I am ten or so. Me and my brother are sitting in front of an old CRT TV in our room. The text adventure game we are playing on our Commodore 64 says we are at a river bank. We are stuck. We do not know what kind of bank a “river bank” is or how we are supposed to get in. The old English Finnish dictionary we have salvaged from our parent’s bookshelf offers no help. Previously almost unused, the book’s spine is broken and several pages have fallen off due to heavy use. We play the early Lucasfilm games, Ultimas, Might and Magic, Bard’s Tales. Regardless of which one of us is using the keyboard and the joystick, we make the decisions in the game together. We write down codes and hints and draw maps on a squared paper with colored pencils, taping in new pages when the space runs out.
We move to a bigger house and get an Amiga 500. We still only have one computer and play some one player games cooperatively, but we find our own favourite genres (I like to wander, he likes to build) and more and more we play on our own. When our sister moves out, we get our separate rooms and Amiga stays with my brother. I play with it less and less and we rarely play together anymore.
I have just moved together with my girlfriend and I’ve somehow persuaded her to play King of Dragon Pass with me. We have shared TV shows and films, many of which have become important to us, but this is different. Now we don’t discuss our opinions about the show, but the choices we are making together and their effects in the world we share. In my sister’s wedding in Italy we ponder how despite all the silver we have, there just doesn’t seem to be enough cows for our clan to grow. We decide that we should extend our temple for Uralda the first chance we get. We get married the next year.
My first son is five. We have bought Lego Star Wars for Nintendo Wii the day before and are now playing it together for the first time. He is surprisingly good at the game, at one point giving me directions. When pushed about it, he confesses having gotten up at night to play the game. I start to anticipate a problem in the future. Soon he will be interested in the games that I play myself. I am certain they are way too complicated for him, but he adopts them with ease. At seven he is further in Darkest Dungeon than I ever was, or will.
We buy Playstation 3. My sons are six and three when we play Journey together. We take turns on the controller, but we are all on this pilgrimage together. A few years on, we manage to repeat the experience with ABZÛ. But around the same time they already have their own separate devices and online friends. They find their own preferences and games (the younger one is drawn into adventures and curiosities, older one prefers tactics and strategy) and stop playing the same games younger than me and my brother did. Growing up they slowly take over my extensive but mostly unplayed Steam library of games that I thought I might have enough time and interest to play, and start adding their own to it. By now they have two homes.
I have three adult brothers. “We should play something together”, we say, more often than we actually do, but sometimes we find the time, login to Discord and to try some new open world game, like Astroneers, or Valheim. Few hours later, we have gotten the hang of the game but the overall situation is somewhat incoherent. One has had to leave, two are building a base and I have wandered off to a distant forest, or to the other side of a planet. We decide we’ll continue from here the next time, but we probably won’t. There’s kids, jobs, responsibilities, the general anxiety of something more important or pressing.
My younger son is twelve and he still wants to play with me. We decide to find out what’s all the fuss about with It Takes Two. We enjoy solving the simple puzzles and are exhilarated about some boss fights, but I’m jarred about the makers’ idea of a working (sic) relationship: Cooperation, time management and perseverance are all good qualities when playing games together, but relationships are more complicated, they require shared meanings, their problems can’t and shouldn’t be tried to be solved by mechanical grind.
I communicate with my ex-wife almost daily on WhatsApp, mostly on matters regarding kids, occasionally sharing bits about our lives. She tells me she has bought Six Ages: Ride Like the Wind, the sequel to King of Dragon Pass. I won’t be playing it with her and I wonder what her experience will be like. Whether or not she’ll be sharing the adventure with someone else, I don’t know, but I hope it will be as meaningful as it was for us 20 years before.
Photos from the author’s archives with consent.