“Ready?” he asked.
“Bring it on!” I said. “You’re going down!”
“No, YOU’RE going down!”
I moved to the edge of the couch and leaned toward the television. My elbows were resting on my knees, and I gripped a plastic steering wheel the size of a salad plate. Steven was sprawled on the couch next to me, resting a steering wheel on his stomach.
I might be going down, but I had better posture.
Engines revved over a background of sugary calliope music.
“Coins and mushrooms are good,” Steven reminded me. “Banana peels are bad.”
I just nodded; I was in the zone.
“Be careful going up the escalator,” he said.
"Trying to disrupt my concentration, huh? Tricky."
“Three laps through the mall,” he said, stifling a yawn. Overconfidence will be his downfall.
A stop-and-go light appeared on the screen and I leaned closer to the TV. “On green,” Steven said.
I waggled my thumbs to keep them limber.
The light turned green. Steven’s go cart raced off into the mall and was lost from sight.
My character got off his go-kart and started walking toward Cinnabon.
“Wait!” I said. “Re-do!”
Steven sighed and hit “reset.” Again.
In the two weeks since we brought it home the video game had logged more hours than optional activities like bike riding, homework, eating and bathing.
“Steven, it’s time to turn it off!” I said. “Let’s go play catch.”
“But, Dad!,” he said, stretching ‘Dad’ into a two syllable word, “If I win this race I unlock the next level!”
He said it without looking up, an 8-year old couch potato spending a sunny autumn afternoon racing video go-karts through a virtual shopping mall.
“Nope,” I said in a rare moment of actual parenting. “Save the game and turn it off now! No more video games until after supper …”
“But, Dad …” Three syllables this time.
“Don’t ‘but’ me,” I said, borrowing a nonsensical line from MY dad.
Steven sighed, turned off the video console and grudgingly stepped outside for a game of catch. I ended up chasing more errant throws than usual, but I don’t think he was doing it on purpose …
“Can I play Mario Kart now?” he asked after supper.
“Half an hour,” I said. “And a bath before bed … tomorrow’s a school day.”
He started the video game and flopped down on the couch. I sat next to him. “What are you doing?” he asked.
“I’m going to watch you,” I said.
“You’ve been spending a lot of time playing this game,” I said. “I just want to see what it’s all about.”
“Do you want to play?” he asked, a touch of hopefulness in his voice.
“No, I just want to watch,” I said. “Tell me how it works.”
He was suddenly excited: “Well, the controller fits into the steering wheel,” he said, handing it to me. “This button is your speed, and you steer your go-kart with the steering wheel …”
Video games have come a long way since Pong and Battle Tanks.
“Are you sure you don’t want to play?” he asked. “I have two controllers …”
“No, I’ll just watch.”
“OK,” he said. “This is my character, Bowser.” He highlighted a spike-covered … creature … that barely fit in his go-kart. Bowser took his spot at the starting line with a dozen other racers, and when the light turned green they careened wildly through the food court, bounced down the escalator and sent shoppers scurrying for the safety of Barnes And Noble.
Bowser and Steven finished in second place in their first race, and won the next two.
“Are you sure you don’t want to play?” he asked, before starting a new race. I was hoping he’d ask. “Sure!”
He handed me the second controller and walked me through Mario Kart For Dummies.
“Who do you want to be?” he asked, pressing a button that scrolled characters across the screen.
“Wait!” I said as he passed a little green dinosaur that could have been Bowser’s sensitive little brother. “Go back! Who’s that?”
“That’s Yoshi,” Steven said with a smile.
“I’ll be Yoshi.”
Yoshi spent most of his time crashing into walls, slipping on banana peels and waiting in line at Cinnabon. And it was the most fun I’d had in a long time.
“Steven, it’s almost bedtime,” Carla said from the kitchen. “Tomorrow’s a school day, and you still need to take a bath.”
“Mom, I beat Dad seven races in a row!” he announced proudly as the TV screen winked off. And over the burble of the bath water, I heard him tell her again: “Seven in a row.”
I took Steven to school the next morning, and after walking him to his classroom I drove back home and spent the rest of the day slouched on the couch.
Turns out Yoshi wasn’t as meek as he seemed.
I can’t wait until Steven gets home from school.
Tonight, he’s going down.