Luigi is back for his third session. In today’s session we find that Luigi’s mood has brightened considerably and we see that sometimes getting “unstuck” in one area (in this case starting to design his own game) can lead to positive changes in other areas of one’s life. In addition, Luigi shows increased self-confidence.
In case you missed it, his first session is available here.
His second session is here.
Therapy Goes POP: Nice to see you again, Luigi. Tell me, what’s gotten better since our last visit?
Luigi: I knew you were going to ask that! So I kept my eyes open.
Luigi: Well, I’ve noticed that it’s been way easier to get up in the morning. I’m not feeling so blue all the time.
TGP: Back to your normal green?
Luigi: Haha, touche! But yeah. I’m having more energy and I realized I was doing a lot of complaining. I don’t think I’m doing that as much anymore?
TGP: What tells you that you’re being more positive?
Luigi: Well, I spent some time with Princess Peach and Yoshi on a picnic. Bowser didn’t kidnap her either, which is rare.
TGP: Wait, I thought that was just part of the game plot.
Luigi: Guy’s a complete nut. I’ll leave it there. But the picnic was nice. Peach said “you seem very pleasant today, Luigi.” Which I appreciated.
TGP: That is nice. What do you think she noticed that was different about you?
Luigi: I’m not sure. Maybe it was because I commented on how good the food tasted and it being a pretty day. I just said it because I noticed it, but maybe I haven’t done that stuff before, or lately, or whatever.
TGP: What was different that day that helped you notice those things?
Luigi: I’m not sure it was just that day. I think I’m feeling energized about my game project and trying to think back about what was the most successful level that I designed.
TGP: How did you go about that?
Luigi: I looked back at the scripts, the blueprints, everything. I have a keepsakes cabinet where I keep things from my projects. I’m a bit of a pack rat.
TGP: What sorts of things did you notice that had been successful?
Luigi: The main thing I noticed is that I’ve been in some stone cold, classic games. But I kept coming back to a level most gamers call Luigi’s Purple Coins that’s in Super Mario Galaxy. It’s kind of a famously tough one.
TGP: What’s good about it?
Luigi: There’s just a combination of tough stuff. Tiles, acid…all kinds of stuff.
TGP: What do you have there that you could carry into a new game?
Luigi: I think it’s the combination that makes it good. I’m not sure there’s enough games that require the player to best multiple challenges at once. I think that’s something I’d really like to use going forward.
TGP: How would that be described? Integrated challenges?
Luigi: Maybe. I’ll have to think about that. But it definitely gives me something to base the game on. Kind of a premise of “things have never been so tough.”
TGP: Nice! Almost sounds likes the catchphrase for the game.
Luigi: It will sell itself.
TGP: What about some of the other stuff we talked about. Like meeting someone to be the female lead.
Luigi: I haven’t had a chance to really go out and do that, but I’m definitely considering it. Being excited about the game has kind of lit a fire under me, so it doesn’t seem as daunting as it seemed last time.
TGP: That’s great. Have you thought about what the story in your game will be about?
Luigi: Not too much. I have been thinking about a heist theme, kinda like a Nintendo Oceans 11. But it’s all in the planning stages in my head right now.
TGP: Have you thought any more about how you will approach Mario?
Luigi: I have. I’m thinking I meet just kind of consult with him on it, and take the idea directly to the execs myself. He has been the star, but it’s not like I’m the new kid on the block. I’ve been a co-star for 30 years now. I think they’ll recognize me?
TGP: So it seems like you’re feeling more confident.
Luigi: I think so, yeah. Speaking of which, I may need to split a little early today. I’m going racing with Mario. Is that OK?
TGP: Of course! It seems like you’re doing really well. Did you want to schedule another appointment or call me if you need to come in again?
Luigi: That sounds good. I don’t want to totally fall out of the habit of this, as I think talking has been really helpful. But I’m not sure I need to schedule another appointment just right now.
TGP: Understood. That’s how it works with a lot of clients.
Luigi: Thanks for everything! Keep an eye out for my new game.
TGP: Will do!
