A lot is made these days about the new social revolution in videogames. The conventional wisdom goes something like this: Games used to mainly be a solitary experience for socially reclusive, nerdy kids who preferred sitting in a dark basement to interacting with the outside world, but today's online first-person shooters and massively multiplayer RPGs allow gamers to come out of the basement and forge relationships in the warm cathode light of LAN parties and dungeon raids.
Anyone who actually grew up with games knows this is a bunch of hooey. Social interaction has always been a part of gaming. From drunken frat boys betting on Pong tournaments to school kids fighting side by side as Ninja Turtles to crowds of eager teens placing their coins on a weathered Street Fighter 2 cabinet, the socializing influence of multiplayer games predates recent telecommunications advances by decades.
But discussions of the deep, personal connections that can be made through multiplayer gaming usually gloss over the deep, personal connections that can also be made through single player gaming. In fact, one single player game in particular helped me connect to two of the most important people in my life - and I didn't even realize it until I played Super Mario 64 DS.
Let me preface this by saying I'm a fan of Super Mario 64 the same way that Picasso was a fan of painting. This was a game I had happily spent hundreds of hours playing, watching, talking about and even writing at length about. So, the idea of a portable Nintendo DS remake of the game was exciting, to say the least. But, once I actually got my hands on the game, the initial thrill of a portable, 3-D Mario experience quickly gave way to boredom.
I tried to blame my sudden disinterest on any number of mitigating factors - the portable version's difficult controls, the crushing weight of my own high expectations, the numbing passage of time and experience. But when I really analyzed it, one thing made playing Super Mario 64 on the small screen so much less fun for me than playing it on the big one:
The lack of other people.
When my sister was five, she would find nearly any excuse to spend time with her big brother. For a few months after I got Super Mario 64, this usually meant sitting and watching me work toward 120 stars while she tried in vain to get me to play with her instead. Sure, she would watch with mild interest as I played through Tick Tock Clock for what probably seemed like the millionth time, but the way she saw it, she was battling for attention with the little plumber on the screen.
But the tables turned once she saw the game's ending. Anyone who has seen it can probably imagine the delight it can give a five year old girl. The soaring music; the beautiful princess descending from the heavens; the rising flock of birds; the chaste kiss and the swooning hero; the giant cake; the ending sequence amazed and delighted my sister like nothing before (or possibly since).
Thus, for the next three years of my life, the words "Save the princess, Kyle" became a common refrain in my house. This one goal usurped all others in the game, from my sister's perspective. She had no interest in seeing Mario run through the desert, or fly through the air, or swim underwater. Who had time to waste time on such things? There were princesses to be saved!
And I was the one to save them. Again. And again. And again. Until the vagaries of the level were seared into my subconscious. Sure, I had other games to play, and other things to do, but the smile on my sister's face as she watched that ending sequence seemed like a good enough reason to put them off. After all, there were princesses to be saved! And I was the one to save them. Again. And again ...