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Video games help siblings prepare for lifetime of conflict

By Jason Offutt

The man in the red hat ran and jumped, hurtling a bloodthirsty Venus flytrap in some far-off jungle filled with pits, giant mushrooms, and deadly turtles. A man with a green hat ran far behind him.
“Wait,” a voice called. “Wait for me.”
Silence.
“I’m serious,” the voice called again. “Wait.”
The man in red leapt over a pipe and grabbed a flagpole, and the man in green fell off the side of the world.
“Aaarrrrggg,” the voice screamed, then the Boy knocked the Girl off the couch and the two children rolled on the carpet until one of them cried. It didn’t really matter which one. They take turns.
Welcome to the Weekly Offutt Wii Competitive Sibling Super Mario Brothers Death Match. Whoever came up with the idea that video games would be more fun if multiple players had to work together to win must have been an only child.
Brothers and sisters operate under a series of peace treaties more breakable than soap bubbles; forcing them to cooperate isn’t natural.
My wife and I discovered this when we upgraded our one-player-at-a-time Super NES video game system (circa 1992) to a multi-player Wii to make sure our children had an adequate platform from which to launch peer-bonding conversations about pop culture.
OK, that’s a lie. We just wanted them to leave us alone for five freaking minutes.
We quickly found children will never leave their parents alone for five freaking minutes. I should have seen this coming; I was once a kid with a video game.
My first video game system was an Atari 2600. Space Invaders, Pac Man, Demon Attack, Excite Bike, Dig Dug; I had all the most popular 8-bit games that, looking back, weren’t nearly as fun as walking down to the creek and throwing rocks at frogs.
But my Atari 2600 taught my young mind something important – video games are serious business.
“Woe to the one who steps in front of the television,” The Book of Zelda, 4:27.
“Dad,” the Boy yelled from the basement family room my wife and I had hoped was far enough away from the rest of the house we wouldn’t get dragged into this very thing. We were wrong. “She’s not playing right again.”
To guys video games are training programs for real life. Somewhere in our heads float the understanding that one day we will have jump on the head of an intelligent, evil turtleman to save the life of a princess. We will catch the winning touchdown in the Super Bowl. And we will have to mow down the living dead with machine guns that are, for some reason, lying around an abandoned amusement park.
So when your sister doesn’t take this responsibility with the same level of seriousness, it’s a problem.
“Well,” the Girl yelled back. “Mario is just stupid.”
The Boy reset the game, and the dance began again.
What did kids do before video games? Well, household firearms and zombies were a lot more common back then. I told you they were training programs.

Jason Offutt’s column has been in continuous publication since 1998 appearing in newspapers and magazines across the United States. Follow Jason on Twitter @TheJasonOffutt.

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