My first console was a PlayStation, a gift from my mother’s boyfriend. I don’t remember asking for it; I think it was a gift to curry favor. My mother had an antipathy towards video games that bordered on hostility, so while she didn’t outright ban my sister and me from playing them, it was very clear that the console should remain out of her sight. So, whenever we were done playing, the PlayStation had to be packed up in its box and put away.
Originally, we only played the PlayStation on the tiny TV in my mom’s room, because our living room TV was an old wood-encased Zenith floor model complete with knobs to change the channel that didn’t have the proper composite video inputs. The console always had to be put away when we were done. Because of this, I got really good at repackaging my PlayStation. I had a very specific way I wound up the power cable and auxiliary cords. I nearly always removed the memory card and yelled at my sister when she didn’t, worried that placing it in the box connected to the console might bend the tines of the card and render it useless, destroying hundreds of hours of progress in the handful of games I had. Oddly, I never placed the same importance on removing the game disc.
The games too, had to be put away, stuffed inside the gray box of the PS1 until it bulged in the middle. When they no longer fit, they got placed in a neat row on the bright white hutch desk with pastel-colored interchangeable handles my sister and I shared.
I loved that gray box. It lasted for years; even the little flap you tuck into the cardboard to secure the box closed never failed. And when my father bought me a PlayStation 2 after months of me begging for one because I absolutely had to play the video game with Mickey Mouse and Final Fantasy characters, I kept that box too.
The PS2 box was fatter, a very pretty shade of blue, and I somehow remember it being flimsier than the PS1 box. Even though I was at least 16 by that point, the same rules about putting the console away were in place. By that time we had also upgraded our television technology so I could at least play the PlayStation in the living room instead of on my mom’s three-times smaller TV, but I often didn’t.
Our house was three levels. Our bedrooms sat above the living room and kitchen, which sat above a basement connected to the garage. The floor in the living room shook (seriously, it was loud and often frightening) whenever the garage door opened. That’s how we knew Mom was home. I never wanted her to catch me playing—gaming wasn’t an illegal hobby, more like a decriminalized one—”You can do it, I just don’t wanna see it, especially if you didn’t take the chicken out of the freezer like I asked you to.” If I played in her bedroom on the topmost floor, I’d have more time to save and put the game away than I would playing in the living room.
That’s how I lived as a gamer for my entire life at home. I even carried on the conditioning—excuse me, tradition—of packing up the PlayStation when I went to college. Only when I was a full fledged, bill-paying, rent-lamenting adult did I realize that “oh yeah, I can keep the console hooked up now.”
My original PlayStation is gone, lost in the fire my couch survived but claimed my Game Boy Color 16-ish years ago. I still have the PS1 games, and I still have my PlayStation 2 and all its games, but, sadly, its box is no more.
In a recent meeting with my Kotaku siblings, we were discussing potential coverage angles for the impending release of the next generation consoles. One of the ideas bandied about was console boxes and how well you could repackage an Xbox Series X/S or a PS5. Everybody laughed at the obvious joke but me. I chimed in seriously with how that could be useful, relaying my story of my PlayStation boxes.
Everybody looked at me—as much as I could tell in a Google Hangouts—like I had come from some alien planet with strange customs and traditions. To them, a console was like a VCR or DVD player—an extension of the television it’s connected to. But for my mother—and, I suspect, a lot of Black mamas—video game consoles are toys. And toys always have to be put away when you’re done playing with them.
I still keep my console boxes. I have my Ring Fit box, my Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit box, my Switch box, and even the regular cardboard box (that once held Barilla rotini) that became the new home for my PS2. And whenever I get a PS5, I’ll keep that box too. It’s tradition.