The games that almost wrecked my family growing up

It’s 10pm in the Demaude household. Everything is silent. This is not good.

The Demaudes are famously known for being a family of nocturnes and rebels, who consistently ignore the rule that you shouldn’t eat cheese before bedtime (consequentially none of us go to bed, as we’ve all suffered too many nightmares). And it is rarely silent. In fact, it is never silent. Except for now, when animosity reigns.

The cat meows nervously in the corner.

None of us have done anything wrong (technically). We’ve not gone quiet because the puppy pooped on the floor again, and we’re all refusing to pick it up. It’s not because me and my sister fought and I hit her with my flute. Neither of my parents have embarked on a seedy affair, equally neither of them have yet discovered that I stole the final Magnum and, snake-like, swallowed it whole.

To all intents and purposes, this should be a normal evening.

But there is something heartbroken about this household – and it’s originated from the cubby-hole next to the television. From the Gamecube. The evil, devil-borne, family-destroying Gamecube.

Everybody has a competitive family member. Perhaps you have a dad who has to make the best Sunday roast on the street, or a mother who’s been preparing for her school reunion for twenty years, just so that she can walk up to horrible Sandy Travers in the old hall and laugh in her face about how she lives in a bigger house and has a better job and did shake the puppy fat from her face, thank you very much. We all know one.

But what about when your entire family suffers from the same, competitive streak? Then there’s trouble. Particularly when you repeatedly make the same mistake of deciding to play games.

As much as games bring folks together, they also seem to rip close connections apart, leaving ruin and despair in the stressful throes of getting the most coins, owning the best hotel business and absolutely not falling off of Rainbow Road. Although it hasn’t been officially revealed, I’m pretty certain that gaming differences are secretly the reason why divorce courts now allow “irreconcilable differences” as a reason for splitting – “it was no mistake, Your Honour, they knew exactly where that red shell was going”. Bang goes the hammer, and you’re well shot of that backstabbing Yoshi-lover.

Some games are more to blame for awkward Christmas dinners than others – personally, here’s my countdown of which ones threatened to wreck us the most.

  1. The dance mat in its various, ugly forms

Everybody remembers the dance mat era. They were everywhere – twinned to Playstation purchases, the subject of 30% of all Nickolodeon adverts and the decorative centrepiece of every girl’s dream sleepover.

My sister and I indulged in our dance mat vices in two forms: the Playstation 2 Jungle Book Groove Party game and in the anonymous dance mat (it probably had an official name, like Sibling Segregator 2000, but you couldn’t see it for the glaring neon lights coming from the floor) at the bowling alley.

I remember, in minute detail, begging my mum to drive me home from school faster than is legal or necessary so that I could hop onto the Jungle Book dance mat before SHE did, and tamper with all my top scores (the witch). I began to resent swim club on Wednesdays, watching my sister smiling at me evilly from the window, knowing full-well she had an extra hour-and-a-half worth of precious practice to herself, while I bitterly learned lifesaving skills such as swimming in my pyjamas (a skill I’ve still neglected to use in real life). If I’d have been allowed, I would’ve stuck my middle finger up at her on leaving the drive, but I’d only ever said  the word “fuck” once and was worried about changing my Purgatory sentence to a Hell one.

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The life-ruiner.

This dance mat trauma wasn’t restricted to the household. My parent’s loved to take us bowling, but always knew, in their core, that this would be accompanied by at least fifteen minutes at the end of “good, clean, dance mat fun” – by which I mean, me and my sister jumping clumsily up-and-down on the spot to “Cotton Eyed Joe”, hating each other and all of life. This competitive hysteria probably wasn’t helped by the gallon of Slush Puppy we’d inhaled previously: also, which marketing genius at the top of the AMF bowling chain thought it would be a good idea to pump kids full of sugar and then give them massive balls?

  1. Crazy Taxi

My “fondest” memories of playing this game come complete with the soundtrack of my sister shouting down one ear, and my father shouting (in his thickest French accent) down the other – “HIT THE OLD LADY*. HITHERHITHERHITHER. N’aww, you hit her. Why’d you do that?” (Other number ones from that particular album include “Fucking No, Why Were You Born” and “You Are Literally The Worst Person Ever, Ever Ever”.)

