We have all had dark moments in our lives, moments when we look back at the metaphorical beach we had just crossed and despair to see only one set of footprints. But when I was at my lowest point, I had an unexpected friend. There was only one set of prints because Wario took me.
I was admitted to the juvenile mental ward of a hospital when I was sixteen, dealing with a manifestation of what would later turn out to be type 1 bipolar. It was a wild and sometimes terrifying period in my life. On my first day in the ward, an older boy got away, triggering a full lockdown sequence. It wasn’t a great start to an unpleasant experience.
Our menu was bland – mac n cheese, basic salads, soup and crackers, chicken burgers, bland fries – and served at the same time every day. Even the paint on the walls felt oppressive, with the wall painted horizontally with dark blue in the lower half and tan in the upper half. Later, one of the staff mentioned to me that it was intentional, something they said helped to wear down patients’ defenses to open up to treatment and talk therapy.
I only spoke to a psychiatrist twice during my two week stay and had a couple of focused therapy sessions per day. That left a lot of time to fill. The schedule was strict in the sense that we had to be in the TV room watching a movie from 4:30 to 6, or be confined to our rooms at certain times, but as long as you showed the willingness to stick to the schedule, you could entertain yourself. . yourself and just hang out around pre-approved non-therapeutic activities. So, it was time for Wario, darling. It had the jewel in the crown of the room, the device that everyone envied and that no one dared to touch.
Unrestricted access to pencils and pens was strictly prohibited. There was a common computer with a terrible internet. But no one could see the damage on a purple plastic GameBoy Advance, which came with a couple of games. The only one I really played was WarioWare Twisted, which offers a series of rapid-fire minigames that can only be passed by memorizing the necessary games and motion controls.
I really have Really Good in WarioWare Twisted. He played for hours between therapeutic clay work and the occasional visit from family members. You can’t really think when you play Twisted; you just react. To shave! Count sheep. Don’t stumble! Ok, now fight a mecha robot. Disarm a samurai and then stroke your chin. Synchronized dance routine!
The more rounds you complete, the faster it will go, until your brain is not even making any conscious effort. You only recognize the specific minigame half a second after your hands are already moving, the world reduced to flashes of color, sound, and Wario noises set in an increasingly frantic rendition of the Mona’s Pizza theme.
TwistedThe chaos helped to drown out the chaotic feeling of being in a room with people who were sobbing, dissociating, or sometimes tied up and restrained. It was a strange place, with strange customs and small economies. For example, every morning, children raided the kitchen in search of a plate of condiments. The ketchup packets were highly valued as they covered the taste of common hospital foods.
We trade with each other: Do you want some computer time? It will be six packages. Are you interested in a book that someone checked out from the shared library? They’ll probably let you read it … for a couple of packages. The kids would offer me packets of ketchup by the dozen, and every now and then I would let them try the Advance so I could have a shop for my own trades. After all, he was a fan of romance novels that strangely ended up in the neighborhood library, presumably because of a well-intentioned donation.
At one point, hospital staff discovered that a child had become the lynchpin of the ketchup packets, keeping them in the space between the wall and the baseboard and in their pillowcases. Security paced his room, confused, as he howled in agony. Part of this was the conflict itself, but part of his pain stemmed from the fact that he was now left with nothing and had no access to the entertainment barter economy that we had established.
Poor man was a regular business associate of mine, and the state was taking away his access to Wario’s crucial supplies. The moment was surreal, especially marked by the evil singing of Pizza Dinosaur, but I didn’t have to focus on the circumstances unfolding a few doors down from me too strongly. I had to fill a well with dirt, have a margarita and do the wave, and I had to. Quick.
WarioWare it was a strange way to find comfort. The GameBoy Advance is no more, and its gyro controls make it nearly impossible to emulate. Now that I’m older, with repetitive stress injuries on my hands, I can’t handle that kind of challenge anymore. But I find Wario a bit reassuring. He only has a friendly face. Also, I’ll put on the Mona’s Pizza theme from time to time, because it still sounds strong to me.
Fifteen years later, I am in a happy and healthy place. I still owe a debt of gratitude to the time I spent in the ward, where I was prescribed Wellbutrin and administered cognitive behavioral therapy. It was a difficult experience to go through, but I had something to focus on throughout that time to keep me on track and distract myself from the worst of the oddities in the room. So really, Wario deserves some of the credit too.