So, today, we saw a very typical case resolution. When Luigi first came to therapy, he was frustrated with his brother, but was able to set a goal of developing a successful video game franchise. He has not met that goal yet, but he feels he is taking steps towards that goal. Once clients have achieved this mindset, sometimes they feel that further therapy is not necessary. Other clients may continue to feel that they need the emotional support provided by a strong therapist/client bond. Or as one problem is solved or one goal is met, others may become apparent or may even be created by the first solution or set of solutions. Luigi may very well return for more therapy as he continues to work on bettering himself. Only time will tell…!
Mike McMahan is a psychotherapist in private practice in San Antonio, Texas.
Luigi is returning for his second session today. In case you missed the first part, it’s available here: http://www.mikemcmahanlpc.com/therapy-goes-pop-blog/luigi-goes-to-psychotherapy-session-1
Today we will see how Luigi completed his homework assignment and how the completion of this assignment is used to help Luigi make progress towards his goal of starring in a new game. In addition, there will be some clarification of how Luigi perceives a key relationship in his life and some role-playing.
TGP: Welcome back, Luigi. What’s gotten better since the last time we visited?
Luigi: Oh, I don’t know. I’m still feeling a lot of the same negative feelings that we talked about last time.
TGP: I’m sorry to hear that, and I definitely want to talk more about it. I know it can be really hard to feel so down all the time. Just getting out of bed can be an achievement. But before we do, can you think of anything that might have gotten slightly better?
Luigi: Well, hmmmmmm. I guess things are going a little bit better with my brother. I don’t feel like blasting him with a fireball every time he walks in the room.
TGP: That’s something! So you’re a little less angry, a little more calm…?
Luigi: I’d say so.
TGP: That’s a great step, as I know you were feeling pretty frustrated with Mario when I saw you last.
Luigi: The homework assignment that you gave me helped some. I started thinking about the things that I’ve been doing to get my own game franchise really going, and I realized that I’ve always had a good working relationship with Mario.
TGP: How so?
Luigi: Well, he’s always encouraged the higher ups at Nintendo to let me collaborate on the tougher sections, which is kind of my forte. I think I mentioned that last week.
TGP: You did.
Luigi: Yeah, and once I started thinking about it, he really listens to my ideas on his games.
TGP: I notice that you said “his games” even though they are Super Mario BROTHERS…
Luigi: Well, I said that too last time. He’s got his name in the title.
TGP: Yes, you did. What do you think Mario would say about this conversation, if he was sitting here with us?
Luigi: I think he would be surprised. I haven’t ever really talked to him about the way I feel about his name being so prominent. He might think I was a little ungrateful, too. I suppose he didn’t have to include me. After all, he had a leg up after being the sole hero in Donkey Kong. And I think he thinks that he gave me the opportunity of a lifetime including me in the live action show in the 80s.
TGP: I forgot about that….
Luigi: It hasn’t aged well. I wish someone would take it down from Netflix. I guess Nintendo is making money somehow.
TGP: It is different to see you non-animated.
Luigi: Blecccccchh. Don’t remind me.
TGP: OK, so Mario feels like he’s been a huge help all these years, but you feel like it’s something of both. But your relationship is not something you want to change.
Luigi: Yeah, that sounds kind of confusing when you say it like that. I guess what I mean is I like the way he listens to me on some things but I wish there was more of it.
TGP: So, is it fair to say that the thing you don’t want to change is the positive parts of that relationship? The collaborations you mentioned?
Luigi: Yeah, that’s fair. What’s good is good, I just want more of it. But when he acts like everything I have is because of him… I don’t like that. I also don’t like that he somehow always seems to end up with Princess Peach. You’d think maybe a new female part could be cast…? (twirls moustache)
TGP: So you’d like to have some support outside of your brother. You mention Peach. How did she become involved in the series in the first place?
Luigi: I’m not sure. But I do know she brought Bowser into the game. He’s obsessed with her!
TGP: You mean in the games? The way he’s always kidnapping her?
Luigi: No, for real. Guy’s a total nut. Real headcase. But she and Mario put up with it because he’s seen as irreplaceable.
TGP: Like you?
Luigi: (pauses) Yeah… (another pause) I guess so. I mean, they can’t just recast me….
TGP: Right. So you’re an integral part of the franchise, even if you aren’t frequently the lead. What would it be like if you left?
Luigi: I don’t think it could go on. “Brothers” is right there in the title!
TGP: So, you’re an integral part of the creative team, who wants to be more creative, more of a leader and perhaps meet a new female character. Maybe someone to become involved with yourself. Where do you think you could meet her?
