With its ice-cream coloured houses, congested highways and local roads, higher food prices, the scattered produce with all manners of tropical fruit, and live animal stands for your fresh goat’s meat lining the country roads; there are many ways in which life in Trinidad has remained the same but in so many ways, it has changed significantly. The changes are glaring and evolving with every new visit and I think my sister said it best when she remarked that it’s as viewing the country with a different pair of eyes every single time.
I always loved the pastels on the houses. "Ice-cream coloured houses, " my sister would muse. It is probably more uncommon in having a plain vanilla house. I sometimes liken the houses to the colourful personality and general friendliness of Trinidad's culture and its people.
I’ve been far removed from the country of my birth for quite the while. Visiting only for weddings and funerals; the weddings are just about exhausted among our circle of friends and so our trips back to the island these days means that there’s one member of my family that I have to say farewell to. These trips are always tiresome as they’re usually unexpected and rushed. This time I went in with a new perspective being a little bit older and a little bit wiser.
My ‘new’ pair of eyes allowed me to see a lot: my uncle and aunts growing older and looking great albeit a bit more tired, and an entirely new generation up and coming with my cousins having children of their own. I am stuck somewhere in the middle. But it was during this time, I paid attention to something in particular: how the younger and older generations interact with games in Trinidad.
My childhood was spent with a Commodore 64 and an atari. My siblings and I marveled at our dirty coloured C64 machine in all its wonder. We loved squishing (and saving!) the little guys in Choplifter, collecting the root beers in Pac Man Jr. and jumping across those tricky rocks in The Last Ninja.
We skipped Nintendo almost completely having never owned an NES or SNES. We did have a couple of Donkey Kong game and watch handhelds and that one blue Mario one but otherwise, my re-introduction into gaming began with the PSOne. By the time that happened, I had already been living in New York.
“Gaming” and recreational time in Trinidad meant time with the C64 but it mostly meant playing football (soccer) outside, playing the card game “Spoon” with friends into the wee hours of the morning at our Uncle’s beach house, and yes, enjoying a trip to an outdoor cinema on Friday nights where we played on dangerously tall slides (we never even gave safety a thought when we were younger) instead of watching whatever movie was playing.
I’m certain other families probably had an Atari system and maybe Nintendo consoles too but we never concerned ourselves with those things or at least, it never really came up in discussion with any of my friends during school.
I probably spent more time playing on the car than on the arcade machines.
Visiting Trinidad last week, I noticed a little section at the airport. It has always been there but this time I actually cared: a decent arcade to kill time at while waiting for your loved ones to arrive or depart on their respective flights. I always took them for granted. Unfortunately, I couldn’t play anything because I had a flight of my own to catch but taking a walk through, I could not recall if I had ever played on any of these machines or specifically which ones if I had. I was fairly certain a lot of them had been switched out.
These machines were never really a focus for me whenever I went back. Why would they be? Spending time with friends, laughing and catching up was always more important. Our relationships were not one where we gamed together instead opting to share a piece of Royal Castle chicken (a local fried chicken place) and having a laugh over movies, music, memories of funny past events, discussion on events we shared apart or ridiculous inside jokes that none could understand.
There were quite the number of them in the back too.
It’s a bit different now though because now that gaming has become one of my major interests for well over a decade or so, I have tried to get my friends in Trinidad to share in that passion. I have had very little luck but my greatest achievement has been getting them to become obsessed with Plants vs. Zombies. I even got one to be interested in the Wii and we had a hell of a time with Mario Party. They’ll probably never buy a Playstation or a 3DS (even if they enjoyed watching me play Uncharted or Phoenix Wright) but you damned well best believe I made them download Ghost Trick for iOS when that was made available. They enjoyed it for a while too. I don’t think they ever finished it.
