The holiday season is upon us, in fact, I’ve already seen snow line the roof of my wife’s car, me having to trudge out and clean it off before she headed off to work. Winter and the holiday season in general get people talking about family, warm memories from their childhood and of course those old movies and songs that remind them of the holidays. Growing up as a child of the 80’s Home Alone was the alpha and omega of the holiday season after it’s initial release in 1990. That was the quintessential holiday movie for my generation (outside of Christmas Vacation), but yet whenever I think back to Home Alone I think of those sticky warm summer days back in New England, myself sprawled out on my GI Joe sleeping bag on the floor of my parent’s bedroom with my eyes glued to my Game Gear playing Home Alone.
Home Alone on the Game Gear wasn’t even a good game. Home Alone was the kind of game that took about an hour to beat, that is, if you could beat it. If not you started over. The Game Gear’s six AA batteries didn’t tend to last very long, so I’d be prone on the floor, with my AC adapter plugged into the outlet and the whole idea of portable gaming feeling like a broken promise instead of a reality.
The heat in New England isn’t always terrible, but the humidity can be overbearing at times. Growing up my house was my house, it didn’t feel small or run down, it was just the place where we lived. Going back and driving by it again 20 years later hammered home the fact that it was a small, pretty run down house to me. That’s what my dad was always grumbling about; it was the smallest house on the block and really wasn’t much to look at. We didn’t have much money at time, but enough to have a house, definitely not enough for central air conditioning. So in the summer my parents would give up their privacy on those warm nights and have the air conditioner in their window, allowing my sister and I to sleep on the floor in our sleeping bags.
There aren’t a lot of warm, cozy memories from my family throughout my childhood. Sure, it wasn’t all bad at times, sometimes it was good, but those warm afternoons where I’d come in from outside and step into their room it felt like I had just dove into a pool. My sister and I would play in there on the truly awful days, but most of the time I’d find myself alone in that room, playing a game, at peace. It didn’t matter that Home Alone wasn’t a very good game, or that I had beaten it a few times. This was pre-internet, pre-meta scores and obsessions with reviews. The true measure of a game’s quality was from an article in a magazine that I’d never be allowed to subscribe to but would read as much as I could every time we went to the grocery store until I had finished it, or the box art alone.
My dad worked nights, so he slept during the day and if I wanted to play a game inside of the cool room I’d have to put on a pair of old headphones that I had, the ones that I got from my Michael Jackson radio that were red on the sides with a metal band that stretched out almost immediately. But I’d sit there, knowing that my dad was sleeping and I was nearby, playing the two or three games that I ever had on my Game Gear and everything was right with the world.
Those years didn’t last long. The arguing got worse and Mom and Dad’s room lost that appeal of being a safe, cool place to hide away from the world. Eventually the air conditioner moved up into my bedroom and my sister would sleep on my floor just like she did when she was younger and afraid to be alone, only she wasn’t afraid to be alone anymore. Soon it would just be me in that room all alone, with my yellow shag carpet a stark contrast to the ugly brown of my parent’s room, and my dead grandmother’s console TV on the floor that I’d play my N64 on.
Later on, when things got really bad, my dad slept on the sleeping bag on my floor, and I found myself again just that kid wearing the headphones, playing a game and pretending that everything was going to be alright. Everything wasn’t alright. I wasn’t alright, my sister wasn’t alright, my dad wasn’t alright and I’m not sure that my mother was ever alright, but for those brief, fleeting moments I was able to immerse myself into something that might not have been great, but served as a great distraction that I still remember 23 years later. I couldn’t tell you a single thing about most of these games that I played over the last year, though, and they were all pretty good. I’m not entirely sure what that says about games today, or if it just means that my adult memories aren’t built around escaping into a pixelated world anymore.
I’m alright now, though. That’s really what matters. I own a home over two-times bigger than that one that I grew up in, we’ve got central air and I never have to worry about trying to sleep in the hot, arid New Mexico nights. It’s kinda cold out now, not that it matters, and everyone is talking about the holidays. Eventually someone is gonna bring up Home Alone and instead of thinking about Kevin McAllister, Buzz’s girlfriend or a hot iron dropped on Daniel Stern’s head I’ll be taken back to that cold room with the brown carpet, on that GI Joe sleeping bag with my Game Gear in hand.