Not to sound like the victim, here – I was a common contributor and back-up vocalist, as this knack for goading lay deep in the heart of us all. None of us liked feeling that our top scores were threatened, and we would huddle, hearts beating like ferrets, late into the night, fostering the same love/hate relationship that I’m sure 99% of all gangs do.

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Axel – my character of choice, and weirdly sexy to this day.

Racing to be the best Ginas and Axels, feelings would be shat all over, no insults spared and many hours clocked at the fickle whims and fancies of this game. We would feel the atmosphere of the American 90’s punk rock scene so strongly while “in-game”, that I’m surprised  we haven’t ended up with matching tattoos of flaming tyres or bleeding skulls, inked into our arms one morning at 3am at the mercy of our sleepless delirium.

One day, if you ever pass a tombstone inscribed with the words “ceeeraaaaaaaaazzzzzzzzzzzzzzzy taxi! Let’s get it on!” – you know it belongs to one of three people. I’m pretty sure no other family danced as closely with death as we did at the helm of this Gamecube monster.

*Or whichever pedestrian/object was ungracious enough to be in the way of my all-consuming rageful drive.

  1. Monopoly

Not a videogame, I know – but a bloody big stake in the middle of every family’s heart, that’s for sure.

I don’t even think I need to go into great detail about this: we’ve all been there. Throwing our paper money in a fit of rage at the Banker, fighting over who gets to be the cute silver dog as their character, racing to Mayfair first so you can start plummeting your loved ones into sweet debt and destitution.

Monopoly brings out the worst in all of us. Best to keep that one boxed up quietly in the corner, only to be discussed between you and your therapist.

  1. Uno

To this day, my voice has a bit of a rusty, jazz-y edge to it: and I entirely blame Uno, which you need approximately three lungs to play (four, with it’s even more intense counterpart, Uno Extreme).

I recently watched a Danger Dolan YouTube episode called “15 Most Dangerous Kids  Toys Ever” and was kind of surprised that Uno Extreme did not feature: razor-sharp cards, flying at your face at 300 miles an hour? Not to mention your screaming family, crawling all over each other’s laps, bellowing “UUUUNNNNNNOOOOOOOOOOOO” with such force, you would not be surprised if that was to account for the earth tremor that kicked off that huge earthquake in Central Alaska, circa 2002?

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The deathbringer.

Uno: a big no if you value your loved ones. Like at all.

  1. Mario Kart

Mario Kart.

Mario Kart.

Ah, Mario Kart. What can you say about Mario Kart, except that it’s essentially a disc of destruction, wrapped up in a “kawaii” little box and involving seemingly adorable characters who are set to break your frail trust – who would expect anything nefarious to come from Toad, Baby Yoshi or Diddy Kong, after all?

Let me tell you – there’s plenty nefarious about them, and probably plenty nefarious about your family, too – all of whom harbour an insidious agenda under the wicked spell of this game. 

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All my best insults have come from playing the miserable M.K. From the likes of “you clusterfuck money twatarse” to “you grey bastard cloud of eternal misery shit”, Mario Kart has compelled the most lyrical and creative insults known to man or beast to bubble over in my brain. Things that should not have been uttered have been, and I’m sure that if my brain allowed me to remember any of the ugly thoughts I have thunk playing it, I would be shocked and disgusted at myself (maybe).

Years have been spent squabbling, crying and yelling over the intense twists and turns of Nintendo’s ultimate beast: maneuvering the trippy chasm of Rainbow Road, pelting your peers with bananas, shells and blue shells at crucial moment and vowing to hate everyone for all eternity for speeding in at first place in the last two seconds of gameplay (particularly if the winner turns out to be Birdo, the most horrific character ever created to date).

The only good thing to have ever come out of Mario Kart (apart from years of genuine fun and awesome parties, but we don’t admit to that) is that after one particularly fierce session, my sister ran into my bedroom (which was next to the kitchen in these fanatical years: possibly subconsciously so that I could throw myself out of bed in the early hours and be the first to grab the controller) and then came out again, saying quietly that my bed was broken. For years and years I teased her that she broke my bed out of rage (which she fiercely denied). Either way, I was victorious that night and I got a new double-bed upgrade. The ultimate top score.

In case you were wondering…
We do love each other, still. A game could never permanently rip us apart. But there are definitely games that do some collateral damage. And they’re not always the ones that you expect – nor are the ones that genuinely do bring you together – who knew my sweet sensitive dad was such a badman at Cards Against Humanity?

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