After dinner last night, Michael seized the opportunity to play with daddy since daddy was relatively free for the moment, but his mom was working and his sister was busy refining her character on Gaia Online (she’s been moping around the house for weeks now because Disney finally pulled the plug on their Virtual Magic Kingdom, so this is a welcome substitute).
“Let’s play a game upstairs!” Michael said eagerly, dragging me toward the staircase.
“Okay,” I said.
He opened up the game closet and scanned the available boxes with deep pondering, fingers tapping chin.
“Uh… let’s do… this one!” he said at last, and stabbed a finger at Hungry Hungry Hippos.
Oh, goodie, I thought. Michael isn’t known for his stellar sportsmanship while playing this game.
“Are you sure you want to do this one? How about-” I started.
“I wanna do hungry hippos!” he whined.
“All right. Hippos it is.”
We dragged the game into his room and set it up. He scooped up a fistful of little white marbles.
“These are cheating?” he asked.
“No, those are marbles. What Michael used to do with the marbles, that was cheating,” I explained.
“Oh,” he said, introspectively. Maybe he’s of a greater level of understanding now, and he can grasp the concept.
We gathered all the marbles into the center ring and began to gobble them down.
Michael immediately began his technique of opening up his hippo’s mouth and scooping marbles in.
“You’re cheating, Michael. Opening the hippo’s mouth and pushing them inside is cheating.”
“Open is cheating?” He said, straining to understand.
“Touching the marbles is cheating,” I clarified.
“Oh,” he said again. I’m sure he’ll get it eventually. Hopefully before he ever goes to Vegas. I’d hate to see him cheat at the Hungry Hungry Hippos table at Luxor or Caesar’s Palace. They take things seriously there.
After a few rounds of play, I came the realization that Michael was winning a lot. This led me to examine the eating habits of the hippos in the game. Pretty soon it was clear: each of the four of them have developed individual quirks. The game has been around long enough that their group dynamic has forced each of the hippos into his own particular behavior niche.
Let me expand upon that.
Homer Hippo is fairly active when consuming marbles alone, but tends to be shy when facing competition. He’ll down a marble or two during fast play, but gets flustered and ends up missing most of them. Homer is most intimidated by Harry, who resides at the opposite side of the pond. I think Homer shows signs of making improvements, though. By the end of our fourth game, Homer had amassed five marbles, up from one or two during the first few games.
Harry is a glutton. He is concerned about number one, and he gobbles up as many marbles as he can, as quickly as he can. He nearly always wins. Harry doesn’t care about his fellow hippo; to him, they’re mere stepping stones to reaching the top. Harry may end up with all the marbles, but at what cost? And what will he really have gained, at the end of the day?
Henry has an eating disorder. During the lunge phase of the hippo eating cycle, instead of opening his mouth wide, Henry pushes the marbles away. He only opens his mouth as he’s retreating, in what appears to be an act of regurgitation. In fact I have witnessed him disgorge a marble or two this way. I believe Henry is troubled by something, something he’s not able to verbalize or perhaps even admit to himself, so he’s resorted to self-punishment. Despite my investigation of his mechanism, I can find nothing wrong. He looks healthy enough. He’s simply not a hungry, hungry hippo. It’s him I’m worried about.
Of all the hippos, Happy is the most well-adjusted. While he is a strong contender and can stand up to Harry, he likes to give the others a fair shake as well. Happy has been known to knock a marble or two out of Harry’s reach in an effort to care for Homer and Henry. Happy maintains an even keel throughout the game, being mindful of the whole field and taking only what he believes is his fair share, all the while leaving as little impact on his environment as possible. You can see it in his eyes. Yes, I know they’re only stickers.
Michael must have figured out their quirks right away, because he usually demands to play Harry and Happy, while I get Homer and Henry.
This would explain why Michael wins every game.
I might pull the game out tonight and feed Henry a few marbles just to be nice. I just have to be sure Michael doesn’t catch me at it, let I get accused of cheating.