By Jeanne Marie Laskas
Sunday, March 2, 2008
"THIS IS ALL YOUR FAULT," says my sister Claire in a voice mail. " You told me to move the Wii upstairs!" She hangs up. She has an uncanny way of getting me to call back quickly. I'm sitting here wondering what in the name of Super Mario Galaxy she is talking about.
Claire was the first person I knew to get a Nintendo Wii console game, two years ago, back when the system was introduced. I did not approve. I was a cranky old video game naysayer, a person who maintained, firmly, that my own children would not have their creativity thwarted, would not be tempted by the evils of pixel addiction that I believed virtual play on video screens to represent. It gave me something to feel superior about.
Flash-forward to a rainy day last November. I was at a friend's house, and everyone was Wii bowling, and I picked up the wireless remote -- and I threw a strike. It was love, immediate and powerful. It was passion. It was real. I tried Wii tennis and Wii baseball. By the time I got to Wii boxing, well, it was all over.
No, I did not get my children a Wii for Christmas last year. No, I was not waiting in line at Target on a cold Sunday at 6:35 a.m. in the hopes of snagging a Wii for my little girls.
No, I got that Wii for myself.
I made my husband wrap it. I opened it on Christmas morning and told my family I would share.
We formed teams. We rooted for one another. We made little virtual Wii characters to represent friends and family, and we played baseball and cheered on virtual Grandmom and virtual Granddad. And when virtual Aunt Claire hit a grand slam, we did spins around the family room and high-fived each other, and then we called to congratulate her.
"What a hit!" I said. "You're amazing!" It took her awhile to catch on. "The Wii is a family game," I said. "It isn't about just sticking your kids in front of a video screen to keep them quiet while they get malnourished and turn green."
She confessed that she herself had never played her family's Wii; the game was hooked to the old TV in the basement, where she rarely ventured. I told her to bring that game upstairs. I told her to get involved. I told her the good news of my conversion: Video games are not, in themselves, evil. It's how you use them that matters.
Sharing the good news felt honorable, an act of pure sister heroism. It gave me something new to feel superior about.
For whatever reason, Claire followed my lead. She reported a spike in family unity just as I had experienced, and she said her husband, James, was also enjoying the game. "Mostly, he likes telling us to stay back from the TV and to always wear the stinkin' wrist strap," she said. The caution had been widely covered in the media: A Wii remote, because it is wireless, and because the game has a motion-sensor feature, can fly out of your hand if you're not careful. "Every Wii family has a Wii cop," I told her, explaining that my husband served that function in our house: Back! Stay back! Put the wrist strap on! Husbandly nagging was all part of the Wii experience. It was happening in homes across the land. It was beautiful, a boundless Wii community.
So, this brings us to the present and Claire's voice mail. I am trying to puzzle out the source of her woe, hoping against hope it has nothing to do with the big, flat-screen TV she and James recently got and planned to return because they felt it was too big and obnoxious. I call her back. When she hears my voice, she grunts. Then she says: "Wrist strap. Must tighten wrist strap." I ask her, calmly, about the flat screen. Had she returned it yet? Was it, in fact, in the family room with the Wii?
"Shattered," she says. "Bowling. Dead."
"Verbs," I say. "Can you use verbs?"
"This is all your fault," she says, explaining that her son, Peter, had the wrist strap on, but not on tight enough. The remote flew out of his hand and into the screen, killing the very, very expensive TV that I never told her to put in her family room; I just told her to put the Wii there.
"This is all your fault," she says repeatedly, adding that the puppies I talked her into getting last year had chewed her couch.
I tell her it's her fault for listening to me. "Why do you listen to me?"
She does not say it is because I am superior.
She grunts. She's in pain. "You, um, still have your health," I say. She says nothing, and nothing I can say will help, so I decide to save myself. "Please don't tell my husband," I plead. "The Wii cop will become unbearable, and our Wii days will be over."
"I am going to think about that," she says in a measured tone. I tell her not to be cruel. She says it would be for the sake of my TV, my family unity. Now, she's gathering momentum. I can feel her winding up. I am bracing myself as she tells me that every sister has a dark side. "In fact," she says, "I am going to call him right now."
Jeanne Marie Laskas's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.