Some of my earliest memories of bonding with friends and younger family members have involved gaming. There’s nothing like bonding with friends over your preferences in breeds on Nintendogs or favorite character on Super Mario Brothers. When visiting family members in Pakistan, my brother and I were able to connect with cousins through racing games on the PlayStation, which helped us overcome the language barrier we often faced. There was no need to speak; we could simply communicate in gasps or high fives when one of us overtook the other just before the finish line of a race.
In a time where we weren’t necessarily exposed to online gaming and interacting cross-continentally through gaming chat rooms, multiplayer games were the perfect way to break down any obstacles we had in communicating. We all had a unified, common interest – winning a game. Even though it can be difficult for you to remember a time where you didn’t have the technology to help us overcome, these games could be seen as our introduction to the more globalized world.
Looking back at that time, even among older family members the Nintendo Wii helped us form unbreakable, competitive bonds. In New York, our aunt had stood in line at the Nintendo store to buy the Wii, which soon became a part of our nightly routine. No matter what, we would all play a round of Wii Tennis as a family before bed, completely in awe of this motion sensor-controlled device. Although it didn’t improve our tennis skills on the court, we could easily spend hours attached to the screen in an intense deuce.
The Wii became a key fixture in our childhoods, in a way that I never would have expected. From moves around the world, we kept faithful to our Nintendo devices. In London, we still keep a Wii for when friend’s children come to visit. We didn’t have smartphones or iPads to occupy our time with – our bonds were formed over in-person interactions glued to the telly, engaging in endless debates over who got to use the first controller.
When moving back to England for university, I was aware of the cultural differences that I could face when moving into dorms. Living in the gorgeous English countryside, surrounded by flatmates who had either rarely left the UK or were moving to the country for the first time was intimidating. We felt that we didn’t have much in common, and language barriers made group bonding exercises almost impossible. We felt we had nothing that would bond us, no shared interests or backgrounds that could allow our diverse group to become fast friends as we expected.
By pure accident, my flatmates and I ended up discussing our love for Mario Kart after hearing about real-life Mario Kart races coming to the UK. Immediately, you could see our connections forming. Even though we didn’t grow up in the same places, or have remotely common interests, it was as if we had the same childhood purely because of the games we played. Spending hours trying to unlock all the worlds on Super Mario Brothers, desperately trying to train Labrador puppies on Nintendogs (only to forget about them as soon as the Wii came out), frantically trying to beat other friends on Mario Kart – these were all memories we shared.
As we went into our second year of university, this obsession continued to the point where we ended up in a second-hand games shop before a night out to buy a bright red Wii for pre-drinks. Despite an ill-fated game of bowling (always wear the wrist strap!), two tellies later, the console was still a regular fixture in our procrastination. The nostalgia we had for cosy evenings from our childhood was overcome in our university life. Each of us was able to recreate our own unique experiences as children and remind ourselves of less stressful times. For some, this even meant finally getting to be player one on Super Mario Brothers.
As we all moved into our third year, into separate houses and even separate countries, Nintendo was still able to keep us connected. One by one, we have been saving up to buy Switches and continue playing together when distance has kept us apart. Mario Kart nights have continued, with the same level of competitiveness that we had at ten years old. Only this time, with new friends from around the world (and most certainly not with tilt controls!)
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As the gaming industry continues to become more advanced, there is one thing that Nintendo is still able to monopolize with – the ability to provide people from my generation, around the world, with the opportunity to satisfy their nostalgic memories. Regardless of where you grew up, if you played on a Nintendo device as a child, there is an opportunity to connect with millions of people around the world who have similar memories from their childhood, frantically trying to beat their friends at tennis on a screen.