Written by Ryan Johnson (RyanDJ) Friday, 13 July 2012 06:00
"Dad, can I play Super Mario Brothers on the Wii? Dad, can you play Super Mario Brothers on the Wii with me? I want to be Player 1, please. Let's go here!"
I have heard these words on a daily basis from my son lately. As much as I like playing games with him, I've got to say that at times I've dreaded these words. Perhaps it's because my home life has been busy lately and I've had a lack of personal gaming time. My ONLY gaming has been with my son. And when he does, it's Super Mario Brothers Wii. Worlds 1-1 through 1-4. Usually in the exact same pattern. Followed by a 20 minute stint in Princess Peach's castle, where you watch ProTip "how-to" movies.
Honestly, I've got the first four levels of Mario down in muscle memory, and could probably play it with my eyes closed now. I know I have learned in previous entries in this series that "you play what you like" for a reason, and as long as you are enjoying it you are enjoying video games, but this was getting ridiculous. I didn't want to force proceeding and frustrate him from gaming, but I also didn't want to play these same exact levels even one more time.
I started asking him to try later levels. At first he was just ignoring me and going to the same levels, but eventually he listened. We had fun, but as the difficulty started going up, so, were his frustrations. I found him "bubbling" (for those that don't know, there's a button that puts the character in an invincible bubble in order to get by tough parts with people less adept at gaming, while the normal gamers plow through) a whole lot more. When I proposed to him that he should try to help, he would balk at it and complain at how hard the game was getting. He would also from time to time seemingly obsess over the Boo Houses we would try, from how the ghosts look at you to the music.
I continued to encourage him to try more difficult levels. Slowly, he began. When he played one player, we would hear frustrating noises right after the familiar death music. I would go in and sit with him when I could, encouraging him to try slightly different routines for success. Eventually, his talk during play went to "Hey, Dad, I'm not afraid anymore!" For some reason, he was scared to go on. I guess the consistent failure and regular deaths made him feel bad: after all, if he masters World 1 levels 1-4, he will never die, and he will always be "good" at the game.
I sat down and had a talk with him about games: the whole point of progression in most games is to get better. Games get harder because you should be honing your skills and doing better, so the game throws harder things at you, If you feel like you can beat the levels you are used to with ease, then they have to give you something more difficult, or what is the point of playing any further? Something clicks in his mind. The next time we play, he is eager to try new levels.
It feels good going through levels with him. I feel like I've finally taught him something I can type an Evolution of a Gamer article about that's just him (oh so often these articles turn from gaming lessons for my son into life lessons for me). The next time he is playing on his own, he starts talking to me about how I myself should not be afraid of anything; how I should try the levels that scare me, that it's okay and you have to be brave. I laugh it off, saying "Son, in the end, it's just a game. I'm not afraid of it."
Soon, after, though, I hear noises that send chills up my spine:
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World 7's castle. Those spiny shafts of doom. Any level they are in I have avoided ever since. If you look at my Big Coin stash, the scant few levels they inhabit are notably bereft of any Big Coin collection. For some reason that I had repressed, those levels intimidated me. I could go through a thousand levels similar to the final Bowser castle; I can face hordes of enemies with a brave determination in many a first person shooter. Yet these levels...especially this one, with the final boss jumping between three moving platforms and an instant death if you deter from the tiny platforms at all...I realized I was doing the same thing. I've gone back to try old levels to get all of the World 9 unlocks, but over and over I've avoided these levels like the plague. Meanwhile, my son is trying everything: even attempting to rescue the Toads you find in blocks randomly, only getting basic mushrooms as the final prize. Challenges I had long given up on. He wasn't afraid anymore. He was trying his best. If he failed, he got back up and tried again.
So, my son teaches me another lesson. I play with him again, go through the evening routine, tuck him into bed, and instead of booting up Metal Gear Solid 4 finally (I took down The Boss in 3 last week!), I crank back on the Wii and head to World 7. I got two of those coins...one to go...and I won't back down. But the lesson doesn't end there.
Right now, my family is going through a hard time. My wife has had a year of major...MAJOR...medical issues that have resulted in her losing her job and most of my income going toward hospital bills. We have faithfully and carefully fought for everything we have, but my son has shown me that, just like in the video game, you can't back down from things you are afraid of. If I'm going to save MY princess, my wife, through the struggles we have faced, I'm going to have to attack life head-on. Face the fears, battle the dragon, rescue the damsel in distress...it can be done. And with my family by my side, it WILL. Thanks, son, for reminding me that sometimes I need a refresher on all these little life lessons I teach you.
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