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.
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Therapy Goes POP
Perspectives on therapy and mental health as viewed through the lens of popular culture