My nephews are videogame enthusiasts. After firing up New Super Mario Bros. Wii, they slip into their respective signature playing postures. Isaac (nine years old) stands stiffly upright and alert in front of the TV, like an English Pointer signaling the death of yet another Koopa Troopa. Seán (seven) sprawls across a nearby armchair, with his nunchuck arm lolling over the side. He looks like a boy sultan in a floral-print gaming throne. They laugh. They scream when somebody inadvertently—ok, vertently—steals their power-up. My brother Trey goads Isaac with a chuckling, “hey, you snooze you lose,” after forcing him off the screen by sprinting ahead. Isaac fires back his own “snooze you lose” taunt after returning the favor moments later. Two generations of brothers, indisputably super, getting our Mario on with a fireball-slinging vengeance.
I live nearly 4,000 miles from my older brother and nephews. What that means is, we don’t get to do this every day.
During our time running and hopping through the Mushroom Kingdom, I was struck by the ways in which games temporarily scrub out the differences between us. My older brother and I are in our early 30s, with wives and careers. Isaac and Seán haven’t quite hit double digits. In the real world, there are a thousand visual and cultural reminders of the differences between adults and kids. But when we play Super Mario Bros. Wii together, we’re all roughly the same height. We have the same abilities. We run at the same speed. We all have a fair shot at collecting items and leaping onto the top of the flagpole at level’s end. That kind of virtual equality is a delightful bonding force. When the living room fades away and it’s just our avatars bouncing around onscreen, it’s fun to be able to look each other in the eye. Although I do enjoy the way they climb my torso monkey-style and wrap their skinny arms around my neck to accomplish the same thing in real life.
Jason Killingsworth is Paste’s games editor. He is based in Dublin, Ireland, and writes about music, film, tech and games for a variety of outlets. You can reach him online at jason [at] pastemagazine.com.