My mother and I used to have this little ritual when we went shopping. One of the few ways that she and I connected was through the purchase of a toy anytime she went shopping. I was the product of two overworked parents—one of whom I barely saw as he tended to work shifts and another one that I didn’t get to see until late afternoon. Being an only child at the time, and with my family having some room to stretch in terms of income, I was presented with these toys despite my family not having a lot of wealth to spare. And although circumstances would later mean that we didn’t have that freedom—which made me absolutely obsessed with keeping what little belongings I had saved and well-kept (something that would later be of particular importance in my preservation work)—I still look at that time fondly.
The truth is that these small little trinkets, three- or four-euro items that I’ve become absolutely over-attached to even though I lost them through growing up, were how my mother chose to show her love towards me. It started with Hot Wheels toys, but eventually changed to video game magazines—something that became an important part of my life as I got older.
My mother and I didn’t have the best relationship. I was a shy, quiet bookworm who wanted to stay home most of the time, and she thrived socially—she was always tired from work, but she somehow seemed to find a social gathering or event to go to every weekend or off day she had. She liked bringing people to see her always immaculate home, and I liked staying in my room, which she often compared to a pig sty. Our relationship was tense. It left me with a particular weakness and fondness for those times she showed even a little bit of kindness and generosity towards me.
Hearing about those wonderful games (that I knew we could never afford), I would come home and beg my mum to buy me some magazines so I could read about them and talk to kids about them.
Buying these little gifts was how she convinced me to go shopping with her. Even then, the noise and confusion was all a bit much for me; I much preferred to hide against the corners of the couch or sit with my grandma (who took care of me while mum worked), my head to her lap, ignoring the popular cartoons I would only really be nostalgic for 20 years in the future. The noise was a lot—heck, being outside was a lot. I am told that my favorite activity was to sit the hundreds of little model cars in a long line divided by color and shape. Autism, my doctor explained to my mum, using the common question about shapes as an indicator. Though I was too young to remember, I am sure that the usual problematic and hopeless talk was given to my mother.
I didn’t have many invites growing up to kids’ birthday parties or sleepovers. I wasn’t even really included in any conversations with kids my age, be they about video games, popular bands, or whatever other topic I could think of. I was awkward and over-enthusiastic whenever I attempted to join, and the other kids looked at me with a mixture of pity and amusement. I was the butt of all sorts of jokes. As “the weird kid” who wasn’t much liked after turning nine, and definitively never after starting puberty, I didn’t really have a group to discuss the latest in gaming. But even as an outsider, it was hard not to hear about the latest new games that stoked the playground on fire. God of War, the latest Pokémon, or even that new Sonic game where you can turn into a werehog were all games I heard about. As I grew up into a teenager, such talks became less and less common, as gaming became a “kid’s thing,” something dorky that “only nerds did,” but there was a period where I was privy to all the latest games merely through schoolyard talks. And hearing about those wonderful games (that I knew we could never afford), I would come home and beg my mum to buy me some magazines so I could read about them and talk to kids about them.
I think it was the prospect of me being social and talking to strange kids rather than the one or two friends I had had for years—who were just as much social outcasts as I was—that convinced her the first time. Maybe it was even something I convinced her of for the second or third magazines. But it had to at some point have become apparent that buying these magazines wasn’t working to make me more social, because I may have kept being the smelly kid who couldn’t tie their shoes and didn’t mind sitting on the dirt. Nonetheless, the magazines remained important to me.
I don’t know if it was kindness or simply a way to reward me occasionally for not stepping out of line, but from that point on, every three or four months my mom would head out to the “gas station” and bring me one of those magazines. Somehow they were often prior issues, not the one from that month, and they often came in poor shape. Edges peeled off, they were unable to lay flat as if they had been rolled for weeks, and there was a very real chance that they’d show up sun-damaged so the covers were even poorer quality than usual. I didn’t care.
Being exposed now to the vast amount of different magazines and their differing prices, it’s easy enough to see that those I had, at 2.49€ or 1.99€ an issue, were some of the cheapest and most poorly put together on the market. They were stapled together rather than properly bound. The covers, while colourful, had this cheap, almost home printer sort of quality to them, and the paper was so thin and cheap that you were at risk of losing pages simply by pushing the magazines open with a child’s enthusiasm. It’s easy to look at the glossy covers of Revista Oficial Playstation with properly bound pages that used glue and contained actual previews and exclusive images and see how much more well put together it was. I don’t even have to think about the fact those came with demo CDs or that each of those were 114 pages long—while my magazines came to a pitiful 40 to 50—to know exactly what the difference is. A single look at the covers tells me exactly why my mum never went for those. These professionally published magazines started at 4.99€ for later issues, and the follow-up magazine got to be a whopping 7€ per magazine. When you’re so poor you stretch a single package of meat across three or four meals for four people, that money could be, and probably was, better used elsewhere. Magazines weren’t a priority, and truthfully video game consoles weren’t either.
But although I truly do believe in the fact that video games and their history deserve to be preserved—to the point where I’ve scanned dozens of magazines—and although I do have a passion for terminology and Translation Studies, there’s something inherently more personal to those old gaming magazines and my relationship with them. Gaming magazines hold a special place in my heart. From staring at the images on an article about BloodRayne and feeling a strange sense of jealousy of the protagonist, to seeing promotional images of May from Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire and that being the sole reason I decided to emulate the game (and it was actually the first game I definitively choose to play and beat as a girl, something I carried over to Alpha Sapphire just recently), excusing myself with “the bandana looks cute.”
But it’s not just the memories of the games that stick with me. I craved and wanted these games so much it hurt to think about them, knowing I wouldn’t have them, but they were also a few of the moments where my mum chose kindness. Many of the things I now hold dear to my heart from my childhood—and yes, most are physical—stem from a moment where my mum would drop the narcissism and show kindness. It’s the PlayStation Harry Potter game where she saw me struggle for hours in a particular section and she sat down with me and helped me (and I hate more than anyone I have good memories relating to a Potter game). The Pac-Man World game we played together and that she actually enjoyed even on her own (and she hasn’t touched a console video game in over 20 years). The Bionicle toy she helped me build (Bionicle is one of my hyperfixations and means the world to me, even if marred with tragedy and lost friends). Maybe I am just a sentimental girl, one that cries with stress now that she’s on hormones, but those rare moments where she approached and spent time with me, despite how tired she was, mean the world to me.
I wasn’t an easy child to raise. A common joke between my friend group was that I was never the perfect child—she expected a perfect son, and I couldn’t even do the son part right. But those moments where she brought me the magazines with an almost giggly excitement at seeing me happy, even if she told me about 30 seconds later she didn’t want to hear details about what I was reading and didn’t care, mean the world to me. I may have changed a lot, and I don’t just mean my gender or my special interests, but those magazines allow me to go back. And although I would never wish to be that little boy again, powerless even as I find myself often starving and without money nowadays, I can safely say it wasn’t always bad.
“Michelle Caldeira is a professional translator with a focus on inclusive language and experience in the video game industry as Quality Assurance. Probably better known academically as “the one who keeps insisting on studying the gender neutral” and to her friends as “the one who pulls out her childhood Gameboy Color from her backpack to avoid awkward silences while thinking about Bionicle lore”. When not reading master thesis for fun or finishing up her 200+ thousand word Pokémon fanfic epic she can usually be found sharing way too many memes on Twitter at @Mcportugalem”
Guurl, you were not a difficult child to raise, your mother was just a difficult person. <3