Luigi: There’s some castles in the area, but you usually have to slide down pipes to get inside. That’s less than ideal.
TGP: Well, if you want to meet someone it’s never easy.
Luigi: True. If it was easy, I would have already met someone.
TGP: OK, so say you meet this new female character. So that’s covered. And you mentioned that you like your current collaborative relationship with Mario. How can you use the skills you’ve discussed today to make a small step towards your own game franchise?
Luigi: Well, maybe I could just be honest and tell him straight up? No fighting, no fireballs, no giant, out-of-control hammers. Just lay it out.
TGP: Why don’t you pretend I’m Mario and practice telling me? Maybe it will help you find your words.
Luigi: OK. (pauses and takes a deep breath) “Hey, Mario. You got a second? I’ve been thinking a lot and I’m really… I’ve got some ideas for a new game. You know I love getting to help out on the tough levels on Mario Brothers and since Luigi’s Mansion was such a hit, I thought maybe you could help me talk to the higher ups about making something really tough and challenging. Toughest game ever. I could include my new girlfriend. (As an aside, Luigi says “I’d know her name by then.”) I’ve got some really great ideas if you want to listen.”
TGP: That’s great, Luigi. How do you think he would respond?
Luigi: I think he would listen and help me. Whenever we talk seriously like that it usually works out pretty well, actually.
TGP: OK, well don’t talk to him yet. I think you’re still thinking things through and you don’t want to change too much too fast.
Luigi: I’m not ready yet anyway.
TGP: We’re about to run out of time. Did we talk about what you wanted to cover today?
Luigi: Yes, definitely. I’d like to schedule another appointment.
TGP: OK. For homework, I want you to think about what you think the best scene, sequence or challenge that you’ve come up with previously is. Or at least your favorite. And also consider what makes it successful. And I want you to think of one that’s slightly better or adds some intriguing new element. Not the ultimate scene ever, which you may get eventually. But just a slight, tiny one up and what you’ve already done.
Luigi: I can do it. See you next time.
Luigi seems to be making some progress, as he noted at the beginning of the session. Oftentimes initially asking the question “what has gotten better since last time?” will help set the tone for a therapy session and the client may verbalize or recognize strengths or slightly alter their narrative in a helpful way. It’s also notable that he is seeing some positives in his relationship with his brother, something he was struggling with during the first session. In addition, looking at possible solutions for his problem led him to realize that he might be interested in adding in a new person in his social life. His homework assignment will hopefully help him apply one of his strengths in a way that will take him another step towards his goal.
Many of you are no doubt familiar with Luigi, the iconic, green-suited hero of Nintendo’s Super Mario Brothers and numerous spinoff games. Luigi’s (purely fictional) situation, like many real-life situations, will take several sessions to resolve. Let’s start today with defining his problem, goal setting, and a basic homework assignment.
At the risk of stating the obvious, while this fictional dialogue serves as a good teaching tool, it also vastly oversimplifies several aspects of therapy, most notably the emotional connection between therapist and client.
Therapy Goes Pop: Hi Luigi, nice to meet you. Why don’t you tell me about what brings you in today?
Luigi: Well, I guess I’ve been going through a kind of middle age thing, maybe. I’m 32 years old now and it’s like life isn’t all fun and games like it once was.
TGP: How so?
Luigi: Well, I feel like I’m slotted into this “younger brother” or “sidekick” thing. And I’m the tall one!
TGP: You’re talking about your brother, Mario, right? You’re taller than him?
Luigi: Yeah. Not everyone knows that. I feel like I don’t get ticked off so easily, either.
TGP: Better temper control. That’s good.
Luigi: I guess. But I always feel like I got kind of a raw deal. I mean, I get my own games from time to time. You’ve played Luigi’s Mansion, right?
TGP: Uh, no, sorry. I’m not always up on the newer games.
Luigi: (scowling slightly) It’s not really new. See, that’s just it. I’m always the sidekick! I bet you’ve kept up with HIS games, right? He gets his name on everything. Super Mario Brothers…! Like “Mario” is our last name! Ridiculous. Everything that’s gone wrong is due to… him. Mario!
