My brother Toby and I spent a great deal of our childhood playing adventure games on the family’s Amiga computer. The computer, which my mother irrationally hated, was relegated to a corner of a nook of the television room, between a fireplace that was only used for hanging Christmas stockings, and a bookshelf dedicated to taller books that didn’t fit on the other bookshelves.
In school holidays, Toby and I used to sit side-by-side at the computer desk (was there ever an uglier piece of furniture?) for hours on end, day after day, nutting out one adventure game series after the other: Kings Quest, Space Quest, Police Quest, the Secret of Monkey Island and Leisure Suit Larry.
This was when I was about eight to eleven years old, the absolute heyday of my friendship with my brother. For that brief period we shared some common interests, like the computer games and some TV shows, and I was old enough to not be too embarrassing to him, and he was young enough to not yet have closed his bedroom door permanently behind him, swallowed up by adolescence.
Because he was older, and already “good at computers”, he was almost always in charge of the controls, but we worked together to navigate our way through the games, solving collectively the various riddles and challenges presented from one screen to the next. If the games were to be played, we had to both be there. It was social, it was collaborative, we chatted as we waited for screens to load. The games were funny and delightful to us, and were suited to our skills as a pair (I was never a satisfying partner to him in any other kind of game that involved fighting or shooting or joystickery).
The series I remember most is Leisure Suit Larry. I find it a bit surprising that my dad allowed us to buy this game, centred around a sleazy middle-aged man’s pursuit of prostitutes (or “hookers” as they were known in the game) and gambling, but I guess he knew it was laughably harmless, which it was, and that we wouldn’t really understand it anyway, which we didn’t.
Every time you started up Leisure Suit Larry, you had to pass a series of multiple choice questions which were supposed to keep children like us at bay. Instead, we would simply shout out the questions to our parents – “Mum, what’s a G-spot?” – or click random answers until we eventually passed.
The only reason Leisure Suit Larry is so memorable to me is that I’ve reflected on it more than the other games, trying to remember how it made me feel, and wondering whether it was inappropriate. But most of my reflecting has come about precisely because there is nothing memorable about it. At the time, my brother and I didn’t approach it any differently to Kings Quest; in one, you had to get the princess, in the other, you had to have sex with a hooker. So?
During those years while Toby and I sat at the computer desk, our family was falling apart around us. Our sisters were in their mid- to late teens, raising hell, screeching at each other almost constantly. My dad was always traveling for work, and then he started sleeping on an inflatable mattress in the front room, and then he moved out. Much like my approach to Leisure Suit Larry, none of this seemed particularly noteworthy to me. It was just stuff that happened. We got a new couch, my dad moved out. So?
This period of my childhood should be a therapist’s goldmine, but actually, my memories of it are very dear. Just me and my brother, wedged between a fireplace and a bookshelf, immersed in our adventures, oblivious to the adult world.