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The Family Room by Michelle Martin

February 15, 2009

Vroom. Vroom.

Our living room has been turned into a race track.

Not your average racetrack, either. This one features castles and mountains, beaches and a European-looking town square.

And day after day, miniature cars like the Super Blooper and the Wild Wing go skidding around the corners, leaping over chasms and speeding down the straightaways.

For those not possessed of children (or video game systems), I’m referring to Super Mario Kart, a cartoon racing game played in our house on a Wii, with the driver seated on the couch wielding a steering wheel.

Of all the video games we own, Mario Kart — with its cast of cartoon characters I remember from the ’80s — has been the biggest hit. We all play it, usually one at a time, but often with an audience.

I’ll admit I’m the worst Mario Kart driver in the family (I keep sliding off Rainbow Road), but, as I’ve pointed out, Mario Kart has little in common with real driving.

Of course, my husband, who shares top Mario Kart honors with Caroline, said the other day that all his time on Mario Kart is starting to affect his real driving.

It can be a problem, he said, because the other drivers don’t know that it’s just part of the game to bump into other people.

He’s kidding (I hope), but I can see what he means. But when you’re driving in Mario Kart, what you’re controlling is a pattern of lighted dots on a screen. If you plunge through the atmosphere after slipping off Rainbow Road and your car goes up in flames, nothing really happens to you. Even in the game, your car just gets put back on the course, albeit a little further behind than it was before. No one gets hurt.

And no one gets hurt in Madden football or the NHL hockey game that Frank likes to play, no matter how many fights they get in.

I guess that’s the reason we don’t want to buy any of the really violent games out there, where committing mayhem is the goal. Many studies conducted over the last decade find a higher rate of aggression and hostility in young people who play violent video games — at least in the short term — while others find no significant effect, except that maybe aggressive people tend to like games where they can express their aggression.

But our faith teaches us not to take out our aggression on others. We are to turn the other cheek, and worry about the beams in our own eyes before going after our neighbors about the motes in theirs.

Maybe that’s where the most important video game lesson comes in: taking turns, encouraging one another and showing some consideration to the real people who share the living room, not just focusing on the cartoon characters on the screen.

Martin is assistant editor of the Catholic New World. Contact her at [email protected].