Kirby is a pink sphere of about eight inches, the size of a standard soccer ball, like the cartoon ones printed on my older brother’s bedsheets in our first home. Photos show us tangled up with the black-and-white ball pattern, enveloped in green fields. We are so asleep that neither of us stirs, even as my skinny, brown arm is wrapped around my brother’s neck in chokehold fashion. His eyes are closed gently, mouth hanging open, serene. In our dreams, we play. 

Kirby has starred in over forty video games over the span of thirty years. In this time he hasn’t aged, remaining a baby-star warrior. He is adaptable, both in terms of the stretchiness of his bubblegum skin which allows him to inflate and float around the screen, and his ability to absorb aspects of his environment, including enemies, through his mouth. The success of the franchise is due to a combination of Kirby’s cute character design and the accessibility of his games – typically side-scrolling action-platformers where environmental puzzle-solving is mixed with classic beat ‘em up scenarios. 

My brother and I were big fans of Kirby Super Star (1997), a game consisting of seven smaller games. We mainly played Dyna Blade and Spring Breeze, an abridged remake of the first Kirby game, Kirby’s Dream Land (1992). In it, Kirby must find and challenge King Dedede after he steals all the food from the citizens of Dream Land. Many of his adventures begin when food is stolen from him.  

I’m roughly the same age as Kirby. If he were capable of it, you could say we grew up together. He was around, and as the younger sister (the perennial player two) to my brother, the Kirby games always made me feel central to our quests. In most games, you inhale bad guys, and then either spit them out in the form of a star-spit attack or swallow them to gain their powers through Kirby’s copy ability. Across multiple Kirby games, player one can also use this second option to create another player, sacrificing abilities in order to do so. My brother, largely because I had the second controller in my hand ready, always made the choice to create me. 

Being stuck to our screens gave us an inkling of escapism – this can’t be denied – but these games also trickled into our everyday lives. Playing in this way wasn’t always a rejection of reality; it was a way of making sense of it. I’m not sure why we played so many co-op games (players working together) as opposed to pvps (player versus player). It may be a Nintendo thing, the game company we were most loyal to. I will never know if we were drawn to them because of the nature of our relationship, or because games like Kirby moulded and informed this relationship.  

It’s impossible to pick my favourite copy ability, but one of the coolest is what Kirby gains from swallowing Chilly, a snowman with a crown of ice, or Mr. Frosty, a humanoid walrus. This power allows Kirby to skate around fluidly as if on smooth ice, gracefully twirling in the air like a figure-skater when he jumps. He can also freeze his enemies with ice breath, encasing them in a cube. In the cube, they are sealed in time, as if in a photo. Kirby can push the cube into other enemies or walls to shatter it. 

In his first pizzeria, our father shared the long freezer room with the tuck shop next door. We would enter it wanting to escape the Darwin heat. I would climb onto the box trolleys and my brother would push, the breath from our laughs visible in the artificially cool air. We alternated: I sometimes pushed him, even though he was bigger and heavier. This was the fair thing to do; this was part of the game. 

Kirby is the length of a standard chef’s knife, the ones with a heavy, straight blade for crushing and mincing garlic — to put in sausage pasta. When our father worked for someone else and would get nights off, this became a Tuesday night special. There were bread rolls wrapped in tea towels and ramekins of chilli on the side. Cross-legged on the floor, my brother and I inhaled penne, chilli seeds, and freed the Italian-seasoned meat from its translucent encasing. We played along with the contestants on Who Wants to be a Millionaire? until my father’s comments became too sharp, stabbing at his pasta loudly and scraping cutlery against the orange-stained plate. Once the crime shows came on, we were grateful to be banished to our then-shared bedroom. 

When marbles were the thing, we played on the carpet of our bedroom. We were inspired by the best golfing video game of all-time, Kirby’s Dream Course (1994), where instead of a ball you were a rolled-up Kirby slamming into enemies on a warped, checkered platform elevated over the fields of Dream Land. You could glimpse the world below: cake towers and soft serve trees and flan-shaped mountains.  

We assigned a corner of the room as the hole and we didn’t make up selfish tricks like kids on the playground at recess did – shouting my rules! first to gain control of the game or doing fake moves, such as loosely scooping up and tossing the marble towards the hole ‘helicopter-style’. We were quiet, well-behaved kids, who learnt quickly that following the rules made for a frictionless life. This was our assumption, anyway. My brother was never the type to let me win, so sinking my marble first felt true and earned. 

Our relationship wasn’t frictionless. He once planted a giant loogie in my face. He didn’t mean for it to hit, was merely wielding his power in front of our cousins. Though it was kind of funny, even as it hit my cheek. Even when we had separate bedrooms, we would still take turns sleeping on each other’s floors. Once, under the silence of night, he cut a large chunk of my hair off and hid it in the window louvres next to my head. What was that about, I often wonder. Could he sense the growing frustration I had with my girlier parts: the hair my parents made me keep past my hips, the hips that grew wider, the pierced ears, the pinks and purples that distinguished my things from his? Maybe he was emulating Kirby’s cutter ability, using scissors in lieu of a blade boomerang. More likely he wanted to reclaim his bedroom and felt the need to cross a boundary to do so. We never discussed it. Shortly after that we kept to our own rooms. Our private spaces moved further apart, and then became entirely distinct. In-game we continued to create and embody worlds together. 

