Just a few months after we started dating, my wife-to-be and I discovered we couldn’t hold hands. We were just too competitive.
Oh, it’d start innocently enough, with Stacey giving my hand a little squeeze of affection as we walked along. I, of course, would respond by squeezing her hand back — maybe just slightly tighter, for emphasis. So Stacey would then give me a squeeze back, but a little stronger still. And before we knew it, we were on the verge of dislocating one another’s knuckles to prove how much we loved each other.
So we pretty much stopped holding hands. That didn’t really solve the underlying problem, though. We’ve always done our best to be fair to each other, and to be good sports when we don’t get our way. But almost invariably there’s a little ego-bruising whenever we do almost anything together, whether it’s playing Hearts, collaborating on writing, managing our money, or determining who’s going to put the kids to bed.
I never would have imagined things would be any different with a video game system — if anything, I figured it would only make things worse. (I’d stay up all night wearing out my thumbs on a controller; Stacey would be upstairs in bed wondering why I was giving all my attention to some damn pixels on a screen instead of her; I’d resent that she was feeling resentful without coming out and saying what she wanted me to do … eh, you get the idea.) But there it was, right under the tree on Christmas morning: A brand new, totally unexpected Nintendo Wii, a gift from Stacey’s parents.
Things didn’t start particularly well. The machine was packaged with a copy of New Super Mario Brothers Wii, one of the latest installments in the ubiquitous Nintendo franchise. I jumped right in, falling back on skills honed during innumerable misspent hours playing video games in college. Stacey, who’d never been allowed to have a Nintendo when she was growing up, faced a steeper and far more frustrating learning curve. And then came the day we tried to play together.
Unlike most two-player games, this one forces the two characters onscreen — usually Mario and his loyal brother Luigi — to interact pretty closely. In most cooperative games, the two players can pass right by each other; there’s no risk of one player’s attacks hurting the other. But as the gamers among us doubtlessly know already, the characters in New Super Mario Brothers Wii — who are ostensibly working towards the same goal — can pick up and throw one another, stomp on each other’s heads, injure each other with projectiles, or leave the other player behind and make him or her lose a life. Add in the fact that it’s easy to do all of the above by accident, and the result is a game that requires a remarkable degree of coordination. (Either that, or the players just give in to their worse angels and actively sabotage one another.)
The first time we played resulted in mountains of frustration and hurt feelings. And then something strange started to happen — the experience became strangely like one of those corporate trust-building exercises, wherein coworkers learn to rely on each other by playing paintball or going across a zip-line. We started communicating better about what we were doing; we learned how to work together or get out of each other’s way. She saw me make dumb mistakes and felt better about her own skill; I got excited for her as I watched her playing improve.
I don’t know what this will mean for our efforts to write together or manage our budget. But I’ll tell you this: Those evil Koopalings who kidnapped our Princess are gonna be toast.