Not too long ago, I began to train my children in the ancient art of Mario Kart for Nintendo 64. They had a blast for a while, and then came the anger. If you’ve ever played this game you know what I’m talking about. The game is about winning a race or battle with your chosen cart-like vehicle. You get all kinds of weapons to knock others out of the race, which can be a point of anger. The course itself has barriers that will target you to slow you down, another point of anger. Other characters will also laugh at you as they pass, still another point of anger. As the anger builds, you often hear screams, see tears, and witness the ever exciting throwing-of-the-controller.
During one particular race, “Frappe Snowland”, my sons were having a hard time navigating around the many snowmen on the track. After I witnessed all three stages of anger, I decided to “Change the Story”. I grabbed a controller and began to show them how to have fun even if the game is too hard, and because it’s a 4 player game we could all play it together.
On “Frappe Snowland”, there is a bridge over a river that will freeze you if you fall in. The makers of the game positioned that bridge right before the finish line for maximum fun/anger. I chose to race with Bowser, the “Bad Guy” in all the Mario games, and claimed the bridge as being “Bowser’s Bridge”. I didn’t race, I was only there as another barrier. For my sons, I was a sitting duck. They would race around the corner, having just acquired new weapons, and they would blast Bowser right off his bridge into the frozen rapids below. I would ham it up with my own “Bowser voice”, calling out things like, “This is my bridge!”, “No one comes on my bridge!”, etc. When he’d get knocked off, I would scream about how cold it was and beg for mercy or cry out for vengeance as they drove away.
This whole game within a game cooled everyone’s temper with a lot of laughs, and extended the gameplay by many minutes. The normal race isn’t really that long, maybe 5 min. if that. With “Bowser’s Bridge”, we played it together for 15-20 min., my boys each wanted a turn being Bowser. And the next time we had video game time, they went right to “Frappe Snowland” calling for Bowser to take his place on his bridge, much like one of their favorite stories “Billy Goat Gruff”.
After we played that for a while, it became a game within a game within a game. Bowser’s Bridge got boring, as all games do, so instead we played “Clean Bowser’s Bridge”. One of the in-game weapons was a banana peel which once you ran it over you were sent into a spin. We would put them all on Bowser’s Bridge and the new game was to scrub them off without getting knocked into the river. This game extended the race even more, putting the total time to +30 min. They had so much fun, the room was full of laughter.
I know sometimes things can be a “growing experience”, and learning to control the video-game-rage is something I know I needed to learn. But to me, video games are meant to be fun. I tell my kids if you aren’t having fun, you need to take a break.
If your kids are having a bad game day, playing the “Game within a Game” approach can change it up by removing all the points of anger. For “Frappe Snowland”, it wasn’t about the race anymore so it didn’t matter if my sons got knocked off the track, hit with barriers, or laughed at. They were doing most of that while beating on the troll, I mean Bowser.