Mario in the Family

Mario in the Family
A Multi-Player Family

E McNeill | 3 Feb 2009 13:00
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I used to steadfastly and arrogantly maintain that I was the only gamer in my family. Games are my entertainment, my hobby and, with any luck, my profession. I know all the acronyms and slang, and I keep abreast of the latest news. Most damning of all, I read The Escapist. By comparison, the rest of my family are just noobs, a source of embarrassing stories to tell at LAN parties.

Now I'm slowly breaking away from that narrow outlook. Maybe I have more in common with my family than I thought. My dad, for instance, was a certified Asteroids junkie in the ol' college arcade. My mother not so fondly recalls their "dates," in which she would follow him to the bar and find herself stranded while he sat at the machine, making a couple of quarters last for hours. Alas, those glory days have passed, and for a long while he only played Minesweeper and Solitaire.

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I've long suspected that my dad had retained his hardcore gamer sensibility at heart, but I've had trouble drawing it out. I once tried to encourage him with some addictive turn-based strategy games, but he rejected Civilization 2 and Heroes of Might and Magic 3 with the clever excuse that my overtures were too successful; he'd never be able to get any work done, he told me, if he gave these games a try. But even though his tastes weren't particularly diverse, I have to give him credit: He was really good at Minesweeper and Solitaire.

There was one encouraging month, way back in 2006, when we played all of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess together on the basement couch. I took care of the controls and the fighting, while he helped with the puzzles. It made for a surprisingly effective father-son bonding activity. And his recent progress in Wii Bowling impresses me, but I don't think it means he's returned to his gamer roots. I mean, seniors play Wii Bowling.

My mother should get most of the credit for transforming me into a gamer. Her background includes a master's degree in computers & education. She thought computers would revolutionize the learning process by providing customized lessons and individual pacing for each student. Crushing disappointment ensued. But decades later, when I was enrolled in a lackluster kindergarten program, she revisited computers and games for the sake of my education. I subsequently fell in love with the JumpStart series; thank God nobody told me that it was teaching me stuff. I eventually graduated to The Oregon Trail and a bunch of other games that she could justify as somewhat educational.

But she knew not what she had wrought. I soon grew out of that larval stage, and within a few short years I was desperately trying to get her to play Command & Conquer with me - I couldn't understand that other people might not love it like I did. The game even inspired me to write my first and only piece of fan fiction for a second grade assignment (obliviously entitled "War and Peace"). It was the only time that my mother was ever concerned about the effect of violent videogames on the developing mind.

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