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The Gamer Who Raised Me

Illustration for article titled The Gamer Who Raised Me

There are many factors that have made me into the person I am today, as is the case with any person on this planet. My personality has been partially formed by that chemical factor called 'depression' that I have discussed here many times but, as any good psychologist would tell me, there are also plenty of external elements that have played roles in my development as a human being.


I certainly didn't become a games journalist by accident. Like pretty much every other dude my age, I've long had an interest in video games. The reasons I have for preferring certain types of games over others, however, can be traced back to a specific origin: my dad. His influence is why I've almost always been primarily a PC gamer. He's also why I have such an intense fascination with storytelling in games that I've made that aspect of the medium my main editorial focus as a columnist and critic.

My dad, also named Phil, has been an engineer working for the US Army since he graduated college in the mid-'80s. He was, to put it bluntly, a nerd.


In his formative years, my father spent a lot of time at the arcade dropping quarter after quarter into games like Galaga and Tempest. But he married my mom when he was only a year into college, and by the time he was 22 my older sister and I had invaded his life. He didn't have time for the arcade but, being of a nerd type, he had a personal computer.

My dad knew how much he enjoyed playing video games when he was a kid, and he wanted to share those experiences with me.

By the earliest time in my life that I can still remember—some time in the early '90s—he had a PC with a 486 DX 100 CPU. He played a lot of old-style arcade-ish games on it. I would watch him play, and sometimes he would give me a turn. He told me recently that he knew how much he enjoyed playing video games when he was a kid, and he wanted to share those experiences with me.

My dad is therefore the reason why I was playing games on the computer, before we ever had a game console in our house. My earliest gaming memories are of Lemmings and the Home Alone 2 platformer and something called Brix, which I remember being my dad's poison. My dad encouraged me to become comfortable with a mouse and keyboard before I ever touched a gamepad.


Back during Christmas in 1996, my parents gifted me something that would greatly impact my destiny as a human being: LucasArts Archives vol II: The Star Wars Collection for the PC. They gave me a joystick to go with it. By this time we had a Super Nintendo. I spent a lot of time on it playing Donkey Kong and sports games. But this pack of PC games that I received included TIE Fighter, both Rebel Assault games and a three-level demo for Dark Forces. Those games scratched an itch I didn't know I had.

My dad tried to take turns playing Rebel Assault with me, but he found he couldn't keep up with action in those games. That didn't stop me from becoming what could charitably be called 'obsessed.' I already greatly enjoyed Star Wars—another way my dad influenced my taste in entertainment—but the idea of playing through stories set in that universe was unbelievably exciting to me. I consumed those titles with the same urgency that I approach a home-cooked meal. Before I knew it I was begging my dad to upgrade the family computer to something Pentium-powered with a 3D accelerator graphics chip. I needed to be able play more technically-demanding games like Dark Forces 2, Rogue Squadron and X-Wing Alliance.


My father obliged, although not quite all at once. He saw how much fun I was having, how much joy these experiences brought me, and he encouraged my growing habit—plus, I got good grades at school and played a lot of sports, so my dad let me play.

I would, of course, branch out from Star Wars games. I developed a liking for Command & Conquer and Half-Life and Quake 2, but I rarely strayed from games with stories. I played some Counter-Strike, sure, but even with that game, for match after match, I would create narratives in my mind.


Today, I play games on a desktop PC that I built with my bare hands. My dad, excited that I was doing that, purchased the graphics card for it. That's not an insignificant part, as PC nerds will know. As he always had, he wanted to support my desire to game on a PC.

Illustration for article titled The Gamer Who Raised Me

There's one other thing I want to share about my father. Even though he is only 48 years old, he is dying of cancer. Chemotherapy has been completely ineffective, and his doctors say he won't last the year. He probably won't even make it to his birthday in September. When he does go, he will leave behind a tangible legacy: my writings on games, writing that was borne from the love of gaming he instilled in me.

I don't know who I would be today had my father not chosen to share his enjoyment of interactive entertainment with me. I am certain that I am who I am because he, all those years ago, let me sit in front of a computer and have all the fun in the world.


Phil Owen is a freelance entertainment journalist whose work you might have seen at VG247, GameFront, Appolicious, Gameranx and many, many other places. You can follow him on Twitter at @philrowen. Send hate mail to

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My dad and I used to play Sierra's Quest games together, working out the puzzles and trying things out. Nowadays, he turns his nose up at the entire industry because it got violent and has occasionally been a source of distress when I over-game and under-work.

I've tried telling him about games like Journey or SimCity or games with good story or gameplay without the violence, but any conversation that I try to have with him about it I see him get that look of "oh god, when's he going to stop talking about this crap?"

It's disappointing. He is massively addicted to watching sports, but looks down on my hobby because it has violence in it. I had hoped that at some point in my life we would have something in common to talk about, but he's a stranger to me. A gambling sports guy who is a good businessman, then I'm the gamer who programs database stuff and wants to make a game of my own.

Should've heard him lose his s*** when I told him I wanted to stop working after this contract (I have about 6 months residual income) to build the game I've been slowly hobbying in my spare time the last few months.

I don't know what to do at this point, honestly. He has absolutely no desire to ever touch a video game, but I fondly remember playing King's Quest and Space Quest with him. My only thought is that he thinks I wasted my potential sitting around playing games, when I just don't have dreams of being CEO of a corporation like he does. I want to do things, not own things.