I remember the golden years of homebrew games. My dad was one of those code monkeys who would spend hours in the computer/sewing room, typing up text adventures and Lode Runner clones. Some of my earliest memories consist of my dad telling my mom to keep me the hell out of the computer room while he was on the Amiga. He would disappear in there for days, occasionally popping out to meet his fellow junkies at a coffee shop to exchange manila envelopes like they were in some bad spy movie. Sometimes he would be nice and sit me on his knee and show me a game. These were the times I waited for, the times I remembered best.
A few years after he died, mom wanted to clean out the spare room and asked me if I wanted any of his old computer stuff. Did I! I packed all the beat-up, waterstained boxes into my car and took them back to my place. My enthusiasm was quickly dampened when I realized that not only did I not have a system capable of playing any of it, I knew nothing of coding whatsoever. I decided to try a list of my dad’s old programming buddies that I found in one of the boxes. Unsurprisingly, a lot of them had moved. My mom couldn’t help me out there, as dad had been pretty adamant about keeping his game life separate from his family life, but she told me one of the guys from my dad’s old job could help me.
Wonder of wonders, I actually found a guy. Name was Glen. I won’t give out his last name, he’s been through enough. He barely remembered my dad, but when I mentioned the games I could hear him nerd up over the phone. He had kept a few PCs in as good a working order as he could, and had actually written the virtual console I sometimes played when nostalgia hit me. We hit it off over the phone, and then a week later when we met in a coffee shop. Glen joked about it being like the good old days, and I joked about slipping him the goods in a plain brown envelope. He kind of laughed at that one, but I think it confused him. My dad and he probably ran in different circles.
The first three days were mostly nothing, just Glen trying to get the games running on at least one of the PCs and me trying not to drag my feet. When I didn’t hear from him for a week, I worried that my dad had done something valuable and Glen had stolen it and was probably auctioning it off to some collector. He never picked up the phone when I called. I had actually written it off as a loss when I got the games back in the mail. They came with a note:
everything’s on the CD
please don’t contact me again
taped to a CD case. I got so excited I forgot about how weird Glen was acting and called my friends over for a geek-out. I had guessed that the CD was made to play with the VC already on my computer, and I was right. We all crowded around the screen and started up the first one: Cherry Drop. I was expecting some kind of puzzle game. What came onscreen made us all retch a little.
My friend Bill summed it up nicely: “dude, she’s, like, ten!”
There were others. Some were older. Most younger. A few were boys. All the good feeling drained out of the room, but I couldn’t stop clicking. I think Charlie started crying first. By the end we were all pretty messed up.
The guys left without saying goodbye. I drank a toast to the death of my childhood. I couldn’t stop going back over all the times my dad yelled at me to get out, don’t bother him while he’s busy on the computer. I stared at the brown envelopes the games had been in, the same brown envelopes he’d taken to coffee shops, the envelopes with our old house as the return address.