"This is a tricky level, Dad," Solomon said.
"This is a really trickly level," I told my son.
Solomon was huddled next to me on the couch in our basement. We were playing Super Mario Galaxy 2 on my Wii. Meowasauras and Yara eyed us cautiously from their respective corner. My cats are sequestered to the basement. Beasts.
Video games have become a routine for Solomon and me. We spend anywhere from fifteen minutes to an hour playing Super Mario Galaxy 2 before bed.
I can't pretend that Solomon isn't obsessed with video games. He's four. Is that too early to be staring at screens? Probably. But I've spent the last thirty some years playing way too many video games. I'm the last person to police my son's habit. Me telling Solomon not to play video games would be like a junkie telling someone not to do heroin. Actions speak louder than words. I may as well be honest.
And don't blame me. It's not my fault that Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, and their profiteering ilk created a generation of cyborg-humans who spend most of their time reacting to patterns constructed by pixels. Those monsters.
Fusajiro Yamauchi created the Nintendo. He hooked me on screens when I was a little older than Solomon. And here I am playing Wii with my boy thirty years later, partially determined by my circumstances. So sue me.
It isn't all apocalyptic. Playing Wii with Solomon means that we get to spend time with each other. We both groan with frustration when Mario falls from a ledge. We hoot with exuberation when Mario grabs a difficult star. We are doing something together, and it seems good for a father and son to do things together.
Incidentally, and this is what I really want to write about, Super Mario Galaxy 2 might be the most difficult game in the universe. Real talk. The designers of the game were masochistic monsters. Sure, there are a few easy levels. And the graphics are cartoony and fun. But, for the most part, each level contains one or two stars that require the precise hand-eye coordination of a savant (and lots of luck) to figure out. I don't think Solomon truly understands what he's asking of me when he begs me for one more star.
"Get one more star, Daddy, and then it's bedtime, okay?"
"I'll try Solomon, but this is a hard level."
"It's okay, Daddy. You don't need to get frustrated."
I first played Super Mario Galaxy 2 when it came out in 2010. Times were simpler. I sat on the couch in my quiet, two-bedroom house in Northeast Minneapolis. Katie sat next to me, watching Netflix on her laptop. I mastered the game after grueling days of teaching high school. Or, I woke up on a Saturday morning, and played in peace for a few hours. No toddlers distrubed the sanctity of that quiet space. Those introverted days are long gone. I'm older, and my days are filled with chaos now. I love my family, and I don't miss the professional upheaval that was happening in my life in 2010. But playing Super Mario Galaxy 2 on a quiet evening in a quiet house? That was nice. And yes, I got all the stars in the game. And yes, doing so felt like building Mount Rushmore. What an accomplishment!
"What's this game?" Solomon asked me a few months ago.
"Super Mario Galaxy 2," I told him.
"I want to play!"
Solomon started his own game. He was unable to get the first star. He shoved the controller into my hands. "You try, Daddy."
And it began. Solomon kept asking me to get him stars. And get him stars I did. Slowly, I remembered what a challenge getting stars in Super Mario Galaxy 2 is. My heart races as I battle Bowser Jr., evade Bullet Bills, and dance across lava to get precariously placed stars. We played the other night. It took me forty-five minutes to get the hidden star in Boo Moon Galaxy. Timing my jobs on a moving platform proved as difficult as writing a dissertation. Thanks, Fusajiro Yamauchi, for inspiring a platform that would produce such as an irritating experience. But Solomon and I keep coming back for more.
"I have 70 stars now! Thank you, Daddy!"
"You're welcome, bud."
I'm reminded of the 1989 movie with Fred Savage, The Wizard. Kid had mad Mario skills, and people loved him for it. I've got Mario skills, I guess. And Solomon does seem to respect this. Other essential tasks like replacing light switches, fixing a towel rack, or fixing a leaky faucet? I'm lost. Collecting stars in Super Mario Galaxy 2? I'm your man.
What an age.