Love & Smash Bros.
The perfect combo
By Tonya Smith
Being a mother is the hardest job on earth.
After thirteen hours of mediating arguments, fetching snacks, changing diapers, and preventing accidents and injuries, my day is done. Toys are strewn all over the floor and dishes are piled in the sink. The mess nags at me, but fuck it. My wife Rachel and I are finally alone and free to choose how we spend our time together. It’s time for me to clock out. We pack a bowl and commence chilling the fuck out.
We load up Araña with Sunshine Daydream and prepare to enjoy some well-deserved gaming. I exhale the first puff of smoke and feel my shoulders drop as tension I didn’t even know I was holding is released. I’m still buzzing with the day’s energy, though. Stress relief doesn’t happen in an instant. My mind flits to unaccomplished tasks left over for tomorrow, and I try to push those thoughts out of my mind. They exist for Tonya the mom, and her shift is done.
My wife and I are faced with an important decision: how can we best use our glorious freedom? Between us there’s more pent-up tension than the pot can soothe. We need an activity that will let us deal with the disorder and combat of the day, but in a controlled environment. Rachel suggests Super Smash Bros. and we dive into the melee.
I’m not normally a competitive person. I have much more fun working together towards a common goal than trying to get the better of my friends. But there is just something about Super Smash Bros. that takes even the sweetest and quietest among us and morphs them into a shit-talker of the highest order.
I’m no exception, and I unleash a well-timed joke about her mother as I send her sailing. It’s one of the few hits I manage to land. Rachel is playing surprisingly well despite being incredibly stoned. She moves her character around the two-dimensional space with the grace and poise of a well-trained fighter. My damage counter is through the roof, and it’s taking all the skill I can muster not to sail off into the distance. She’s knocked me off solid ground more than once, and it’s only through sheer luck that I’m able to hang onto the edge and jump back up into the fray.
It’s clear that I’m so high that it’s fucking up my timing and coordination. I’m somewhat bothered by my lack of skills, particularly when Rachel is soundly thrashing me. Still, it does nothing to stop me from trash talking. That’s half the fun. I have brief moments of finesse when my coordination and attention finally line up, but ultimately she wins match after match.
After six years of marriage, Rachel can read my face like a well-loved book. No doubt sensing I’m reaching the limit of my frustration, she suggests co-op mode. We both agree that we’re over fighting each other and make the switch. Now that we’re playing as a team, we’re having much more fun. We’re much more invested in the game. Our characters work together, dancing across the screen and delivering devastating blows. Our foes are smashed one by one with brutality and efficiency. This is so much better, I think to myself as we proceed to burn through the levels.
Sunshine Daydream is aptly named. I feel as peaceful and contented as if I’d spent the entire day lying on soft grass in the sunshine with a good book. Grownup cares and concerns drift away, and for awhile I can just be a person who doesn’t have to worry about bills or kids or chores.
I glance at Rachel and smile. I think about this woman I’ve chosen as my Player 2, and how much better it is to be fighting with her than against her. After all, that’s how we’ve approached our lives. We face our boss battles hand in hand, and we’ve taken on some formidable enemies.
Between us, we’ve conquered job loss, gender transition, discrimination, and homelessness. We’ve been battered and bruised, down to our last lives with our health in the red. Sometimes it looked like the game was up, with no continue in sight. Seven years of partnership has had its effect on our co-op skills. We move and fight as one, and in the end we always come through the fight. We’re still standing.
I think about how every day, I can wake up and choose the way I want to play. I can choose to play single player, or I could play a multiplayer game with a different partner. I’ve tried many other combinations, but none so effective as the one we have. We’ve leveled up together. We’ve gained new equipment along the way, and every day we become a more powerful alliance. I choose her every day, and I’ll continue to choose her because you don’t mess with the perfect combo.
Originally published at popularium.com on November 3, 2016.