The logic of video games was pretty simple, and utterly false, when I was 12 years old and playing “Super Mario Bros.” on Nintendo. The “logic” began when the game cartridge wouldn’t work, and blowing on the insides usually fixed it. Nothing else in real life is this simple. I have never blown air on a broken toaster and thought that it would work.
I’ve also never encountered a square brick floating in the sky while I’m walking down the sidewalk, and if I ever did, I have no illusions that jumping up and bashing it with my head would bust it into pieces. Nor do I think a magic star would come out.
Likewise, I have never seen a venus flytrap, but even if I did, I would not throw ice cubes at it and assume that anything would happen.
This is how easy video games were in the early 1990s. It was all about hopping between clouds, busting square bricks and jumping high enough on a flag pole to earn an extra life. The only time video games impacted my real life was when I played too much Tetris and then imagined how I could rearrange the rectangular tiles in the bathroom to make a better fit.
Video games changed in the 2000s, specifically with the invention of controllers that respond to bodily movements rather than the touch of a button. Now the game designers at Nintendo, which my children only know as Wii, could develop games that involved less of you controlling a man on the screen and more of you actually participating in the action. Gone were the days of busting bricks and turtles that turn into skeletons – that came walk upright.
In 2009 and 2010, I spent many winter evenings playing Wii Sports with my boys. I was the champion of hula hooping, the ski jump, and bouncing soccer balls off my head. I also was moving up on the leaderboard for bowling, without ever lifting a bowling ball.
All this activity and athletic domination led to a false bravado in the real world. I was so sure that my prowess on the Wii ski jump would translate to me being able to ski successfully for the first time in real life. I was wrong. In the Wii world, there are no ski lifts. In the real world, people who try to teach you how to ski forget to mention that you’ll have to jump out of a moving chair first. Also: absolutely nothing in Wii Ski translates to actual skiing.
Turns out, I can’t bounce 352 consecutive soccer balls off my head in real life either. Nor can I hula hoop for 10 minutes without getting a cramp. These were all terribly hard lessons to learn. But they set the stage for everything I’d learn from Crossy Road.
Crossy Road, a game app on smart phones, combines the flat-world simplicity of the 1990s Nintendo and the real-life scenarios of Wii Sports. In Crossy Road, different characters try to make their way across lanes of traffic without being smooshed. The characters range from the nonsensical – a Lovely Bunny that toots red hearts as it jumps – to the horrifically realistic – a schoolgirl who, if you aren’t careful, can be flattened by an 18-wheeler. My favorite is the bunny, because even when I’m dodging speeding trucks, I can smile at the stream of hearts floating in the animal’s wake.
I didn’t want to try Crossy Road at first. I saw the way it had sucked in my children, then my older brother, and finally my husband. I remembered the dark ways of “Super Mario Bros.” and how things like food, water and sleep didn’t matter until I could defeat Bowser. If I wanted to continue living a fruitful life, I knew I should never download Crossy Road.
Except, then my brother, who was visiting from Florida, said something interesting at dinner: “I almost got in a wreck on the way here, and honestly, if I wasn’t already the master of Crossy Road [see what he did there?], I might have. But I knew that speeding up, not hesitating, was the way to avoid disaster.”
That one statement led me to this fateful thought: “Maybe Crossy Road can make me a better driver, too.” (Spoiler: it won’t.)
I downloaded the game, and soon I was on that thin line between knowing I’m awesome at hopping across eight lanes of traffic and thinking I might actually be able to hop across eight lanes of traffic in real life – if only there is a square of grass or a floating log on the other side for me to rest on.
Then I remembered my Wii Ski experience and how going over a ski jump on a video game is nothing like going over a ski jump in real life. So I made a deal with myself: until I also can toot red hearts every time I jump, I will not try to cross I-95 in anything except a car.