Systems and Inequality part 1: The Allegory of Super Smash Bros – Day 52

The year is 1999. It’s been a big year for a young kid named Patrick. Patrick had turned 11 in March, finished up 5th grade right at the start of June, gone to summer camp for a week and vacation with his family to Mount Rushmore, and started middle school that fall. Patrick had a couple friends from elementary school who he stayed friends with named Billy and Rick, but the group had also made close friends with two others, Jonathon and Joseph, who’d come from a different elementary school. The five started to hang out together, getting rides from their moms to meet up at each other’s houses: Rick’s family had a big TV, Joseph lived next to a big park – each boy had something that made their house cool, so the five would rotate where they hung out.

As the calendar year was coming to an end and possibilities of Y2K were looming, Patrick only cared about one thing: winter break was coming, which meant that Christmas was coming. This was the first year Patrick had bought gifts on his own for his parents (with a little bit of help), and he was excited to see their reactions. More importantly, though, he was looking forward to what he was going to get. He had a couple things on his list he was excited about, but he was really hoping for a Nintendo 64. The N64 had been out for a couple years already, but his parents hadn’t thought Patrick was old enough to get one yet. This year, Patrick was hoping that things would change on this front, most importantly because Super Smash Bros had just come out.

Of the five friends in the group, only Joseph had an N64, but he didn’t have Super Smash Bros (and his older brother spent more time with the N64 than the group of friends did). Patrick had to gather all of his knowledge from commercials and from what he’d heard at summer camp, but he was hooked. He couldn’t even explain why; Super Smash Bros was a fighting game, and he wasn’t really into that stuff, but the chance to play with 4 people with classic characters was in some way appealing. All he really wanted, if he was honest, was the console with the game.

Finally, after much anticipation, it was Christmas day. Patrick felt like he’d barely slept, but he also felt full of energy. He couldn’t wait to get out to the living room and go through opening his presents. After having taken his time to nonchalantly study the boxes under the tree, he felt like there were four opportunities to get the N64. Three of the presents looked like they were big enough to hold an N64, and there was always the possibility that Santa could bring one (he didn’t really believe in Santa anymore, but the family still followed the tradition).

The possibilities went from four to three as Patrick waked into the living room to see that there definitely was not an N64 near his stocking. (Mostly) undeterred, Patrick turned his hope to the gifts under the tree. Slowly, but surely, the possibilities went from three, to two, to one, until the last box revealed a new winter coat where the last hope of the N64 had once been. Resigned but not heartbroken, Patrick new that the N64 had been a bit of a long shot. Hearing about the console and the game had gotten him attached to the idea of having one, but he knew how his parents felt, and figured there was always a chance next year. Besides, he’d gotten a good haul, and his parents had both liked what he’d gotten them. Content with the state of affairs, Patrick tore into his new Lego set (which had been box number one) and spent the morning figuring out how to put the set together while eating as much chocolate as possible (it was, after all, the only day of the year he got to eat chocolate for breakfast).

Later that night, Patrick got a phone call from Billy with some fantastic news: not only had Joseph gotten Super Smash Bros, but Rick had gotten an N64 and Super Smash Bros. Patrick’s spirits were boosted even more than they had been that morning. This was the next best thing; two of the friends had the game now. He was going to be able to play all the time with his friends now! He knew the chance wouldn’t come right away, since Rick would be headed to his Grandparents the next day and Jonathon was already gone, but once school started back up, he knew the gaming would commence.

After the new year successfully began and school started back up, the time to try out the game finally came. The five friends headed over to Rick’s house the first Saturday after break with only one item on the agenda: Smash Bros. Patrick couldn’t wait, looking forward to the day almost as much as he had to Christmas. When the five finally gathered at Rick’s house, it was as if Christmas morning had come again. With five people and only four players, the group decided that the person who got knocked out of the game first would surrender their controller to the person who was sitting the round out. By luck of the rock, paper, scissors, Patrick got in on the first game. Rick had briefly explained what each character could do and sort of explained what buttons did what, but the first round was surprisingly overwhelming for Patrick. The three-pronged controller felt awkward, and hitting the buttons to do stuff ended up not being as effective as he’d hoped. He was the first one knocked out, but he told himself that it was his first time, and that he would be better the next time. He watched during the next round to what people were doing, and felt slightly more prepared when his turn came again.

Unfortunately, Patrick lost again. And again. And again. A couple times he managed to hang on for third, but he felt like he spent more time than the others out of the game. In fact, Rick hadn’t lost once, and Joseph only lost two or three times – never in rounds where Patrick was playing. Feeling slightly disheartened as the end of the day came, Patrick told himself that it was fine to not be great at first and that he would get better.

After a second, third, and fourth Saturday with the group, though, Patrick didn’t feel like he was getting much better. He’d started to hone in on his favorite character to use, but some of the different rules the group made up – having different special items, changing characters, adjusting the time – made it harder to play or have fun. Patrick felt like he was focusing more than the others on what to do, and he continued to sit out more times than he wanted.

As the first couple months after the new year passed, Patrick began to enjoy the game less and less. Actually, that wasn’t quite the case: on days when only four of the friends could show up, the group would spend some time playing on teams, and he enjoyed having a teammate much better than going it alone. It didn’t help that his friends would try to “offer advice” – “no, you just have to do this…” “no, you’re just pushing too many buttons too fast…” “C’mon dude, it’s not that hard.” Suddenly one day, Patrick realized that, not only where the two who actually had the game the best at the game, but they were the ones most likely to make a comment after a round.

As summer rolled around, Patrick got to be less and less enthused about going over to play Smash Bros. He was happy that there would be some time during the summer where he would be gone and not need to play the game, and especially not need to be around for comment after comment about what he needed to do to be better at the game.He’d already started backing out of going over to play every once in awhile, and was glad summer would make for some better excuses.

Soon, the end of summer was approaching; then, school was back in full swing. Game times were becoming more of a frustrating affair than a fun one, and while he still participated, he didn’t enjoy the game nearly as much as he’d thought he would at one time. As Christmas approached, the console was still featured on his list, though a bit further down than the year before. In some ways, he hoped the console wouldn’t show up, and found himself to not be disappointed when that was the case.

The friend group slowly drifted closer to some and further from others, and Patrick found himself playing the game less and less. He found he didn’t miss the game much, and didn’t miss the comments from his friends at all. He didn’t like that the people who had the most to say and the least amount of understanding for his abilities were the ones with the game, he didn’t like that he wasn’t progressing like he thought he “should” have been, and he slowly settled on the fact that he just must not be that good at the game.

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