Watching ‘The Super Mario Bros. Movie’ With My Six-Year-Old Was Surprisingly Emotional

I’ve tried my best to not raise a gamer, simply because of my love of video games. And yet, Mario transcends all.
Artwork from ‘The Super Mario Bros. Movie’
Image courtesy of Nintendo

There was a moment in The Super Mario Bros. Movie where my six-year-old, otherwise raptured and oblivious to the world around them, held my hand. Bowser, in search of Mario, was being mean to Luigi. Home speakers have come a long way, but they’re still no match for the roaring boom of a decent theater. They’re intense. For a brief moment, in a movie about colors whizzing by with little care for plot, my daughter was scared, and generations bonded over a place where characters eat colored mushrooms to get bigger. 


As a parent, I am philosophically opposed to forcefully passing my nostalgia to my children. 

They are their own people, not little versions of me, and while it’s impossible for elements of your identity, preferences, and values to not rub off on them—you know, a huge part of the “parenting” thing—it’s never been my intention to treat children as a vehicle to re-experience my own childhood. One reason I had children was to have new experiences, to view the world through their eyes. And yet, here I was, holding back a tear during a movie that rarely concerns itself with anything deeper than “Wa-hoo!” and noticing how I’d been undermined.

I let myself have that moment. It made my heart sing. She eventually let go.

Video games mean a lot to me. Beyond providing endless hours of joy, entertainment, distraction, introspection, and every emotion in-between, they’ve also gifted me a long, satisfying career. I was able to buy a home, the home my kids are in, because of games.

Who wouldn’t want to share that with their kids? Me, dammit! I spent so much of my time and energy around games already that my children, even when they’re acting like demons, are a form of escape. My career plays a part in this decision, but it fits my broader approach to parenting. And so my personal compromise became that if games became interesting for them, it would happen because they came to it naturally. They would choose to be fans because they picked up a controller on their own, not because I handed one and said “look!”


In one version of this story, my kids look at video games and cast them out of the house.

But is this the moment where I share that last year my oldest daughter took a Minecraft class through the park district? That she learned how to navigate a 3D space in Roblox? Surprise: she’s very into games. Not obsessive, but it’s part of her media diet, for sure. When their iPad time is up, her first question is “Where is my Switch?” 

Now, for one, I’m always playing games around the house, because of my job. You can have the best of intentions when it comes to letting children be their own people, but especially early on, intention matters less; they are partly a reflection of you and an ever-evolving mixture of other things building into a unique identity. I mean, I suspect the reason she’s also asking questions about Freddy Krueger and whether it’s possible to die in your dreams is not natural curiosity, but the posters on our walls. (We keep most of the horror stuff in our downstairs, but once, a neighbor kid came over and went “whoa, is this a murder house?”)

For another, and perhaps this is more important, whereas I grew up as part of a generation that watched games birth into existence, awkwardly rise to become pop culture, and prompt questions about whether it truly was appropriate to be playing a Final Fantasy game until 4AM on summer break, she will never live in a world where it’s weird to play video games, be it Roblox, Minecraft, or whatever Mario happens to be downloaded on the house Switch.

When video games landed in my lap, they weren’t just a passing interest. As a kid, when my friends got older, video games were still important—we all gathered around to play a ton of GoldenEye and Halo—but other parts of life took up greater priorities. That didn’t happen with me, and I ended up with a career built around them. I do not know what will happen with my children, and part of watching The Super Mario Bros. Movie with my oldest was, in some ways, making peace with that unknown—her unknown. For my daughter to love games is not a curse, a burden, or the result of me trying to mold her into a tiny version of myself. 

I’m just glad we got to hold hands for a minute.

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