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Super Mario KartI could hear it in the other room: Super Mario Kart. My sister was playing the newest of new games from Nintendo. I was not allowed to play.

I sat in my room with paper nearly covering the floor…surrounded by my failure. Months worth of unfinished homework encircled a stupid child who hated doing this responsibility so much that he just hid it away and tried to ignore it. I felt foolish about it then, of course. I had gotten caught. Getting caught always makes you an idiot.

Why didn't I do the work to begin with? Normal kids do their homework, right? It's a totally average practice. I, meanwhile, got to sit there and do nothing but unfinished homework for as long as it took to get it all done. When I got it done, I would get to play Mario Kart….maybe.


The computer-controlled opposition overwhlemed me when I played Mario Kart. The A.I. karts were much better at driving than I; whenever I pulled ahead, an item would hit me, and I would end up flailing until I was in last place. So my sister came up with a plan. She and I would pool our resources and attack the computers and not each other. She insisted on finishing in first place, so as long as I was willing to settle for second and be her rear guard we would have an advantage.

I had lost all zeal for competition as it was, so I had no problem with the arrangement. When playing by myself, I would just practice time trials and enjoy the act of driving itself. I didn't need to be better than anyone else. I could be average and be happy.

Super Mario KartYears earlier, I saw the letter C in school and freaked out. I had failed and would be punished. Grades were a huge deal with my mother, and she had not been pleased with me ever since I failed to learn the piano. My teacher pulled me aside and talked to me to calm me down. She told me that C was average. Anything above C was just achieving extra, but C was still "good enough." I went home absolutely thrilled and relieved. A weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I could live with average.

Then when I told my mother the same thing, she screamed me stupid. I wasn't some average kid! I was a genius — proved-and-tested, high-IQ, MENSA material — and I could damn well do better than a C. Getting a C means I wasn't trying hard enough, and I should be punished.

Sitting in front of Mario Kart and reaping my reward for a week of doing nothing but old homework, I still felt the same as when I was working on never-ending math problems. All I could think about was not wanting to be graded…not wanting to compete. Average is never good enough for anyone who judged me, but what if it turned out I was secretly average…or even worse?

There would be no sympathy for me. I would have no excuse because everyone knew I could try harder even if I couldn't bring myself to. I could always push myself more even if it hurt me. Average is for quitters. Anything but first place is a loser, and my feelings didn't factor into it.

I got really good at time trials in Mario Kart. 150cc races and shooting turtle shells at people could shove it in its tail pipe. Gaming needed to be an escape from being judged for me, and gaming at the time had far too much difficulty and competition. Gaming was supposed to be fun. Nothing fun for me ever came out of being graded.