The Luigi Complex: A Younger Sibling’s Struggle

Listening to my daughters play pretend, there is an obvious trend – the older one dictates the action. She decides what will be played, who says what, and how they will say it. When roles are handed out, she’s always the lead. Playing school – she’s the teacher. Playing family – she’s the Mom. Which is fine. But I overheard something that was a crystal clear signal that the age-old dynamics between older and younger siblings is alive and well in my kids.

“I’ll be Esmeralda,” my 4 year-old said. “You be Quasimodo,” she told her younger sister.

Classic older sibling. I’ll be the beautiful lady who sings songs and dances. You be the malformed side-show freak. I guess at least she didn’t make herself Frollo, but it still struck a chord that forever rings true in the lives of second-born. They are forever destined to be second-fiddle, or Luigi if you will.

Player Two: Luigi’s Destiny

My oldest was looking over my shoulder as I found this image. “That’s Carter’s favorite!” she said. “Luigi?” I asked. “No, wait. Mario.” she said, perfectly illustrating my point.

While sibling interactions date back to the early pages of the Bible, for people of my generation who grew up in the area of original Nintendo there is no great representation of the struggle of the second born than Luigi. Older siblings were always Player One, which means they were always Mario. Younger siblings, such as myself were Player Two, and by default, Luigi. In the first Super Mario Brothers, this didn’t actually make much of a difference other than the colors of the characters, but as the games evolved and characters were given different attributes Mario was always the best. Older siblings may have tried to make the case that Luigi wasn’t worse, he just had different skills. But we knew what was up. Mario was always the best all-around character. Luigi having slightly better speed was no condolence. Mario was on the cover. It was his game, and we were just playing in it.

The path of Player Two can go two directions – one of rebellion, or one of mastery.

When The Younger Sibling Gets a Bad Name

“If I had my second child first, I wouldn’t have wanted a second.” I bet you’ve heard that. A line of propaganda perpetuated by the Marios of the world.

The second-borns of the world often get a bad rap for being more rebellious, more wild, and generally not as well behaved as the first-borns. This is not some in-born trait of the second-borns, but a natural reaction to being pigeonholed into the role of Luigi.

“You get to be Mario again? How about I just unplug the game?”

“Oh you you want to be the blue guy in Candy Land? How about I flip over the board?”

The little siblings of the world who go the route of rebellion don’t know how to get out of the no-win position of being Player Two. Do they stay Player Two forever? Do they subject themselves to begging to be Player One in hopes the older sibling graces them with the good fortune of allowing it? Nobody wants to be a patronized Mario. So they either lash out – and get blamed for not playing nice. Or they cry, and are reinforce that they are the younger one, cementing even further their Player Two destiny. A rebellious younger sibling is not a bad kid. They just don’t want to be freaking Luigi.

Take Your Mario And Shove It

The other route a younger sibling can go is take Luigi all the way to Princess. If they are going to get a worse character, they must become a better player. They must not only embrace the second-billing they are given, but use their role to entirely steal the show. This is result of the Luigi Complex is what I call the Ribisi Effect. Nobody uses his supporting roles to the steal the scene like Giovanni Ribisi. Don’t know who that is? Exactly. He’s not the star, but he shows them up. Every. Single. Time. You paid to come see Tom Hanks, but you’ll leave remembering Ribisi.

The Ribisi Effect is what drives younger siblings to greatness. Michael Jordan has two older brothers and an older sister. Peyton Manning grew up trying to be better than Cooper. Bill Gates has an older sister. I bet even today, if they played a video game on a system he is responsible for, she wouldn’t let him be Player One.

The Luigi Complex doesn’t end with the second-born. It is also responsible for much of how the baby of the family is treated. After seeing what happened with their second child, parents become more determined not to have their other children by type cast as Player Twos, so the babies of the family grow up being able to be Yoshi, or Toad, or m’lady Peach, or whoever the hell want. Then of course older ones turn around and say “Oh you let the baby do anything,” and another sibling is put in a no-win situation all because Luigi sucks.

We have a Little Tikes basketball hoop that the girls are kind of learning to shoot at. My oldest tries to shoot from all over the room, throws the ball too hard, and usually misses. Her younger sister stands closer, uses both hands, and lofts in a soft, perfect shot. Atta girl, Luigi. Atta girl.

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