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Over time, I began to fly solo - though not without occasional supervision. The games changed, but the basic pattern did not. Ultima gave way to Might and Magic, which yielded to Baldur's Gate. There were other games, but to me nothing was ever as satisfying as simply hitting a goblin on the head with a hammer. I never could get into the train simulators my dad loved so much (the manual was roughly twice the size of my head) and was too terrified to touch any of his Riven games for fear of my head exploding.
Dad, on the other hand, never really got the hang of Super Mario World. To this day, I believe the man to be utterly incapable of finishing World 1-1 in any game starring the plucky plumber. This man was able to pull off deaths I still can't begin to comprehend. I'm talking accidentally getting eaten by a Yoshi here. And that was on dry land - don't even get me started on the underwater levels.
At some point, I realized he and I shared an unusual bond. It became apparent to me that my friends and their fathers didn't laugh about some smarmy sentient sword in the middle of a serious discussion. That's when it hit me: My father was the classic "child at heart." After all, what says "childish" more than taking so much pleasure in walloping your son in a videogame?
And wallop he did. While Dad may not have been one for in-game plumbing, Super Mario Kart was a different story. I've fired a lot of green turtle shells in my day, but I was never a match for the four ton Donkey Kong Jr. powersliding through the inside lane as he careened down the speedway. For someone who apparently couldn't handle simultaneously running and jumping, this man was clearly in tune with his inner Kong. When the green light flashed, family ties were suspended as the shells and peels rained down. One moment I'm pulling into the lead; the next I'm being fished out of a pond by an increasingly irate Lakitu.
It's fashionable to blame games for any number of societal ills: laziness, obesity, aggression. But for me, games provided the foundation for a strong and healthy relationship with my father. Next time a politician gets in front of a podium and cites Mortal Kombat as being responsible for a kid's bratty behavior, I suggest he or she square off against Donkey Kong with a handful of banana peels. That'll teach the poor sod a thing or two about violence.
After all, that's how I learned.
Robert Sullivan is a freelance writer and neurotic gamer who enjoys sharing his views on the subject while still acting cool. Those who cannot get enough of him are encouraged to visit his own publication at www.thesquonk.com.