Back at my Uncle’s, after the sadness that was the funeral of his brother, after all the food was done, there was time for family pictures of the remaining members spanning the generations. Then there was time to break into groups to both celebrate and mourn my Uncle’s life in our own way. I took a look around and saw that my young cousins were interested in mobile games. They were playing the Subway Surfers game. With intense fingers and concentration, it was a good way for them to be occupied to not have to hear they were bored. Actually, they were begging for their father’s phone and clearly this was a norm. It reminded me of being back in NY and my nephews’ and niece’s own obsessions with mobile games and the iPad.
A familiar sight here: my nephews and niece are always asking for the phone to play this and Minecraft whenever we're in the car between destinations.
My sister and I took our 3DS systems to Trinidad. Life keeps moving in Animal Crossing and a 5 hour flight each way seemed like a good time to get started on Mario and Luigi: Dream Team. While at my Uncle's, my sister played hers while the kids played on their mobile phone. When she brought it out there was immediate interest on their part. We did not have a great selection of games for them to play as I only brought one or two games with me - the risk of losing games during travel is always on my mind - and the youngest decided on March of the Minis because who does not know Mario. He got the hang of it pretty quickly. I’m not sure he ever played a 3DS or DS before but it did not matter. There was enough practice in those mobile games to sort of figure out what needed to be done. March of the Minis is not that taxing a game in the earlier levels after all.
The serious (and fun) business of "All Fours". The rocks are used in lieu of matches for counting points. The bent cards are signs of serious card players.
On the table across, I watched the older generation play card games. There’s one in particular that is like a national game to Trinidad called “All Fours”. The rules are hard to explain right now but playing All Fours is an art. There are signals that you need to get across to your partner (yes, it’s a game where four people play in teams of two). It’s strategic. It’s intense. It’s fun and it’s also brutal. It made me smile - I’m pretty certain I’ve forgotten how to play some but I missed the simplicity of enjoying a complex card game. It’s everything a good strategy war game could be without too much character development but the back stabbing and the careful thinking to protect certain members are all there.
The same as the header image, I think I need to investigate this Nanan's or inquire as to its purpose.
On subsequent days during my stay, more things started to catch my eye. I wondered how many people owned consoles. I noticed a lot of our friends’ kids had iPads. So what of console gaming? Was it all tablets and mobiles? That saddened me to think about until I was driving with a friend through a busy section of the country and came across a store with its questionably drawn Playstation characters painted on the storefront.
Not far down is a computer megastore. What's mega about it? What's inside? So many questions but so many remained unanswered since I saw all while in my car.
The popular ones were there and Crash Bandicoot immediately caught my attention. I have no idea what was in that store and did not get to stop in to see but I can only imagine they probably sold imported games and maybe even fixed your PS consoles. Well, at least Sony had some sort of presence in Trinidad. I was not surprised though and thinking on it now, I do remember giving my cousin some of our games years ago as he bought a PSOne too.
"EH Games", huh? Other than it being a complete rip on "EB Games", "Eh" also takes on a whole new meaning as a phrase for Trinidadians. It's all sorts of hilarious.
Later that day at the mall, we came across not one but two video game stores. I knew a couple of people in Trinidad who had the Xbox but as to whether they imported games or what, I had no clue. I saw some PS games and Nintendo consoles being sold. The prices were comparable to US prices but for some reason, Greatest Hits games could cost a solid $25 TT more than a newer release. It was good to see that the prices were generally the same but I had no idea why there was a mark up on the Greatest Hits. It was odd. But at the very least, I am certain the games were not bootlegged even if the storefronts were screaming infringement.
Ha... well this looks familiar. The name of the store. The colour schemes. The font used. It's amazing this happens!
The presence of video gaming has always been there in Trinidad. As to the extent of how significant a presence in individual homes in terms of console gaming in the present day, well that’s not something I am able to answer. However my observations of life there are very much similar to my observations here with some of the same trends being established and that’s no surprise to me. As always, it was interesting to view the ever-evolving culture with a different pair of eyes and I have to wonder what my 'new' eyes will see the next time I visit.