It’s my brother’s birthday tomorrow. Yeah, he’s a 7/11 baby and it certainly makes his birthday easy to remember. He’s one of the strongest influences in my life. I wouldn’t have many of the interests— or the benefits of those interests— I have now without him.
Our dad owns The Hollies’ Greatest Hits on cassette. It serenaded us through the radio dead-zones of Central California and beyond on many road trips, often to Disneyland. “He Ain’t Heavy” was always funny to us because, well, I have a brother. And I can assure you as the little sister that he was, in fact, quite heavy.
I’d learn later, as we both grew up, that the song obviously didn’t mean a physical, literal weight— not for us, anyway.
I spoke of my brother briefly when I revisited the origins of my gaming hobby some time ago. During the time we played Privateer, he also taught me the basics of Windows v. 3.5 and MSDOS. It was very necessary since, back then, Windows wasn’t an all-encompassing platform from which everything could run. In order to get to Privateer, I had to get to the right drive, the right directory, and type in the right execution code.
He subtly reinforced one of the first lessons our parents taught us: If you want something, you have to work for it, and there’s a defined— though, not always obvious— path toward that something.
Thanks to him, I had easy access to books like Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (which helped form my sense of humor), and Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings (which helped form my sense of imaginative adventure). I still have the copy of Once and Future King he gifted to me for my birthday one year; inside the front cover, he inscribed a message and lovingly called me Wart.
He taught me how to RP before I even knew what RPing was. When he opened the garage door, it wasn’t just opening the garage door; it was releasing the hatch of the hangar bay. Our family car was a Buick Century, which he dubbed the Centurion after his favorite ship in Privateer. We saluted one another around the house, pretending we were part of the Wing Commander fleet or in one of Tom Clancy’s novels. Every day was a grand adventure. He had a knack for finding real-life equivalents of our favorite things in video games or books.
My brother also had a knack of making real-life less scary with allusions to all things nerdy and geeky. Take, for example, the night he introduced me to Magic: The Gathering. Our parents were having a spat in the kitchen, an all-out yell-fest. We were supposed to be asleep but, of course, we couldn’t and my brother knew I was understandably scared. Sitting on the floor of his room with a flashlight between us, he showed me the Magic deck he was building. One card was called “Time Vortex” or something like that: it had a picture of a swirly, spiraly thing of doom. He told me that, if he said the right words, the magic in the card would come to life and suck in anything he demanded of it. Then he said something unintelligible and slid the card under my leg.
I yelped in panic and scrambled from the lifeless card, hoping I wouldn’t get sucked in. When I realized I’d been duped, I laughed and smacked him with all of the might and retribution an 8 year old could muster. My fears were allayed and forgotten, and, for the moment, everything was alright with the world again.
He taught me to stick up for myself. It earned me my first and only time in detention when I feinted a punch at a kid who tried to steal my cookies during lunch. Granted, it was only kindergarten but those sorts of memories stay with you. I’d fall asleep with my head on my brother’s leg during those long road trips. When I got cold or needed an impromptu blanket, he’d give me his favorite gray hoodie. Then there were the heart-stopping sandwiches he used to make that involved canned corn beef, a fried egg, mayo, and cheese.
We’d go through our dad’s death together, then separately, then reconvene. He walked me down the aisle, with my mom, on my wedding day. He danced with me in our father’s stead to Sia’s “The Church of What’s Happening Now,” where I sang the words to him to remind him that we were all embarking on something new, that the past was unchangeable and all we can do is move forward to seize the future.
And I’ll always remember the first Blizzard game we played together: the first Diablo. It made such a huge impact on us because there was a show called Brimstone on air at the time, which also dealt with vanquishing demons and the Devil. We also lived within sights of Mt. Diablo— it dominated the view of our dining room window. The name, and the game’s premise, had a lot of inherent meaning for us.
Sure, we’d go on to play Starcraft and I’d go on to play World of Warcraft, but Diablo made me into the Blizzard fan and gamer I am today. And, being the gamer I am today, I have this wonderful community of friends made up of people, near and far, from all walks of life. Heck, if not for all of the gaming my brother introduced me to, I probably wouldn’t be writing this blog!
Be your own hero, don’t be afraid to take chances, blaze your own trail, buck convention. These were all the things we learned in our time gaming together, the things my brother reinforced with a punch to the arm or sternly worded, but well-meant, speech.
Nowadays, he sticks to his love for RTS games. He always liked Civilization, Age of Empires, Sim City, and the sort. But he still has a soft-spot for the franchises that were his first love in gaming. We talk about our kids most of the time, trading parenting experiences, and reminiscing about our own childhoods. We often talk while he’s driving, and it’s nice to know that his penchant for profanity on the road hasn’t changed.
This year, for his birthday, I’m gifting him Diablo 3. In many ways, it’s come full circle. The thought brings a smile to my face, to know that we’re still close despite having 3/4 of the country between us now.
Happy birthday, bro. I love ya.