I’m going to describe a staple situation from my childhood:
I’d get a new game, either by saving up pocket money, for a birthday present, or I’d borrow one from a friend, and become fanatical about it. I would discuss it at great lengths to friends and family, whether they wanted to listen or not, as back then the internet was still in its infancy, and finding a long length of time for your mum not to be on the phone to use it to look up information about games was a challenge.
I’d run to my mum, while she was doing something far more important, and throw information at her about every aspect of the game. I’d even tell her characters birthdays (December 15th is Barrett’s from Final Fantasy VII, I can’t believe I still remember that) and nothing else seemed to matter but making sure she knew as much as I did. I always assumed she was listening and taking in the information, but to her I was making the sounds the adults make in Peanuts.
It took one game to finally spark me and my mum’s shared interest, one she would stop what she was doing and listen to my fanatical ramblings, and that game was none other than PaRappa the Rapper.
Released in Europe in 1997, PaRappa the Rapper was a music rhythm game where you play as PaRappa, a dog-human hybrid who wants to do well in life, win the girl, stand up to bullies and make his dad proud. You achieve his goals by hitting the buttons of the controller along with the beat, with each stage being a life lesson from a different teacher. From a Master Onion that does karate, to an incredibly annoying little Turkey (sorry, a Chicken) that cooks, PaRappa learns through rapping how to make life, and himself better.
I can’t remember exactly the first moment we first sat down and played PaRappa together, but I do remember watching my mum’s reaction to playing it. Rather than staring up at the TV, I’d be looking at my mum’s expressions and loving how happy and absorbed into rapping with Chop Chop Master Onion she was.
To this day, she remains the only person I personally know who can gain a COOL rating on every single level of the game.
PaRappa then became a pedestal of gaming in my family, the only game my mum was better at than me and the only game that made her pick up a controller and want to pick it up again.
For those reasons alone, it made me love PaRappa the Rapper as finally, I didn’t feel ashamed or any guilt for being so obsessed with gaming as ‘if my mum loves them, it must be okay to love them too!’
Our copy of PaRappa the Rapper on the original PlayStation actually belonged to her boyfriend we lived with way back then, in 1997, as it, the PlayStation and all the other games were gifted to him from my mum. So when they broke up, that was the last we saw of PaRappa.
It wasn’t the last that PaRappa the Rapper was present in me and my mum’s weird but wonderful mother-daughter relationship however.
During the last year of high school, I was trying to cope with severe depression and anxiety but at one point gave up, and took a load of pain killers in an attempt to kill myself.
As I’m typing this, you know I didn’t succeed, but I was hospitalised for a few days in a huge amount of pain, where I was visited by my very emotional and distraught mum. What she said to me is what made me realise what I did was wrong, and whenever I get overwhelmed with stress and my still looming mental health and anxiety to this day, I recite what she said and it makes things more bearable,
“Remember what PaRappa would say: I gotta believe!”
It wasn’t purely thinking of a video game that I loved that cheered me up at that moment, but it was remembering the fun I had playing the game with my mum, and the happy memories I had and could have more of, if I just believed in myself a little more.
It took many years later for me to get a copy of PaRappa the Rapper again, but I did as a present on Christmas day from a now ex boyfriend, and I remember that evening, when it was just me and my mum, where she insisted we put it on and she jumped up and down on my sofa bed, reciting every single line of the stages and still getting COOL ratings.
I also remember finding PaRappa the Rapper 2 on the PlayStation 2 at a second hand game shop in Leith in Edinburgh called Game Masters, as a teenager, and being so stunned at its existence that I instantly bought it and ran back home to show it in all its glory.
It’s a game series that continues to be important in my life, especially later in cosplay, but it will always be most important for it being the first, and only game that brought me and my mum together. A game we continue to reference to each other with pure joy on our voices, as what other expression would be on your faces from singing, “Kick, punch. It’s all in the mind.”
If you haven’t had the chance to play the original, it was recently remastered for the PlayStation 4, and it’s still utterly delightful.
I’m already very excited to invite my mum over to give it a go.