Mario in the Family

Mario in the Family
An Over-the-Shoulder Perspective on Gaming

Tetsuhiko Endo | 3 Feb 2009 13:01
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I have always been that particular type of person for whom all of life is a competition. Losing anything is abhorrent, from ping pong to Parcheesi, and I never cared for a man who lost and laughed. Accordingly, I spent a good chunk of my youth playing competitive tennis. Tom, on the other hand, played a year of pee wee soccer and quietly decided that he had better things to do than chase a ball around an empty field and get kicked in the shins. While I juggled school and sports, he read a lot, made lasting friendships, became something of a movie buff and, of course, played his videogames.

I was always right there with him, looking over his shoulder as the polygons grew sharper and the colors crisper with each successive console generation. Even if I didn't get as many turns as I wanted, there was a thrill to watching him play, and I liked to see how animated he got when he talked about frame rates and graphics engines and other things that I didn't understand and didn't care about in the slightest. There was never any doubt about who loved games and who was just tagging along after his brother. As an unspoken rule, he has eternal first dibs.

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I've never purchased my own game, just played the ones Tom buys after extensive research and much soul-searching - the product of a certain frugality passed down from our Scotch-Irish mother. And even though the images on the TV screen are the same, the games we play are very different. Same world maybe, but universes apart.

The other day, I watched him play Skate 2. He sat forward, elbows on his knees, furious fives clenched around the controller while his thumbs danced. But he wasn't stressed, nor worried nor anxious. He was poised. Those sad eyes were bright and keen, hard to recognize as they focussed on his electronic alter ego who, unnervingly, looked exactly like him. The two Toms had an easy, almost transcendental rapport. They got each other. So much so that I began to understand that it wasn't two Toms in one world, but one Tom in two worlds.

This isn't my style. A few years ago, I took part in a heated Mario Tennis match against one of Tom's friends. I had spent the afternoon trouncing every other guy in the house and being less than gracious about it, so when the best of their crew wiped his fallen comrades' sweat off the controller and selected Princess Peach, I felt a twinge of pressure to beat him. We cursed and leaned our way through four long sets. We yelled at our cartoon avatars as if they might take our advice. We got up and paced between points. We pleaded like zealots for the balls to fall into play. By the time my Yoshi smashed the final inside-out forehand winner, I had sweated through my shirt. After that, both Yoshi and I needed a break. Sadly, that was a pretty typical session of Mario Tennis for me.

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