Father/son bonding varies from family to family. Some fathers take their sons to the the park to play football. Some fathers take their sons fishing. Some fathers take their sons bowling. My father and I went to Hell.
Back in 1994 we had a 486 PC. It was noisy and cranky and bigger than some Scottish villages I've been to. It didn't have a CD-ROM drive, only having truck with floppies, and we had a great deal of freeware and shareware games that came free with PC magazines of the time. Rescue Rover (an early id software game based on saving a dog from robots by using mirrors) was a perennial favourite, as was a game about collecting letters to spell words whose name escapes me. Our longtime favourite was The Catacomb Abyss, a proto-FPS where you were a wizard shooting fireballs out of your hands at zombies and demons that looked like they were made of bad jam. You were hunting down an evil bastard of a Necromancer called Nemesis who was insanely overpowered and ugly to boot. There was lots of key hunting and blasting secret doors and being condescendingly told that "you should use your cure potions wisely" after you had been ganked by some flying bastard.
The game we didn't have, and really wanted, was the next rung up on the evolutionary ladder from the Catacomb Abyss. We wanted Doom.
Doom was everywhere at the time, exploding onto computers all over the world in big gory blobs. The only problem for us was that it was everywhere on CD-ROM, which our poor primitive device could not use. It would have looked at a CD with incomprehension, a baffled look on its monitor, and then probably have pitched a fit that would mean my dad spending a week combing through the accursed AUTOEXEC.BAT file.
We knew the game could be purchased on floppy disk, but in the dark days before Amazon a manual trawl was required. We tried every computer hardware and software shop in Nottingham looking for a copy of Ultimate Doom (Doom + a new campaign, Thy Flesh Consumed) on floppy disk, all to no avail. We even went to Mansfield, of all places, to see if we could hunt it down (important note - don't go to Mansfield for any reason). Eventually we stopped in Beatties, a shop that mainly sold model trains and planes but stocked a few videogames too, on the offchance that they could help us out. They did not disappoint, and Ultimate Doom descended upon the Barker household.
At the time, we played as a team. My dad was at the helm, moving and shooting, and I was on navigation, remembering where we had been and not been, and giving advice that veered between useless ("Shoot him, dad! Shoot him!") and critical ("You can't use a rocket launcher at close range, dad, that's why we're dead."). As I was but 10 years old at the time, I would have been useless at the controls, but that didn't stop me from pouring scorn on my dad's abilities everytime a demon chewed our face off or everytime my dad pulled "the rocket pistol trick" (see previous parentheses).
We developed our own vocabulary for the fiendish monstrosities of The Pit that were lined up against us. Cacodemons became known as "Wobblyjobs". Barons of Hell were formally and respectfully referred to as "His Baronialness". The hulking Cyberdemon was known to us as "AAAAAAAAARGHRUNAWAYRUNAWAYRUNRUNRUN".
One of the best aspects of Doom was the mood - adrenaline-drenched panic, a twitchy paranoia that made you desperately fearful of what lay around the next corner whilst still encouraging you to forge ahead at near-breakneck pace. That mood was what took hold whenever you would see a room that was pitch-black save for a solitary spotlit chaingun. You knew it was booby-trapped. You knew that whatever was breathing heavily was in the dark, watching you with demonic blood-red eyes. You knew the second you touched it the room would suddenly transform into a cross between an HP Lovecraft short story and Glasgow on a Saturday night. You knew, and were afraid, and exhilarated, and did it anyway. And my dad and I did it together.
I think it may have been these experiences that instilled in me a love of co-op gaming. My favourite shooter of the last few years is Left 4 Dead 2, and I love it because you're working with the other players rather than just trying to mercilessly teabag them. Perhaps it's because in a co-operative game your successes and failures are shared - the narrative you construct is at once personal enough for you to own it and social enough for those playing alongside you to own it too.
I will probably be going to spend christmas with my dad. I think I'll take my 360 and a second controller. Doom and Doom 2 both have permanent residence on the hard drive, and the gates of Hell are waiting to be kicked in once again. I know he won't be particularly comfortable with a twin-stick control scheme, but that's ok. I'm a great navigator.