I had tried persuading her to jump into some of my favorite games, but indoctrinating a gaming newbie into the world of current co-op shooters turned out to be a bad idea. After a handful of uneasy minutes tooling around with the zombie shooter Left 4 Dead, Amanda screeched in frustration and nearly tossed her controller to the ground. Her character, Zoey, stared directly into the sky and spun in circles as the undead repeatedly clawed and bit until her health dwindled down to nil.
"I really hate this, do you have to be freaking ambidextrous to play?" she asked, tossing me the controller with disgust as if it was coated with zombie vomit.
Borderlands was no better. Despite my rudimentary lessons on steering the tank-like vehicles in the game, she drove off cliffs, into solid buildings and through the unsuspecting bodies of villainous desert dwellers. As expected, none of this vehicular mayhem was of her own volition.
She gladly let me confiscate her post-apocalyptic driver's license.
"Can I just stay in this gun turret the whole game?" she half-jokingly asked.
For casual gamers like Amanda, the act of playing most modern videogames can be an intimidating, if not terrifying, experience. When games long ago fled 2D and began adding so many buttons and joystick gizmos to their controllers, they left gamers like Amanda behind in the next-gen dust.
The Wii's motion controls were introduced partially as a way to bring casual gamers back into the fold, but most of the titles available for that console arguably sacrifice quality for accessibility. When gaming together, therefore, we only had two choices - she could simply watch me play state-of-the-art single-player games like Modern Warfare 2 or Red Dead Redemption or we could play a "dumbed-down" title like Wii Play. Neither was a very satisfying compromise.
The answer to our problems came in the unlikely form of Luma - a small orange star-being thing that bops along the screen when a second player decides to join the action in Super Mario Galaxy 2. The second player only views the gameplay from Mario's perspective and does not control Luma directly. Instead, the second player points at the screen with the Wii Remote and aims Luma at objects as if they were playing an on-rails shooter like House of the Dead. There is no danger in playing as Luma, no threat of death by falling off a platform into lava or being bitten by a Chain Chomp. Instead, the second player merely plays a supporting role by finding star bits, picking up coins and items and freezing enemies standing in Mario's precarious path.
For Amanda, this is all great news. She tried playing as Mario and quit after the first galaxy. Amanda freely admits that she lacks the spatial reasoning and precise hand-eye coordination needed to succeed in the game's challenging 3D world. But as Luma, she can enjoy the tricked-out Mario Galaxy visuals and colorful characters without worrying about where to go or stressing out over a boss that she can't kill.