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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The difference in the way Tom and I approach videogames has always been most apparent in Street Fighter II. Before we owned a Super Nintendo, we would rent one from the local Blockbuster. Tom was always in charge of hooking it up, and he performed the task with the solemnity of a religious ceremony. First he would set the machine carefully in front of the TV. Next came the methodical examination and connection of all the inputs and outputs. Then, the partition of the controllers, mine always being the one with the broken R button - sorry, no fierce attacks for you, kiddo. The last step was to blow into the port - amen. Suddenly, after what seemed like years of anxious waiting, we were ready to play. I would choose a fast character - Chun-Li was an early favorite - and you could bet that he was going to find the most "classic," in this case Ryu - never Ken. We always turned off the time limit, then sat back in our corners to try out moves. "Don't hit me, I want to try something ... wait, that's not it ... wait ... okay." Then we would call "time in" and he would slowly dismantle me one polygon at a time.

A decade and a half later, the system has changed, but this is still our basic routine. He methodically hands me my ass, round after round, until I drop the controller and walk off, disgusted with Chun-Li, humanity, the world. I always come back though, unable, in my masochism, to accept defeat. A lot of times, I return to find him playing against the computer, or sublimely shadow-boxing the now unmanned second player. He patiently runs through different combos until his limp opponent runs out of life and its back to the Choose Your Character screen. When I do beat him, he just shrugs and mumbles something like "should have blocked that spin kick."

"Playing" is the wrong word for Tom. That boy lives it. Every time he hits the power button, he shrugs himself into the white gi with the tattered shoulders and ties a red bandana across his forehead. He spends whole afternoons and more evenings than he will readily admit blasting blue flames from his wrists and hucking hurricane kicks accompanied by silly sounds - which, by the way, he loves. He parkours through Persia, has a homunculus named Clank and stands in the shadows of colossi. Lord only knows how many gallons of alien blood he's spilt while trying to save the world.

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I eventually found the strength and cojones to climb the tree in our backyard. I beat Tom in a race. I grew taller than him (the longest inch of my life), and I learned to stop following him everywhere he went. But I never grew out of the desire to. When we were young, my bedtime was 9 o'clock and his was an hour or two later. After that dreaded hour, my brother entered into an exclusive realm - one where I was not allowed to follow. To this day, any time after 9 p.m. feels late, forbidden.

And that's what videogames do - they take Tom past 9 o'clock and into a world off limits to me. The bastard actually found the one place where his little brother couldn't tag along. Games make him happy, though, and you can't begrudge someone what they love. So I let him play, and I bide my time - right there with him, looking over his shoulder. Just like I always have. Just like I always will.

Tetsuhiko Endo stays up as late as he damn well pleases.

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