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The Allegory of Super Mario

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I have a six year old son. He loves video games. Oh-boy-howdy does he. Obsessed with them I’d say. All manner of them. If he can control a virtual world in the palm of his hand he’s in Heaven. It’s an obsession that I know I must quell if he’s to learn to read, write, speak in full sentences or ride a bike. I know. Video games are both the bane and savior of most parents I know. Many times it’s a near tantrum-inducing struggle to pry the game out of his hands to get him to go outside and play or read or interact with his two brothers. But come ON…is there a parent among us who hasn’t at one time or another actually shoved the thing into their hands and said “Please for the love of GOD play this so that I can make dinner in peace!”? (If you haven’t done this please just keep it to yourself).

I think the real problem I have with my son’s relationship with video games is that, well, I loved and still love them myself. Ohhh, my addiction was different to be sure. We’re talking Space Invaders, Asteroids, Pac-Man here. Atari…the very genesis of virtual games. And I was really, really good at them.

So about a year and a half ago I’m cleaning out a dusty Rubbermaid tub in my basement and there it is…the Holy Grail of video-gaming systems: the original Nintendo. My friends in college threw me a 20 1/2 birthday party my Sophomore year (mainly under duress because I pissed and moaned so much about having a summer birthday and no one being around to celebrate it with me), and one of those friends gave me his Nintendo. Again, pretty much under duress because I had essentially taken the thing over and become increasingly annoyed when HE played – saying out loud with a hiss when it was his turn “Oh just DIE already”.

Anyway, there it was. Old, dusty, spatterings of beer staining its gray casing…but it made my heart race none-the-less. “Oh my GOD…” I thought, “I wonder if it still works?!”

I could not wait to see. I was beyond excited. I was in hyper-speed.

I seemed to remember needing a professional-grade tool-box, an electrician and a crane to move the television to get that thing going back in the day, but as you might imagine I just walked up to the kids’ T.V. and whoa…there were the little yellow, white and red hook-up thingys right there in the front! So I plugged it in, put in the cartridge (roughly the size of a small microwave), closed my eyes and turned that bitch on.

And. It. Worked.

The tinkly, upbeat music of the original Super Mario resonated forth. I jumped up and pumped my fist and let out a “Woo-Hoo!” Sad. So sad, I know.

So here is my son nearly needing a 12-step program to rid him of his addiction, but I didn’t care. The first thing I wanted to do was show it to him.

The next morning after he got home from school I led him into the playroom. I put my hands on his shoulders and faced him toward me. “Son”, I said with all the import and drama of a talk normally attributed to the “big” subjects in life, “I have something to show you….”

Then with pomp and circumstance I turned him around and led him to The Box.

“What IS it?” he asked.

“Wha…wha…what IS it?” I stammered. “It’s only the first Nintendo with the first Super Mario game!” and I held my hand up for the high-five that I just knew was coming…..but………….never……………came…

“Is it Mario Cart, or Mario Galaxy?” he asked a little more interested.

“What the hell are THOSE? No, man, NO….this is the very FIRST Super Mario game…it’s AWESOME!”…and I turned it on waiting for his burst of excitement to come forth.

((Tinkly Music. Flat, one-dimensional graphics.))

“What do you do with that?” is what came dryly out of his mouth.

“You PLAY it!” I yelled.

And so we did. Because I’m a great Mom, I let him go first. He wasn’t used to it. It wasn’t advanced enough. He was confused by the slowness of it, the inability to simultaneously push twenty-five buttons at once to achieve some super-nova type effects. It was almost too…simple for him to grasp.

“Argggh, lemme show you”. I played and played with wild, reckless abandon. I remembered everything: where all the hidden coins were, the way through the mazes, where the secret extra-life mushrooms were. Everything. But most of all I kept not-dying.

“Wow”, he said “You’re really awesome Mom!”.

“I know, Son, I know”. I smiled. I suppose I just wanted the recognition of my awesomeness and I got it. Then I jumped off a cliff and let him go again.

We laid on the floor and I watched him play and when he died I’d play and curb my competitiveness so he could go again. It was so much fun.

As I watched him play and gave him tips and hints, I laughed to myself remembering one night in college in particular playing that game.

My very good friend and I were playing Super Mario one very late, most assuredly drunken night. No one wanted to play with me because, well, remember the awesomeness? She would though. She’d always go first. I wish I could say I was lying here when I say that it took everything I had to wait for my turn. Wanna know why?

Because she was       S O                 F R E A K I N G                   S L O W.

Good Lord. She was meticulous. The levels were timed and she’d take every single available second to finish them: cautiously jumping, aligning herself just right under each brick to get the coins, artfully squashing the Goombas so as not to let the timing ruin her next jump. It makes my blood-pressure rise as I write this just thinking about it.

As soon as it was my turn I’d exhale and you couldn’t see Luigi through my dust. Crazy, insane jumping…flying through the air, jumping on two Goombas at once, breaking record after record in finishing-time and getting every coin in the process. Oh I finished each level alright…in a blaze of glory.

Man, we’d laugh playing that game. I’d ridicule her method of playing, she’d ridicule mine. We’d drink and talk and laugh some more. And that night we came to a profound conclusion: “You play Mario like you live your life”. And damn if that wasn’t true. We are still great friends, and to this day we still say that to each other and laugh. And it’s still more-or-less true. We both set out to achieve our goals in life, with varying degrees of success, but we both went about it in pretty different ways.

So as I laid there with my son on occasional afternoons playing Mario with him, and as he got the hang of it and started to like it, I watched for the tell-tale clues as to how he might live his life.

Only before I was able to assess that divine truth, my son had invited some neighbor kid over to play it and that little punk broke it. Oh, I know it was him because I heard him do it. I heard him say “uh oh” as my son and I were getting snacks in the kitchen. Yeah, dead. I’m not sure if he jammed a screwdriver into it or what. I still haven’t found the murder weapon, but kill it he did. That thing survived four years of college parties and beatings born of frustration amongst countless numbers of co-eds, and twenty-five years in a Rubbermaid tub only to meet its demise at the hands of a punk five year old. It’s carcass is still sitting there. I don’t have the heart to remove it.

Now how the hell am I supposed to figure out the inner-potential of my oldest son? Sigh.

I know. If you’ve read this far you are probably wondering how to get back the few minutes of your life you’ve wasted reading it.

But I figured after the Pro-Choice post… it was best to lighten the mood.

R.I.P. Nintendo…you served me well.

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