I’ve told you before that my kids were taught to read and count by Nintendo. They could figure out how many gold coins they needed to win in Mario Party before they were halfway through nursery. Lewis went into the summer holidays at the end of Primary 2 with a stuttering grasp of the written word, spent six weeks playing text-heavy Paper Mario games and came out the other side as a BOOK DEVOURING MACHINE!
This, of course, saved me much effort but it turns out the lessons keep on coming:
For Christmas, the kids got a stack of new computer games between them and they immediately started arguing about who was going to get first shot on the console and TV. They couldn’t quite work out a rota so they decided they would only play multiplayer, working their way through the new Super Mario 3D World game as a team. Fantastic - compromise achieved!
Well... sort of.
Boxing Day morning, the boys slept in and Marie sat around for two hours waiting for them to get up so she could play Mario. Then, when they did finally appear, she was so grumpy she stomped off in a huff and they couldn’t play either. Not the best of starts...
Things picked up after that. They worked their way through the game, laughing and commiserating with each other. They seemed to have fun. There were only occasional cries of, ‘What did you do that for?’ and ‘Go left! Go left! Not that left! LEFT! ARGH!!!!!!’ Fighting only broke out a couple of times. I mainly got peace. It was great.
Then, when they were near the end, they realised the game was keeping track of which characters they’d managed to get to the end of each level. If they wanted to fully complete the game, they had to do every level with every character. This meant doing much of the game again... twice. They went dutifully back to the start. They’d almost returned to where they’d been before when they figured out they could cheat - they could use extra controllers to bring on extra characters right at the end of each level and cut down the number of replays required. They slapped their own foreheads for not working this out sooner.
They ploughed on. The game got very, very hard and when a platform game gets tricky for Fraser, everyone else is really in trouble. At some point they discovered there was a whole further set of levels they didn’t know about. They were still having fun but progress slowed. Bickering noticeably increased.
Then they got stuck.
The final level was tougher than old boots. Old platemail boots dipped in concrete. Never mind playing it through twice with different characters, they couldn’t finish it at all. They spent hours on it. Then they gave up despite having overcome every other obstacle in the game.
I would like to say they discovered fresh air and exercise after that, along with the delights of polite conversation and learning how to do light repair work around the house. That way they could have stayed healthy while making themselves useful and I could have had a shot on the Wii. Unfortunately, they just loaded up a different game.
A couple of days later, they returned to Mario with fresh resolve. They got defeated again... and again... and again... until...
...they succeeded! Hooray!
They were delighted. They only had to do it again with a couple of other characters and they were done. Bizarrely, however, that was at least a week ago and they haven’t even tried. Perhaps they’re sick of the whole thing or maybe they’re afraid that if they manage it, the game will only try to make them do all the levels again in reverse. Perhaps they know deep down that the only reward they’re likely to get is a gold statue of Mario on the title screen and a picture of a cake. Then again, they really enjoyed playing the game - maybe they don’t want it to be entirely over quite yet.
Who knows? But when I look back over the whole process, I can’t help thinking that whatever they go on to do with the rest of their lives, whatever tasks they face and whatever challenges they set themselves, there will be some parallel with their recent experiences in the Mushroom Kingdom. If they’re prepared to listen, Mario has taught them a great deal about the trials and triumphs of existence.
I leave you to draw your own metaphors...
Yours in a woman’s world,
PS Our toilet got blocked the other day and, as usual, I was the one who had to deal with it. Maths, reading and perseverance are all very worthy skills but it would be nice if, just for once, Mario would teach the kids some plumbing.