Waiting to Respawn: How My Princess Peach Taught Me About Myself

The official Super Mario Soundtrack image

Despite what online forums and competitive gaming may tell you, there is no “right way” to play a game. Some styles might be easier than others, or faster for a certain goal, or explore particular gameplay aspects more fully, or more common, or whatever, but one objectively best way to tackle a game doesn’t exist.

And nowhere does this this become more apparent than when jumping into multiplayer, where our actions measure up against those of others. “Oh, you like assault rifles? That’s neat, but I just sniped you from 200 yards away. GG.” Playing with others opens a world of possibilities for refining tactics, discovering things you never knew about, or appreciating a new perspective on a familiar situation.

But what about things besides Call of Duty or Starcraft? What can playing with friends teach us about how we dive into stuff like Kingdoms of Amalur or L.A. Noire, games that earn the unusual moniker of “traditionally single player?”

Last week, I burned the hell out of my hand and had to go to the hospital. As someone whose life can be boiled down to drinking, playing video games, and writing about video games while drinking, this presented a problem on all three fronts.

As I sat in my apartment, grumpy and sober, my boyfriend casually suggested that we play Super Mario RPG together. “You’ve never played it, and it was one of my favorites as a kid, so it’ll be really fun to go through as a team.”

Despite the issues with trying to play a game in a group, I consented. “Might as well get it off my video game backlog,” I thought.

Geno in Super Mario RPG

The offending puppet.

Over the next few days, we managed to power through Mario’s original RPG adventure as a duo despite the technically single player limitation, with me alternating between quiet observation and barking commands at my significant other to “Check that corner,” or “Go rest at the inn, stupid.”

I’m quite pleasant when injured, by the way.

It quickly became apparent that our playstyles varied wildly from one another — I wanted to invest our money into new armor at every opportunity; he wanted weapons first and foremost. I defiantly plowed through every sinister minigame for extra money; he wanted to flee like a shiny Chansey at the very idea. I shunned the irregular party members in favor of a Mario-Peach-Bowser team; he snuck the noncanon puppet-warrior Geno into every fight he could.

All this bickering over how we should progress got me thinking – transforming solo games into multiplayer provides an excellent venue for understanding how we all play.

It’s not like one way for us to play was specifically better than the other. As I’ve already mentioned, that doesn’t really happen. For example, though I argued as to whether Geno or Bowser could deal more damage in an average strike, they both fill the slot well but using neither also works if a player desires it. Yet differences appeared in everything from combat to which NPC house we should explore first in a new town.

For all the artistic, engaging, entertaining merit this medium has to offer, there are an infinite number of connections players can make with a title. Some may jump into Final Fantasy 13-2 for the continuation of the story while others may gobble up anything that lets them capture monsters and mash them together into the ultimate beast. Those core attractions push us or pull us from games

Our reasons for playing define our actions, and thus, guide them towards the experiences we enjoy. Going back to the Geno versus Bowser debate, which I’m sure will rage on for the next few years of my life, my position was fundamentally different from my partner’s. He wanted a team with high damage and flexibility, but I just wanted to use the traditional Mario characters. The gameplay didn’t matter to me as much. I just wanted to see Bowser claw apart monsters next to his (let’s be honest) true love Peach.

In short, we all get into this stuff for at least slightly different reasons, which means we play AT LEAST slightly differently from one another. And that’s okay. Great, even. Our peers remain the best tutors.

And that’s why I encourage the several people reading this to try their best and play a typically single player game with a friend for a while. Make decisions as a group. Pass the controller around. Argue over item shop purchases. Let those differences seep in, think about what you’re doing, and maybe you’ll learn something about yourself.


  1. SinclairVox

    One of the first things that I did with my then-girlfriend, now-wife when we first moved in with each other was to play through the entirety of Final Fantasy IX together cooperatively. 
    Some people don’t know that a handful of the Final Fantasies (FFVI and FFIX, at least, I’d have to check on IV and V) are set up to allow the player to assign control of characters to a second controller in battle. It makes for a scenario very much like the one you’ve described here (especially because player one still has total control outside of combat), and it was an excellent experience for both of us– I got to share with her one of my favorite RPGs (and to play as Freya), and she got to be the one to explore, to experience the drama, to feel player agency.
    An experience like that teaches one about being a backseat gamer– when it’s appropriate to say “oh wait, go check that corner, I think there’s an item lying around we don’t want to miss” and when to keep your trap shut (PRO TIP: don’t bark battle commands at your loved ones, no matter how bad you need healed).
    I highly recommend it.

    • MikeBarrett


      We tried playing Tales of Symphonia together last winter, but he got fed up with the combat and we stopped right before the major plot twist. I think SMRPG went well because of the length.

  2. loko08

    I have finished super mario rpg so many times…. its my favorite rpg of ALL TIME… everyone should play it… GO PLAY IT internet