Remembering my dad through the video games we played

My dad, Joseph, was not an emotionally accessible person — a practiced art he learned from his father, a retired Army colonel, and further refined by his own time in the Army. This made real communication with him tough among my four siblings and me. But we could always talk about games.

While my siblings and I rarely saw eye to eye on anything else with my dad, video games gave us all a reason to come together, find common ground, and occasionally even open up to one another. Even if that just meant looking over his shoulder while he played X-Wing, or Sid Meier’s Pirates!, that was time my dad and I spent together. It didn’t matter that I barely understood how spreadsheets in Railroad Tycoon worked; playing that game was still a small window through which I could relate to my dad.

My dad and his love of games sparked my curiosity in tech and the games industry as a kid, and eventually, drove me to pursue working with video games as a career in my adulthood. He never took me or my siblings on fishing trips, but he had no reservations about taking the time to teach a 7-year-old how to use DOS.

A screenshot of the original Sid Meier’s Railroad Tycoon

You try explaining this to a 7-year-old, I dare you.
Image: MPS Labs/MicroProse

I’ll always remember when we were both banging our heads against a specific mission in X-Wing (historical mission 6 for the Y-Wing, to be exact). After a few failed attempts on my own, my dad saddled up and told me ominously, “Leave the room, and close the door behind you.”

Naturally, I did so, thinking I was in deep shit. But no more than 30 minutes later, I heard singing coming down the stairs. It was my dad, full-on just doing the celebratory Ewok dance from Return of the Jedi. Speechless, I joined him in celebrating our triumph over the Galactic Empire.

A screenshot from Star Wars: X-Wing

Star Wars: X-Wing
Image: Totally Games/LucasArts

Everyone gets nostalgic about their favorite games for one reason or the next, but for me, the nostalgia is also tied to memories like that one, as well as times I’d wax philosophical with my dad about our favorite games, like Command & Conquer or Age of Empires 2.

a photo of a smiling man in an Army uniform

R.I.P. Joseph Beill (1960-2023)
Photo courtesy of Alice Newcome-Beill

But a lot has happened since those days. The games industry has changed into something my dad wouldn’t recognize — kind of like me. After I left for college, my parents divorced, I came out as trans, and my dad and I lost virtually all contact with each other. I’d get the occasional secondhand info from my siblings, but my dad and I never really got a chance to reconnect or reconcile. He passed away a couple months back.

We’ve missed the opportunity to make amends, but playing the games we shared a long time ago will always remind me of my dad and how he shaped the person I am now. It’s the closest we ever came to true connection back then, and it’s something I’ll continue to hold onto, now that he’s gone.

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