My relationship with my older brother has always been awkward. While five years is really not much to overcome, we straddled different generations. Luke, my brother, was on the tail-end of Generation X (an incredible name, by the way) and I was on the bleeding edge of the Millennial Generation (a significant step down in generational names). When we were kids, we truly loved each other in a way that only brothers can. But time will pass, and it has a tendency to change things. This may surprise you, but I was a quiet kid growing up. I mean, now I’m known for Lewis Black-esque rage sessions about videogames and pop culture but, growing up, I was kind of shy. Luke was anything but shy, though. He was boisterous and in love with the limelight; he’d tell the same story three different ways in order to be the focus of the party. It was simultaneously amazing and infuriating. Things like that came easy to him. Me? Videogames came easy to me.
I don’t remember getting a NES, but I do remember playing Super Mario Bros. with my brother. As far as Luigis were concerned, I was a cancer. When his Mario died, I’d take over for multiple levels. We’d even do the “toss some elbows, fuck the other guy up” kind of one-upsmanship. It didn’t matter what kind of game we played, but I was always superior to him. After a while, I would throw him a game or two. I’d say, “Dang, Luke, you are getting really good at this,” but he would know what was going on. He would never say anything, but our gaming sessions would get shorter and shorter as time went on.
While I don’t have a Nintendo-64-Kid like documentation of the occasion, I remember getting a Nintendo 64 for Christmas. We didn’t get it at launch; we got it with Mario and Pilotwings and, most damning, Star Fox. The day after Christmas, Luke and his best friend, J.J., played Star Fox for hours. I would sit there, studying each craft movement, what each button did, how each evasive maneuver was beneficial in a given a situation. After a while, J.J. passed the controller to me, and I dominated the following games. For an hour, I was a furry Red Baron. Each time I would win a round, my brother would put the controller down harder, until he was slamming it against the coffee table. It, unlike other things, never broke.
In 1999, my family moved from Alaska to Minnesota. At this point, I was 14 and just discovering my personal identity. Luke was 19 and had moved out of the house; he had had a falling out with my parents over a number of different issues. He stayed in Kodiak while I moved away. The fact that this didn’t bother at me the time is something that, today, shakes me to my core. I sometimes wonder at which point in our lives we stopped being brothers and became acquaintances, but I dismiss the thought. You can recover what was lost.
When we moved to Minnesota, I decided to change myself. I was going to be outgoing and loud and funny and just like Luke. And it worked. It didn’t take much effort to make myself into a person I barely knew. Osmosis is very funny that way. One thing I never gave up, though, was videogames. I kept playing and buying and getting better. And unbeknownst to me, so did he. While our lives were on separate courses, our passions remained parallel.
Eventually, Luke moved to Minnesota, but only just so: he lived in a town that was close but still a drive. We saw each other, as family should do, but only on special occasions. When we talked, it was stilted and awkward until, of course, we talked about what the other had been playing. We didn’t know what to say to the other person, but we knew what games were good, and could recommend them to each other.
When we would hang out, we would have to get drunk to have any sort of rapport; that is, unless we played games. On my own, I was lucky enough to afford all of the major systems: the Wii, the 360, the PS3. It was bizarre; I had all of these gaming consoles, but very rarely played by myself. If friends or family came over, it was time to break out the games and grease the wheels. Luke and I would visit from time to time: his now-wife was pregnant and my job was going well and boy, he’d really like a chance to play that Playstation 3 and man, I would love to have someone to play Smash Brothers with.
For a very long time, my brother was a stranger that I was attached to through fate. We had some similar hobbies but our interactions were forced and uncomfortable. Recently, my girlfriend, who I was planning to marry because that’s what you do, broke up with me. Alone for the first time in my adult life, stranded at the age of 24, I called the only person who I knew would talk to me. Luke drove down to Minneapolis at 11:00 pm, sat with me while I cried, and played Goldeneye with me. In the morning, we watched the Super Mario Bros. Super Show and had pancakes.
My brother and I are completely separate people; we want different things out of life and have opposite tastes in almost everything. But we will always have Nintendo, and videogames, and those unspoken moments of companionship when you earned an extra life. I regret that, as a person, I will never know and understand his motivations. In the end, though, we both strove for the same thing: a green and white mushroom, which signaled the chance to spend one more minute with each other.