TGP: Well, I’ve seen your games in Target and at Best Buy. As far as playing them… (pauses) But let’s talk more about why you’re here. I assume not to quiz me on games?
Luigi: Right, right. I’ve been dwelling on the sidekick thing and it’s really eating at me.
TGP: What do you mean “eating at you?”
Luigi: Well, I have trouble going to sleep at night because I can’t stop thinking about it. Then in the morning I don’t feel like getting out of bed because I know that all day it’s gonna be “Mario this and Mario that.” Everything is Mario.
TGP: That must be tough.
Luigi: It is. I barely feel like stomping koopas or eating fire flowers anymore. Or even driving my go-kart. It’s been awful.
TGP: Sounds like it. How long has this been going on?
Luigi: Oh, I don’t know. I guess a little over two years or so. Ever since Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon came out. I remember being how excited I was that it got such good reviews and sold really well. Then nothing. People were like “oh, great, Luigi” and then moved on to whatever. Back to Call of Duty, or MMOGs, or back to Mario, or whatever.
TGP: So that left you feeling…
Luigi: Like a sidekick, like I was saying earlier. Like “we’ve made our million bucks off you, Luigi, now go back to whatever you were doing before, playing second fiddle.”
TGP: I see. That must have been hard for you, since it seems like you were hoping for more.
TGP: If you could have decided for yourself what would happen… Say you had a magic wand that would control the rest of the world. What would you have liked to happen?
Luigi: Hmmmmm. That’s tough. I guess I would have liked to be in charge of my own franchise. Not one suggested by Nintendo, but one where I create the story line, the objects, the big bad. The whole deal.
TGP: So, thinking in terms of movies, you want to direct?
Luigi: Well, yeah, that’s pretty much it. I never thought of it like that. I’d need to write the screenplay, too.
TGP: Sure. Writer/director. So it seems like you would use your wand to control the Nintendo executives, not really Luigi. Or Bowser or Donkey Kong.
Luigi: (pauses) I guess that’s true. Mario hasn’t really done anything wrong. The whole thing just fell in his lap because he knew Princess Peach from before, and then when Donkey Kong concocted this whole kidnapping thing. But that’s ancient history.
TGP: Sure. What stops the Nintendo execs from giving you a franchise. What did they say when you asked them?
Luigi: Well, I never really asked them, when you put it that way. I just sort of assumed after the success of my games that it was the natural next step.
TGP: Is it? I don’t know much about game development. Is that how it works?
Luigi: Now that you mention it, not really. Link has an army of agents pushing for everything. Guy can write his own contract.
TGP: So is that something you need? Did you have any input on your games?
Luigi: Well now that you mention it, I sometimes give some input on Super Mario Brothers, on the harder levels. I’m kind of the go-to guy on the really challenging stuff. More bombs. More lava. And so forth.
TGP: So, you’re known for creating challenging levels, but not known for having your own team behind you, right? More of a solo operation? But you’ve been making it work on some level.
Luigi: Yeah, I guess so.
TGP: We’re about to run out of time for today. Do you want to schedule another session?
Luigi: Yeah, it was good to talk about some of this stuff.
TGP: OK. For next time, I want you to consider the one thing you’re already doing that you can do more of that will help you in getting to where you want to be in developing the games.
Luigi: I could--
TGP: (interrupting) Don’t tell me now. Homework gives you something to think of between session and somewhere to start for next time.
Luigi: OK. I can do that.
TGP: As far as today, did we talk about the things that are important to you?
Luigi: Yeah, we did. It was helpful. Thanks.
So what did we learn from Luigi’s first session? He sees himself stuck in a narrative in which he is a sidekick to his brother, Mario. He is able to recognize some of his own strengths, such as being able to control his temper, and solve problems. He feels that he hasn’t achieved the success he wants, but he also may not have fully pursued the options that he has. It may be that looking at different avenues to create his own game series will cause him to view the problem in a different light, as opposed to simply blaming the situation on his brother. This may also help him realize that the actions of others are completely out of his control, while his own actions are completely within his control. In addition, we got an idea of some of the supporting players in his narrative. What will he do with his homework assignment? We will see when he returns for his second session.
Mike McMahan is a psychotherapist in private practice in San Antonio, Texas.
