Button doesn’t care how often Mario dies

We tested Button for COVID this week (thankfully, it turned up negative), but two-and-a-half year olds don’t like sitting still to get their drippy nostrils swabbed.

I suggested we let him play some Super Mario Bros. while I collected the test sample. He watched me play the other day, so I let him try pressing buttons for a few minutes. He wanted another chance to try.

He doesn’t understand the mechanics of the game, but he loves watching Mario jump and move. He’s in control.

In the time between getting him ready to test and waiting for the result, Button let Mario die around 40-50 times. Every time, he wanted to start again.

He’s not worried about getting to the end of the level, or saving the princess. The narrative and the game itself don’t mean anything to him.

He doesn’t feel the need to be good at it, because he doesn’t have a conception of what being good at it even is.

He sees a little guy in overalls who runs and jumps. He bumps blocks and sometimes lands on Goombas. Mostly he runs into things and falls off the screen.

Button just wants to play with a toy.

If he keeps wanting to play games as he gets older, he’ll probably get a little better and want to do more of what the game asks of him. He’ll feel more of the tug-of-war between skill and desire.

For now, it’s a nice reminder that games don’t have to be about 100% completion, speed runs, or tournament play.

Many things can be fun in the moment, taken on their own terms. Finding joy in the doing, not the striving or the achieving.