This is the story of how I learned about the truth of a young gamer's Christmas.
The picture above this paragraph is a classic Mario doll from the early 90s. These short, squat, stuff variations of the iconic Nintendo mascot are items from a past era: with solid, hard plastic for heads, hands, and feet, these toys are primarily perfect for swinging around and hurting people. The body was stuffed with cotton, which is stringing along the joints, and the hair is fading, exposing the skin underneath. It also came with a cloth hat with the "M" emblem on it, which is forever lost to childhood neglect.
This was my favorite toy of all time. I was, and still am in a certain respect, a huge Super Mario Brothers fan. Something about this character appealed to me. I'm not sure if it is the simplistic gaming style or the creative beauty of the gaming worlds they inspire. My favorite color is red because of him. I found myself playing "Mario" during our schoolyard faux-fights: while other kids my age chose Wolverine or The Punisher, I chose the plucky plumber with the huge nose.
I'm a black male who went to a predominately white Catholic school, and thanks to our overall youth, I was never question about the validity of being Mario due to the variation of skin color. I'm reminded of a short story whereby a new kid to a neighborhood is greeted with praise and enjoyment by the local kids; and after one conversation with their parents, the local kids proceed to question the newbie about "his kind" being around here, and that he was no longer wanted. The beauty of this story? It was never indicated what "his kind" was comprised of.
I never had that happen to me, thankfully, but I was aware of my, for lack of a better word, shortcomings, especially during Halloween. I couldn't dress up as Mario; while the costume would have made me recognizable, it just wouldn't have made any sense. I was forced to be as generic as creativity could allow. A cop. A doctor. A pirate. Now I would have some distinct choices: Alyx Vance's father. The dude from LD4. But I couldn't really be who I really wanted to be. Mario, jumping on some Koopas.
All I had was the doll, and I loved it to death. With it I could interact with the "world" conceived by Miyamoto and design my own adventures. The only thing I needed was the rest of the cast. Luigi. Toad. Princess Toadstool (as she was called at the time). And as Christmas came around the corner, I knew just who to ask.
I believed in Santa. Well, I believed in the miracles that Santa could perform. I knew that my parents provided the gifts, but I had inexplicably conceived that Santa was somehow involved in the process. He could make certain gifts just happen. What wasn't available in stores was accessible through him; so when I was given the opportunity to visit Santa, I was nervous and excited. (It's odd, too - Kevin Mcallister from Home Alone
had pretty much the same imaginary concept of Santa).
Our local mall has closed down since its heyday; it is now a series of random stores and a Sears. It used to be pretty cool, with fancy fountains located underneath the escalators and a pretty fast elevator in the center. Santa was set up behind that elevator, and as my parents and I waited in line, I could feel the nerves building up. It was silly asking for what I was going to ask for, but dammit, I was going to do it.
The time came, and I found myself on Santa's lap.
"Ho-ho-ho! Have you been a good little boy?"
"Yes, I have." (I hope so!)
"And what would you like this Christmas?"
And I spilled my greedy guts. A Luigi doll. A Princess Toadstool doll. A Toad doll. I can't remember if I asked for a Yoshi doll, but I probably did, depending on whether it was before or after Super Mario World
. He said sure. He said something about being a good boy and something about seeing what he could do. When a parent says that, it means "no." When Santa says it? Pretty much guaranteed. And so, we took the obligatory picture, and left.
I managed. I felt pretty confident about my chances. I even resigned myself to be extra good in the coming days up until that fateful morning. Things were going to be awesome. The Mushroom Kingdom would be mine.
Guess what happened.
No Luigi doll. No Toad doll. No Princess Toadstool or Yoshi doll.
I can't remember what exactly I did get for Christmas that year. I think some games, but I can't remember which ones. I remember coloring books, and the only reason why I remember coloring books is because I remember searching hell and high water around that tree for those dolls, only to find the coloring books last.
I never colored in those coloring books.
It was then that I learned that Santa wasn't real, at all, in neither the gift-providing nor miracle-creation capacity. There was no extra-hidden gift under my bed. There was no last-minute exchange that would turn my day into joy. There was no "Oh, kiddo, this is for you!" surprise that was waiting for me, with the laughing jolly man flying across the moon, silhouetted against its light. Just utter disappointment.
In an instant, my hopes and dreams were gone. It was a few months before I could recover, a secret I had always kept to myself. Even I knew the fallout of revealing my grand disappointment to either my friends and families would be embarrassing. In time, I understood the fact that Nintendo, or which ever third-party company, did not make such dolls at the time. In a way, I consider you all lucky, with the accessibility of various toys, dolls, and action figures of your favorite games, which are only a few clicks away.
As we discuss the complexity of true immersion and push to be closely linked into the video games we enjoy, it is important to remember that it has its limits. We cannot, how ever much we try, bring that world to reality. This is what I learned that Christmas. I am not angry. It was something I needed to learn, and as you celebrate your holidays, please remember that, with the faulting economy, the inclement weather, the limitations of the human condition, and plain old Murphy's Law, some things just cannot happen.
Sometimes, people don't receive Christmas miracles.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, Destructoid. Stay safe and enjoy what games come to you, but I ask simply to keep it all in perspective.