A Family Thing
In my mind's eye, the coffee makers are still dripping. Wicker baskets of Krispy Kremes sit on the table, waiting to be emptied as the people enter the room. It could be a recreation center, maybe the basement of a church. There's a circle of metal foldout chairs in the center of the space, a table on the side with blank nametags for everyone to take. As with most meetings of the sort, the space is cold, sparse, and empty. It's only until the people walk in and find their sense of belonging that it ceases to be just a room and becomes a meeting.
"Cory, why don't you start us off tonight?"
Nervously, I stand up. "Hello, my name is Cory." There's a pause as everyone's eyes meet mine. "My mother is addicted to video games."
There's no meeting, of course. There isn't an Al-anon or Alateen for video game addiction that I know of, and if there were you'd never catch me there. After all, I'm the gamer, not her. But watching my mother spiral down, deeper and deeper, into her platform-jumping fueled obsession makes me wonder if I need to charter a chapter or not. Personally, I blame the Nintendo DS.
It started this past Christmas, when my mother was kind enough to give me a DS as a gift. (This was the old-school gray monstrosity, not this newfangled Apple-inspired doohickey you whippersnappers play with now. We had one brightness setting, and we didn't complain. Too loudly.) It bothered me that Mom wanted to spend significant money on me for the holiday. At a certain age, I feel like I should be spending money on her, not the other way around.
But then I remembered something about gift horses.
My family didn't understand why I wanted a handheld video game system. The puzzlement continued when they saw me playing a reading game about lawyers instead of anything involving running, jumping, and stomping. My brother, ten years my senior, would shake his head every time I would shout, "Hold it!" into the tiny microphone, as if in disdain. "You mean it's not an obscure German RPG?" his face would seem to say. That's okay, I'd say to myself, I'll just enjoy my new treasure even more. My mother looked at it once and barely noticed it.
Fast forward to early June. I'm preparing to move to Seattle, while my mother is packing for a short Florida vacation. I'm sitting in her kitchen while she's gliding through the house, packing this or that, and I'm finishing the first world of New Super Mario Bros.
"What's that?" She asks, noticing for the first time that I'm not helping her pack.
"Remember the video game system you got me for Christmas? There's a new Mario game for it."
"Oh, that's right. I've seen commercials for it. You know, I used to play Mario when you were a kid." She smiles, remembering days gone by. "Mind if I try it?"
I start a new game for her and watch as she tentatively takes her first few steps. A goomba approaches, and she jumps high into the air, impossibly high, moving her hands up and over to the side as if physically moving the DS will make Mario jump farther. Everyone has someone in his or her family who does that, I think. Eventually she finds the flagpole and the level is over.
"I wonder if Wal-Mart sells these." She says to herself. I don't take her seriously, and convince her that she really doesn't need to spend $165 on a system and a game that she won't play often.
Two days later, in Florida, my mother buys a Nintendo DS.
When she returns, I help her with the basics of princess rescuing. I show her how to pound the ground, bouncing Mario's ass off breakable bricks with ease. I teach her the secret of wall jumping and she finally collects that first hard-to-reach Star Coin. Her progress is slow, but she's figuring it all out.
My brother doesn't understand at all. "Here," he says, "let me try that." There's a twinkle in his eye when he gets his first Mega Mushroom.
It's on the drive to the west coast that the memories come back, visions of waking up in the dead of night as a child, wandering downstairs for a drink of water and seeing the pale cathode light coming from the living room. Seeing my mother playing Simon's Quest, so engrossed in destroying zombies with Simon's flaming whip that she doesn't see me watching, full of admiration. My mother plays Castlevania. She plays it better than I do.
Mom fights the undead.
It's a testament to the greatness of Nintendo's quirky, two-screened marvel that Mom is reliving her cyber-glory days. She told me the other day of her purchases, Super Mario Bros. 3 and Donkey Kong for the GBA, made at a local video game store. "They were used, " she tells me, voice full of glee, "and I can take them back in 90 days if there's anything wrong." She's taken to reading the NSMB guide at work, finding solace from the daily stress in new strategies for getting through World 5. And if she really gets stuck, she'll go to my brother, who bought a DS Lite at her urging. Nintendo would be bringing my family together if I didn't live 2000 miles away.
Is she really addicted? Of course not. But she's excited, and when something has her attention it doesn't let go for quite a while. Out loud I gloat to friends, telling them how I come from gaming pedigree. My mother plays video games, I say, and she's damn good at them.
But then again, in the back of my head, I keep that image of a meeting, a place for people whose loved ones are trapped in the throes of gaming addiction. God help me if my mother discovers World of Warcraft.