Nostalgia is not something I try and actively engage with, especially in this industry where it is often warped and molded into something toxic for dudes who are still so eager to gatekeep their childhood experiences despite being, like, 40-years old. But this essay is about memory and about an experience of my past that I can never fundamentally have in the same way again. I am not jaded by the fact that it is no more; rather I am happy about how I still feel its echo in many things that I do. With all of that being said, let’s get into it.
Growing up with a sibling means, at a point, most experiences are shared. My brother and I shared a PS3 and a gaming room for years, and when we eventually got our own systems during this current generation, the rooms where we played games were only separated by a wall or two. This is important because half the time spent around a console and a TV was just watching one another play games. My younger brother watched me play through all of Fallout: New Vegas and the scope of the world and player agency blew his mind. I’d watch him play Halo and marvel at how ridiculously good he was (and is) at first-person shooters. And then I grew up, I went to college, and I moved away from home and from sibling-shared gaming spaces.
Sometimes I’d bring home my console from school during holidays, and even today, I sometimes bring my Xbox from my house to my parents’ house when I go visit my family because I know my brother will appreciate it. And, well, we just want to play games together. Yes, we can do that online, but sometimes we do not want to play the same game while still being able to hangout. Yes, we can do that online as well. But, and this is a big “but”, there is something fundamentally special about being in the same room with two TVs side-by-side playing different games while sharing a couch with your sibling or friend (in my case, my brother). It is one of those experiential things that are just hard to put into words. I think it just boils down to being comforted by the knowledge that you can share a space with someone you are close with and know that there is a conversation happening without any words being exchanged. We’ll pause one game and watch one of us play the other, or we’ll just look over at the other TV when some patented Cool Shit is happening onscreen. It is a comfortable feeling just sharing something you love with someone who reciprocates that love tenfold—I love videogames, but my younger brother LOVES videogames. And he is at that teenage age where his critical toolkit is not so developed as to see the mechanical and ethical flaws in almost every AAA experience. He just enjoys them while I push him to become more aware of some of the intimate thematic flaws in the games themselves and their means of production. And sometimes he surprises me with how open he is to learn about games and varying viewpoints, but other times I know he just wants me to shut up so that he can uncritically enjoy the newest Sony Prestige “Games Can Be Cinema, Too” Game.
Yet, even those times when I bring a console over do not feel like what we had when we were still growing up alongside one another under the same roof. Our game room was always upstairs back then. There was no need to plan for when we’ll hang out on the couch, it just happened naturally. And sometimes he’d wander from his room at midnight while I, being the older brother, was still up late playing games. I’d just let him watch. I’ll never forget watching his eyes go wide while he watched me play Dishonored. He was not put off or scared by it, rather he was genuinely wowed by how much the player could actually do in that game world. Lo and behold, he played it after me (we were sharing a PS3) at this time and it just became one of his favorite games. I guess that when I look at the bigger picture that I sometimes miss just being under the same roof—the drives to GameStop, him being stoked when I got my license because it meant we could go get fast food at midnight, and etc. But what I am trying to get at here is that specific feeling of sharing a game room and just watching one another play games and, even after a few hundred more words, I still don’t have the words for it.
Fast forward a few years and states and apartments and houses, and I now live in my own house in downtown Atlanta while my brother is still kicking it in the suburbs with my parents as he works his way through high school. Our gaming setups have changed and we hardly find ourselves chilling on the same couch right now due to COVID, mainly, but also how busy life is. He bought Ghost of Tsushima and it has been so hard to just bite my tongue at his unbridled affinity and love for the game. The whole “just let people enjoy things” idea is often a shitty excuse for ignorance and uncritically engaging with media. But in this case, I am just letting him enjoy the game, whatever. He has barreled through the game and he called me to say that he is close to the end. “Will you watch me fight the final boss if I stream it on Twitch from my PS4?” is what he asked me. I obviously said yes and it was after that that I realized how Twitch (biting my tongue again, here) can just be a virtual couch for my brother and I. This sounds so cheesy, but I am not self-editing this out because it is just the fact of the matter. On different couches over an hour away I just sat in on his stream and watched him get rocked by the final boss for like an hour.
He eventually persevered and we swapped texts about how cool it was to see him win. No mics were plugged in and we didn’t talk that way—I do not know why—but just being able to watch him play games for a bit took me back to that game room we once shared. No words needed to be swapped but the feeling was there. That game room is long gone as is the house that once harbored it, but you cannot take away feelings, textures, and memories. While those things often turn into the potent (and often vile) cocktail that is nostalgia, sometimes they just drive one to tear up while watching their brother play a pretty dumb samurai videogame.