In honor of Halloween weekend, let’s take a (humorous!) look at what might happen if notorious 80s slasher Freddy Krueger came to therapy. Let’s be clear: Freddy has so many problems, they’re (ahem) well beyond the scope of any therapist to solve, though Freud or Jung could probably have a field day with the dream aspects. But I thought that, for this post, I would focus on one aspect that leads to success in psychotherapy, which is goal setting. Setting a concrete, attainable goal is an important part of success. This is a lesson that can easily be applied to goals in your personal life as well.
Therapy Goes POP!: Thanks for being here today, Freddy. I understand you want to discuss your dream murder spree in which you've killed off several generations of Elm Street kids.
Freddy Krueger: That’s right. It’s been going on so long… I almost feel bad. Almost. But it’s complicated. I have my reasons for doing it.
TGP!: Yes, you mentioned that during our scheduling phone call. Was that the burning you alive after you victimized all those children and escaped prosecution on a technicality?
Freddy: That’s right. I mean, I did some bad stuff but…
TGP!: Yes, that must have been terrible, although you did some horrible, horrible things. But in the interest of helping you move forward, let’s set that aside for the time being.
Freddy: OK. Yeah. I've been having nightmares about all of this…
TGP!: I’m not surprised! A bit ironic, considering.
Freddy: Ha ha! I love a good one liner!
TGP!: Indeed. Where do you think you got that from?
Freddy: When I was a kid, I loved The Wizard of Oz. That scene where the Wicked Witch says “how about a little fire, Scarecrow?” I always try to tap into that spirit whenever I brutally off someone.
TGP!: Yes, I’ve noticed that. That seemed to really get going around Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors.
Freddy: It was the third movie. We needed fresh blood.
TGP!: I see. So, is it fair to say that in addition to achieving bloodthirsty, sadistic revenge, you also like to entertain people?
Freddy: Yes. I also try to bring a little “pizzazz” (makes air quotes gesture) to my kills.
TGP!: OK. So there’s a whole body of research that suggests that it’s easier to increase positive habits than it is to decrease negative habits. So, you want to completely stop killing, or at least greatly reduce the number of victims, correct?
Freddy: That’s it. It’s all become, just, too much. I’m not even sure why I’m still doing it, honestly. Half the time I don’t even know what the victims have to do with anything. It’s like, are these even Elm Street kids?
TGP!: OK. Here’s what I’m wondering. What if you tried to focus more on the aspect that is working for you, which seems to be the humor. Is that fair?
Freddy: That’s true, actually. I never regret the one liners.
TGP!: OK. What could you do with your razor-sharp wit that doesn’t involve senseless dream slaughters?
Freddy: Hmmmmmm. That’s a tough one. I do like to be the center of attention. Standup comedy maybe?
TGP!: That’s a great idea! I bet you’d be good at that. You seem to have an endless supply of material.
Freddy: Well, truthfully, I come up with some of those lines in advance. I kinda store them up and then when there’s an opportunity…bam! I've got something good.
TGP!: You store them up, like in a notebook?
TGP!: Maybe you could write some material for a comedy routine there. How often do you think you could write some new jokes?
Freddy: Well, maybe not every day. Five times a week?
TGP!: That’s great. And what about the standup part? I think there’s classes, right? Where you do a routine at the end?
Freddy: Yeah, that’s right. I could definitely look into those.
TGP!: And I need you to promise that you won’t kill the other comedians in their dreams.
Freddy: Well, let’s not go overboard. Some of those amateur comedians are painfully unfunny.
Freddy: But, I’ll do my best.
TGP!: That’s reasonable.
Freddy: But what about the killings?
TGP!: Like I said before, let’s try to focus on the positive for right now. Maybe keep a record of the number of kills in your notebook. And see how it goes. You’ve been doing the insane murderer stuff for quite a while, so it may take a bit to dial that down. Let’s see what happens once you start doing the comedy. So, to be clear, you’re going to write five jokes a week and start the comedy class. As you achieve that goal, maybe we can discuss setting more ambitious goals? It’s good to start with something achievable, as I want you to succeed.
Freddy: I think I can do that!
TGP!: Great, great. Before you go, I did want to ask you: Were you aware of the totally homoerotic subtext of Nightmare 2 at the time you made it?
Freddy: (scowls, lapses into stunned silence)
Therapy Goes POP
Perspectives on therapy and mental health as viewed through the lens of popular culture