Barbarella
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Video games are bad for you? That’s what they said about rock and roll. — Shigeru Miyamoto

Heather was right when she said an explanation wouldn’t do it justice, that if I were to fully comprehend it, I’d have to try it for myself. Then again, the same could be said about any experience. As it seems to each year, the summer had gotten away from my sister. A few months ago, it seemed as if we had all the time in the world to hang out. But between my travels, our younger sister’s wedding, and all the inevitable stuff that materializes to fill our “free” days, the months had flown by. Now Heather — a wife and mother of two young boys — had only a handful of days before she would reenter her rigidly scheduled life as a high school English teacher and honors-program coordinator. With an eye trained on the few grains of sand left in summer’s hourglass, I accepted Heather’s invitation to visit her at her home in San Marcos and finally try the new video-game console she’d been raving about.

My dad was the first to tell me about Nintendo’s new Wii system; Dad knew about it because, as a wish-granter for the Make-a-Wish Foundation, he had acquired one for a terminally ill child. As usual, when confronted with something new and mysterious, I looked to my friend the Internet for elucidation. After some digging, I learned that Wii (pronounced “wee”) is intended to inspire dual thoughts of the all-inclusive “we” and the onomatopeic “Whee!” Gamers on Wii message boards believe the strange spelling represents two people standing side by side — ii. Still, for one reason or another, I find that last little i irritating.

When I arrived at my sister’s place, the boys (Liam, 6, and Brian, 4) were standing in front of the television and appeared to be pantomiming tennis players. Each held a white, wandlike, wireless apparatus — “wiimotes.” Liam executed a forehand stroke with surprising accuracy for a child who has never held a tennis racket. On-screen, the animated racket smashed the cartoon tennis ball across the court. This was not the two-dimensional, sit-on-your-butt-and-work-your-thumbs Nintendo of my childhood.

“Mom likes the bowling game,” Heather said, prompting me to sputter a mouthful of Diet Coke. The idea of my mother playing any video game was absurd, evoking mixed feelings of amusement and uneasiness — the way I’d feel if I were to stumble upon my sister Jane (Miss Why Buy the Book When I Can Watch the Made-for-TV Movie) double-fisting Ayn Rand and Thomas Pynchon. However, when I remembered that my mother had been on a women’s bowling league throughout most of my childhood, it was suddenly easy, though still strange, to envision her pretending to throw a 12-pound ball at the TV.

For me, Heather had a specific game in mind. As she held the disc in her hand, she said, “Remember when you used to get up in front of everyone and sing ‘Greatest Love of All’ by Whitney Houston?” I nodded. At seven years old, I’d discovered singing as a way to gather the attention of an entire room. As if we couldn’t truly recapture the memory without singing every word, Heather and I began, “I believe the children are our future,” and we didn’t stop until just after we’d shrieked the line, “No matter what they take from me, they can’t take away my dignity,” at which point Brian, in the direct manner befitting a four-year-old, commanded us to cease. Of my sisters, it is Heather who shares my love of singing — we both enjoy belting out the same histrionic, beyond-our-vocal-abilities girlie songs, like anything by Laura Branigan, Andrew Lloyd Webber, or Celine Dion.

When he saw his mother reach for the “micwiiphone,” Liam leapt around squealing, “Mommy, I wanna sing ‘Sail Away’!”

“He’s not talking about the Styx song, is he?” I asked. Heather nodded, enjoying my bewilderment. On the screen, an extravagant introduction to the American Idol logo was unfolding. In the seven years since the reality show first aired, I’d only seen one episode, but that was enough for me to get the gist. Karaoke may be fun, but I wondered how it could be a game. Liam didn’t so much sing as he moaned the lyrics that scrolled across the television. According to the clapping hands, smiles, and nodding heads of the clunky animated versions of Paula Abdul, the British guy, and the guy in the glasses, my little nephew was rockin’ like Dokken.

As I watched, I learned that this game doesn’t require players to render an inspiring performance or even sing the exact notes — one doesn’t even need to say the right words. All you have to do is make noise into the mic in such a way as to keep the little green arrow in the center of the little purple line that appears high or low on the screen.

When Liam (who had actually sung all the correct words) earned a “diamond” for expertly executing the song, Heather took the mic. Seated with her knees tucked under her on the edge of her L-shaped sofa, Heather crooned the words to Ozzy Osbourne’s “If I Close My Eyes Forever.” With a straight face.

“Okay, it’s my turn,” I said, confiscating the mic as soon as Heather had finished intoning the last “You gotta close your eyes for me.” I clutched the microphone in anticipation as Heather scrolled through the song titles. “Wait, there, go back,” I said.

“To ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’? You sure?”

“Totally. Let’s do it.”

“Okay,” Heather laughed. “It has a reputation for being the easiest song on there. It has no complexity whatsoever.”

“Go on. I can rock it. I know this song backwards and forwards.” But three words in, I realized just how overconfident I’d been. At the first instrumental break, I said, “I was totally singing it, why wouldn’t the arrow go up any higher?”

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Comments

MsGrant Aug. 27, 2008 @ 1:55 p.m.

Rockin' like Dokken! That is hilarious. I met the drummer for Dokken once. I was enrolled in a real estate class in Scottsdale, Arizona and one of my fellow students was a topless dancer at Babes or something like that. When we passed the class, a group of us went out for drinks and she brought her boyfriend. About ten minutes into our celebration, my friend, Marc, whispers in my ear "That dude is in Dokken". I was like, "No way!" Sure enough, it was him. He was totally fun. I think his name was Nick.

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Barbarella Fokos Aug. 27, 2008 @ 9:25 p.m.

No way! I'm going to have to break down and listen to some of their songs now. I confess, I was familiar with the term "Rockin' like Dokken," but have no idea what songs the band has recorded. Time for me to do some post-writing research. ;)

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bohemianopus Aug. 28, 2008 @ 7:55 a.m.

"By the time I got to the part where I had to screech "mamma mia" at the pitch of a man whose balls are in a vise..."

I need a new chair that will keep me from falling off and hitting the floor!!

GREAT STUFF!

Pat

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jim87vette Aug. 28, 2008 @ 1:35 p.m.

You picked a tough song Barb lol.I have never had the pleasure of getting my WII on lol.Maybe one day I will stumble into someones house and check it out.I think White Wedding would be a good one for you,and I wanna hear it.

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PETsurfer June 13, 2009 @ 4:38 p.m.

MsGrant:

Yeah, I used to simply CONSUME Dokken in the 80's. Listening every day, and buying up every cassette, vinyl, ANYTHING.

Nick is close... it was Mick. "Wild" Mick Brown, if I remember correctly.

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