monkey, hit the monkey with the stick, and then you grab the net,’” Mike recalled telling me, “and it’s just, oh my goodness.”
The Kingdom Hearts games were the first that I largely played through on my own. By that time I was at the age when I was trying to rely on my brothers less, but I still needed help. I got stuck on the boss battles in Kingdom Hearts II, in particular, the one with Sephiroth. I would get so close to kicking that silver-haired dude’s ass, and then he would K.O. me with one hit. His strength and range were ridiculous. His health meter was unfairly high in comparison to mine, and oh, HE COULD TELEPORT. My skills as a ten-year-old were no match for this strangely beautiful monster. I tried to stay as far away from him as I could, and, when that didn’t work, I tried mashing the buttons and spamming attacks. Still, I died.
Screw you, Sephiroth. Screw. You.
After I died for, like, the eightieth time, I threw down my controller (yes, I was one of those children) and held back tears as I marched upstairs to Mike’s room. Embarrassed, I asked him for help. Mike picked up the controller and battled Sephiroth as I cheered him on from the couch. To me, it seemed like Mike beat him instantly, but Mike remembers that it took a lot longer.
“I think it took us several days,” Mike said. “I think the first few times we tried it, we figured out we just couldn’t do it because we didn’t have the right gear, so you went out and tried to pick up some of the different keychains [keyblades] you can pick up and find the right combination [to defeat Sephiroth].”
Many times when I would ask Mike for help, he would then help me progress through the game more, and I wouldn’t get the controller back for hours. Mike admitted that he had a hard time recognizing when to stop helping me.
“It’s like ‘Help me get by this boss fight’ and it’s six stages,” Mike explained, “and I’m not sure which one was the one you needed help with, so you know, I’ll just do all six and we can move on.”
As I grew into my teen years and beyond, I realized that it was odd to be so close to my brothers given our huge age gap. I met a lot of kids who weren’t close to their older siblings and only contacted them for birthdays and holidays. Video games gave my brothers and me the opportunity to bond and also to healthily expel any frustrations that we had with each other. Instead of throwing punches and pulling hair, we competed in Mario Kart. Instead of screaming insults, we laughed at the adorable antics of the Servbots in The Misadventures of Tron Bonne. If we couldn’t play outside, we’d explore the world of Pokemon Snap. We hung out because we could play games together.
Without my brothers, I don’t know if I would ever have developed an interest in video games. For one, I wouldn’t have had anyone else to play with, and also because when I was younger, there weren’t many girls my age who were interested in video games. Largely I think that was because video games weren’t really marketed to girls, and the few that were (such as Barbie Horse Adventures and Nintendogs) were either terribly made or quickly became boring. But because I had role models in my life to introduce me to video games, my interest was not only planted, but flourished. Today, my brothers continue to foster that interest— my brother Bob was actually the one who let me know that Kotaku was looking for an intern and, now that I have the position, he says he “couldn’t be prouder.”
Brothers can be annoying. They might take that Super Smash Brothers Brawl save that you were trying to 100%, and complete the game without getting all of the collectibles. They might give you lame weapons, or make you player two— but in the end, these frustrations are outweighed by the enjoyment of spending quality time with them.