My Nephew the Gamer

As someone born in the 80s who grew up playing NES and SNES games, I’ve always considered it my personal responsibility to pass on my love and knowledge of 8-bit and 16-bit games to the next generation. Kids today game on mobile devices a lot, and if they do play on home consoles it’s newfangled 3D games. That’s all well and good, but if you grow up only playing modern games, you won’t be able to appreciate the pixelated majesty of the 80s and 90s. This week I’ve had the opportunity to subject my little six-year-old nephew Luke to some of my favorite 16-bit games, and the results have been nothing short of magical.

First off, meet my little nephew:

A boy and his blob.

A boy and his blob.

Luke loves Mario, Pikmin, Despicable Me minions, kitties, cheese crackers, chocolate milk, and M&Ms, among other things. He’s a great big brother to his baby sister and never screams or gets violent. This kid is the greatest six-year-old I’ve ever met and almost restores my faith in humanity (almost).

My video game curriculum started a couple Christmases ago when the little dude watched me play through almost the entire game of The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds on my 3DS (which he refers to as my “black game,” since I have a black 3DS. His blue one is his “blue game.”) I even let him play some, and he completely fell in love with it. So far, off to a good start.

This week my family took a trip to Wyoming to see the sights and generally just relax. Aha, I thought to myself. A perfect opportunity to further little nephew’s education! I brought my laptop, containing various and sundry emulators and ROMs, as well as some controllers. It didn’t take much coaxing to get Luke to come sit on the couch and play games with me; in fact, he was pretty insistent that we start playing immediately as soon as I told him what I had in mind.

I was a little bit worried that he wouldn’t be into the SNES games at first. He’s mostly played 3DS and WiiU games, so he’s pretty used to modern graphics and audio. But he’s a pretty huge Nintendo geek, and has plushies of Tanooki Mario, every color of Pikmin, Yoshi, and probably some others I’m forgetting. He also really, really loves the Cat Suits from Mario 3D World (“Kitty Mario”). I also found out that Sonic is his favorite (but to be honest, he has a lot of favorites). So I started things off with Super Mario World.

The kid loved it. I let him play a little bit, but he had trouble with the precision jumping the even the first few levels require. I told him he could keep practicing, but he really just wanted to see me play. So I let him pick levels while I blasted through them, explaining what I was doing and reading the text as we went along. He loved Yoshi, but he thought green Yoshi was kind of boring. I told him that we could get a blue, red, or yellow Yoshi if we played our cards right, and his eyes lit up. It became our new mission to get a red Yoshi as soon as humanly possible.

After Mario we switched to Sonic 3 & Knuckles for a bit. Luke loves Sonic, especially Knuckles, who he refers to as “red Sonic.” Now, admittedly I’m not the best at the Sonic games. I can get through them with some trial and error, but my partner-in-crime Aaron Wilson is the master. So I didn’t exactly cover myself in glory, even bungling one of the early special stages. We took a break after a couple zones so I could recover from my embarrassment (not that Luke knew any different).

Next up was something near and dear to my heart: Mega Man X. This one I wasn’t sure about, since it’s not as cartoony or kid-friendly as Mario and Sonic. Luke wasn’t sure at first either, but he got into it when I explained the story and did voices for all the characters. When Zero saved us from Vile at the end of the first stage, Luke was dead set on watching me play until I beat Sigma. I let him pick the Maverick order, except that I insisted on doing Chill Penguin first to get the dash upgrade. Incidentally, Luke decreed that Chill Penguin’s new name is “Doctor Penguin.” He also insisted that we call X “Mega Man,” because “X isn’t a very good name.” We tore through the game pretty fast, and Luke was totally enthralled, even on a few bosses and stages that he thought were a little scary.

After that I decided to show him something really off-the-wall with Comix Zone. That proved to be a little bit mature for little nephew, and he politely requested that we switch to something “less scary” after the first level. Honestly it’s probably for the best, since I suck at Comix Zone, but to be fair, that game is absurdly difficult.

Around then it was getting pretty late, and Mommy (my sister) said it was bedtime. So that was yesterday. Today we drove over to Grand Teton National Park and hiked a bit, and when we got back I started writing this post. Luke has been waiting patiently, but I can tell he’s exercising some Herculean self-control. His first words when we got back were “Uncle Andy, do you think we have time to play some video games?” Melts my heart, it does.

So we still have four more days of vacation, and I have a hell of a lot more games to show this kid. He really wants to play Mega Man X2, since he was pretty bummed out when Zero died at the end of the first game. I told him that Zero comes back in the sequel, and he’s itching to find out what happens. I also want to show him more Genesis classics like Sonic 2 and 3, as well as some wild games like Dynamite Headdy and Rocket Knight Adventures. And maybe — just maybe — I can get him to like some RPGs. He already plays a little bit of Mario & Luigi: Dream Team on his 3DS, but he can’t read so good yet. I’m thinking he would love Super Mario RPG or Chrono Trigger if I do all the voices for him. I also foolishly brought but a single working controller to Wyoming, so we’re trying to track down an extra one so we can do some co-op on Secret of Mana or The Great Circus Mystery. So many games, so little time!

Here’s another picture of Luke being adorable, if you weren’t convinced already (this one’s a bit older):

My nephew the dinosaur.

My nephew the dinosaur.

I think it’s safe to say that my nephew Luke is the raddest kid of all time (since I was his age, at least). I feel like all the years I spent playing video games by myself are finally paying off since I get to share them with this cool little guy. He accidentally called me “daddy” a few times while we were playing yesterday; the thought of kids of my own is pretty terrifying, but it’s awesome to know a kick-ass dude like little nephew Luke looks up to me like that. My sister thanked me for spending so much time with him and told me to let her know if he was getting too annoying; I told her thanks for making such a boss kid who’s willing to watch me play games I’d be playing on my own if he wasn’t around. Let this be a lesson to all you gamers out there: it’s all worth it if you can share your hobby with another little gamer of your own someday.

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