Kung gusto, may paraan.” Oh how my younger self adhered to that principle, with the “gusto” being video games and the “paraan” just short of “every means available to a 10-year-old.”

It’s not that difficult to imagine how a young boy could become obsessed with playing video games. They start off young these days; just take a look at children in public glued to their tablets or smartphones or what have you. Despite the relative primitiveness of technology in the ‘90s, the effect was even more magnified given that gaming electronics weren’t as widespread or as ubiquitous as they are today, making every gaming experience more meaningful.

Walk into any store that sells them and you’ll be bombarded with rows upon rows of titles with exciting box art featuring anywhere from gun-toting men to colorful cartoon characters on go karts. Even the aesthetic and design of the game consoles themselves are a tour de force in marketing toward prepubescents. Their sleek lines and stylish plastic panels are more than enough to attract starry-eyed pre-teen boys.

But playing video games is like playing a ball game. You need to have a ball to play. And in the case of video games, said ball costs somewhere in the tens of thousands of pesos.

And for some reason, getting to play video games was almost never a simple matter for me. I often had to employ very roundabout solutions that were sometimes more trouble than it was worth. I kept finding myself installing free shareware versions of games such as Doom (1993) on office computers where my mom worked, and even bringing a spawned copy of Starcraft (1998) in a CD-ROM whenever we visited someone else’s home for sneaky installations.

Its repeated absence only made this heart grow fonder.

As one of the unfortunate “ball-nots,” and whose parents were unlikely to buy him a video game console or gaming PC any time soon, my mind started racing. A conclusion was made. If I didn’t have one, then it was time to make new friends. Electronically-advantaged friends.

There were a few factors that worked out in my favor. I lived in a gated middle-class village in Quezon City at the time, and it wasn’t difficult to find kids my age with similar interests. My usual M.O. was to play outside with them a bit, and then ask them if they wanted to play video games at their house. “Uy laro naman tayo sa inyo,” I would say. Nothing underhanded or overtly manipulative, and it usually did the trick. If they declined, it didn’t matter. There were others.

Actually, it didn’t take much for some of them to get an invitation. Those who had the latest games/consoles at the time were eager to show everyone their shiny new toy, and I was more than happy to oblige. The same kids, however, had the tendency to hog the controls and basically force you to watch almost the entire time. I didn’t mind. As long as I was in the room with it, my needs were sated.

A tad trickier were those bookish kids who tended to stay at home instead of playing outside. Of course there was an element of “hiya” when it came to knocking on someone else’s door with the intention of using said resident’s ten-thousand-peso entertainment machine. But one needed a thick skin to (literally and figuratively) stay in the game.

Eventually, I would notice some resistance that came from some of the parents of my friends in the neighborhood. They did little to hide their annoyance at my presence, and I would often catch their disapproving looks and furrowed brows from the corner of my eye. But there were also some parents who were positively elated that their child had company at all.

Even the placement of the game console in their house was kind of telling. If the games were kept in the living room, it usually meant that the parents wanted to keep an eye on how much their children had been playing. They had their own room? It was either absentee parents or a relationship built on trust.

Timing was also key. Weekdays were usually a no-go because everyone was busy with homework, and it would be bad optics if a parent were to spot us playing games on a school night. It would have to be on weekends, semestral break, and summer vacation.

When it was time for me to go home for lunch, dinner, or bed, our unfortunate kasambahay would be sent to bring me home for that day. They would be given the thankless job of scanning the doormats of my usual haunts looking for my slippers, the tell-tale giveaway that I had set up residence there for the day.

Despite my vicarious indulgence in electronic entertainment, I would like to think it wasn’t all a non-stop exercise in hedonism, and that there were some takeaways in it for me to grow as a person, admittedly more for my current self’s sake. All that house-hopping gave me some insight into how other households were run, how they lived their lives, and even economic differences.

Like most excesses taken to its extremes, there eventually came a point where the methods employed became just too much. The final straw was when I was caught red-handed at a computer shop quite a long way from our house at a time when I wasn’t even allowed to leave our village, and with money I borrowed from a cousin under false “sari-sari” store-related pretenses. The same cousin whose homework computer I had clandestinely installed numerous PC games on without her knowledge.

I received some much-deserved tough love for my troubles. Belts and slippers may or may not have been involved. But implements of corporal punishment aside, it did help me put my obsession into perspective and mellow a little.

I still treat myself to a little gaming session every now and then, but very tempered with moderation, these days resembling more your traditional couch potato rather than an amateur door-to-door huckster. The way it’s supposed to be.

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