The lights are on
A technology barrier between kids and their stodgy elders is all too common, and games are no exception. So many times we try to share with our parents and grandparents the love we find in modern devices, only to have them written off immediately as unneeded or too complex. In my own experience, it's been difficult to get family members involved without them throwing their hands up and quitting within moments. One of my family members was very different though, and reveled in pushing through these barriers and soaking up knowledge.
My grandpa was never a typical man. He was a medic in World War II then joined the police force; he took duty seriously, and always had a thirst for knowledge. When he was in his 50s, he went to college to get a degree in engineering. He worked many jobs, from a draftsman to a salesperson at Sears because he always wanted to provide and learn more about the world. After retirement at 60, he wanted something to keep his mind sharp, and so he found himself playing video games. Like me, RPGs drew him in. Leveling up, exploring vast worlds, and embarking on quests for a greater cause with party members gave us the strength of will to keep trudging through every obstacle.
I don’t remember why we both picked up Secret of Mana or who started playing it first, but when he visited one summer, we started talking about video games and realized we were enthralled by the same Square RPG. The music, the vibrant colors, and the feeling of helping this young boy make good on his mistake had more depth than many RPGs of the time.
Sometimes the smallest things stick with you, like joking about Neko’s outrageous prices or how that bully Elliot needed to get popped in the face. I remember his huge, gleaming smile as we conversed and I was so happy to share this experience with him. Neither of us had finished it, and we were curious to see how our tragic hero would earn his redemption.
I found out how the story ended. My grandpa never did. On that trip where we both realized our shared love of Secret of Mana, he suddenly passed away from a heart attack. I remember the ambulance sirens and the sense of desperation that flooded me as I confronted the fragility of life for the first time. It felt like somebody hit me in the stomach. How could he be chatting about evil rabites with me one minute and gasping for his last breaths, murmuring, “I’m not going to make it” the next?
After his death, I traveled to Florida to pack up all his belongings with my mother. My sadness came quick and sudden as memories of my grandpa flooded my mind. Everything in his home was just as he had left it, like he was right around the corner ready to give me a hug and talk games. I remember walking into the den and seeing his Super Nintendo with Secret of Mana nestled inside. I loaded it up and saw his progress. He was more than halfway through, and upon seeing that I vowed to finish the game he never would.
The experience of playing through his half-finished game wasn’t sad or eerie; it brought a comfort, like he was looking over my shoulder, cheering me on, and patting me on the back after tough boss fights. As I entered the final battle, the epic music ignited me. This was it. I was completing something my grandpa and I had both wanted so badly.
At the end there’s a single line of dialogue that goes, “He’s...gone! I didn’t get to say goodbye.” Tears streamed down my cheeks as more words scrolled across the screen. “I’ll never forget you. Ever!” As the main characters reminisced and encouraged each other to be strong, it felt strange to have their words resonate with me so strongly. It was exactly what I needed to hear.
Finishing Secret of Mana was like finally saying goodbye, letting the reality of my grandpa’s death wash over me. Although it felt like he was right there with me, I was sad knowing I had seen all there was to a game we both shared.
To this day, I associate Secret of Mana with my grandpa. Instead of looking at it with a heavy heart, it reminds me of what an awesome grandpa I had, and how he influenced my love for RPGs. The experiences we build with others are stronger than any game could possibly be on its own. Secret of Mana will never simply be a game to me; I’ll always be connected to my grandpa through it.
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