Most of my childhood friends were maintained by our mutual love for video games. Some weathered the test of time better than others, but games were an indelible segment of how my friends were made and enjoyed. And no friendship was stronger or more impactful both for life and how I saw a world of select and start buttons than the one with my friend Atum.
Atum was a pretty quiet kid who got crazy as soon as he was comfortable enough. His parents were relentless on him putting on a proper face for the world (i.e. the only 9 year old that wears a bow tie on picture day), and he was a great student. But he was also just as fun and excitable a kid as any other once the school day ended. We met in first or second grade and our common interests made the friendship blossom quickly. Before we knew it, we had planned to hang out at his house after school. Still at the age where we were anxious with anticipation the whole day, it was all the sweeter when we finally maneuvered our respective mothers to give us an entire two hours together!
Having spoken to Atum about his game collection before, I knew going in that I would be outclassed in sheer numbers and skill, but I was still amazed at his collection. His subscription to Nintendo Power humbled what I thought I knew about games. He was the first kid I knew to have Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis. I had never before played on a Genesis. The controller was confounding, and Sonic 2 had no patience for a learning curve. Before I knew it, we had blown through our time together even though a literal pile of games I had never heard of yet lie in wait. I was in awe of this boy and what he had at his disposal.
In retrospect, I can see how I at times had put too much emphasis on my friend’s video games instead of his friendship like I should have, but I don’t believe I was too lecherous in this regard. If anything, Atum seemed to enjoy showing me the newest games his older brother and he picked up. He became my primary source of information in new games, cheats for old games, and how approach gaming in a whole new way.
We played the first 10 hours of Final Fantasy 7 together, giving me my first taste of RPGs and how satisfying watching those numbers go up could be. It was Atum that made me think that some stupid, nature-loving game box that held no interest every time I walked by it at Blockbuster was the complex and joyful world of Secret of Mana. He showed me the insanity of Japanese games like Bust-a-Groove (of the Kitty-N variety), and we grinded out the most lopsided character to fight that big ass Oozaru in DBGT: Final Bout. We laughed at how dumb the healing in Quest 64 looked. Whatever it was, we always had a great time together.
Once we got to high school and had no classes together, we kept in less and less contact to the point that we didn’t really talk anymore. There were never any arguments or ill feelings, our lives simply didn’t meet up anywhere. Now almost a decade since we last spoke, I miss the guy. Atum showed me games that had more than just getting to the end or beating a boss. Or that you could make your own fun in a game (think the avoiding the 1up in Mario 64 video). He showed me that I didn’t just like games, I loved them. And for that, I am forever grateful to the man, even if he’s moved on from such pursuits himself. I know that somewhere inside of him, he still looks back and remembers what we accomplished in so many hours after school.