My love for Kirby is connected to my love for other little boy characters who are deeply good. Although Kirby is officially described as gender-less, his creators will often refer to him as a boy. There is a pervasive instinct to classify Kirby as male, and I believe that if Kirby were female, my life may have turned out differently. I wonder if I would have been given the status of player one in this context. 

We automatically assume that Kirby is good because he spends his time saving and protecting planets and creatures from destruction. The villains are won over by his friendship and his ability ultimately to forgive their bad deeds. Fans have gone so far as to identify Kirby with the character Void Termina, the Destroyer of Worlds and final boss in Kirby Star Allies (2018), suggesting that Kirby might even be the outcome of pure positive energy. Fearful that Kirby’s cuteness and good-nature would not capture the hearts of small boys, Nintendo’s marketing for Western audiences dimmed his angelic image, making him more hardcore than his Japanese persona: his eyes are drawn to be significantly sharper-looking and the copy describes him as one tough cream puff

It’s not simply that Kirby is attempting to be good in the face of many evils, but that he does so effortlessly while possessing immense, god-destroying powers. In various online debates and calculations, Kirby often comes out on top as one of the most powerful entities in the entire video game universe. Kirby has every capability to consume, destroy, and dominate, but never does. My personal need for Kirby to be male stems from the belief that this is how men should behave in the real world. 

Gameboys introduced a new stress to our lives: how to keep them constantly charged. I remember this particularly on long car rides. I often pictured Kirby following us outside the car, sprinting the length of Tiger Brennan Drive through thunderstorms, hovering over fences, distracting me from the sound of my parent’s just talking in the front or the low-battery light turning on. With enough rain the grass ditches along the road would flood and I would watch him swim. I imagined him getting sleepy and curling up in my lap, in my corner of the family car. Kirby was the perfect size for it: the length of one medium-sized banana, the weight of forty bananas. I loved this entity so much that I imagined him physically embedded in my world.  

I’m certain that we never owned a Kirby game. We were always borrowing games from others, lucky enough to have a console and the one or two games included in the gift-pack. When we were blessed with the Gamecube (which came with Luigi’s Mansion) our mother, secretly, sold our Nintendo 64 cheaply to our uncle for one of our cousins. We didn’t know or care about game conservation, or the incremental worth of these items as they aged, so it was something else that wounded us. It was before the time of memory cards and in-console save data. She had given away the worlds and stories we had created together, to be over-written, erased. 

My brother often plays as Kirby in the Smash Bros games. I get the occasional wins, but when he mains Kirby, there is little to no hope for me. He used to do this thing: sucking up my character, holding it in his Kirby mouth, and jumping off the platform. Sometimes he would spit me out to die off-screen at the last minute before floating back up safely, but when he had spare lives, he would kill us both, all the while chanting sac-ri-fice, sac-ri-fice. It was always fun to die in this way. 

My need to consume Kirby lore is satiated by the many articles, videos, and discussion threads that exist on the internet. One particularly convincing video posits that Kirby is probably some sort of amoeba because of: his copy ability; his single-minded focus on food; his ability to split into multiple, self-sufficient Kirbys (see Kirby & the Amazing Mirror [2004]); his lack of a visible bone structure, as evidenced in Super Smash Bros. (1999) whenever Kirby is electrocuted by Pikachu’s thunder attack.  

Kirby lore tends to focus on the histories and motives of the bad guys. These characters typically return to terrorise Kirby in various forms, transforming and teaming up with other bad characters in the Kirby extended universe. But there is not much we know about Kirby himself, apart from wild fan speculation and trivia surrounding his conception. His favourite food is tomatoes. He likes to sing but is bad at it. All that we can truly glean about Kirby amounts to no more than a dating-app profile. 

King Dedede, the emperor penguin character, is a frequent boss in the Kirby games. In earlier games he is the self-appointed dictator of Dream Land who steals both food and stars. In later games he will often join forces with Kirby in order to defeat a much larger evil. In many instances other bad guys possess or brainwash King Dedede into doing wrong. There have been several incidents in-game where Kirby immediately suspects King Dedede to be the culprit, only later to find him completely innocent. Kirby has gone so far as to stalk King Dedede, presuming he is up to no good. Because of this, we know that Kirby, the bubbly, likeable, friendly pink marshmallow, has the ability to hold a grudge

In our high school years my brother and I worked at our father’s final attempt at a successful pizza shop. There, and in our virtual worlds, we would spend the most time hanging out until I graduated. The house was uncomfortable, and so, when we weren’t avoiding it, we would seal ourselves in our bedrooms. 

I waited tables and plated pastas and took money; my brother was the dishy, hidden behind the counter with his earphones threaded through the button hole of his black uniform, his hands always pruney.  

I dated an older boy who worked there and lived down the road from us. My brother and he had a functional relationship, working well together at the shop. He had thick hair and played in a band, so he was unfaithful. I forgave him – most people forgave him – almost everything went back to normal, despite my heart being bruised. But my brother gave him the silent treatment for two months until I had to ask him to cool it. Did my brother sense this bruising, was he being the protective older type, or could he not stand that a rule had been broken, the contract of our relationship? This made the workplace tense, the work harder; it made my boyfriend sad. I secretly loved it. 

In the early days of Kirby’s birth, the creators butted heads over his colour. Kirby was very close to being the yellow baby-faced blob. We do see some instances of the yellow Kirby throughout the franchise. In Kirby’s Dream Course, player two can play as Keeby, a yellow version of Kirby. In other games a second-player Kirby defaults to the colour yellow. 

In his book Topophilia, which examines how love of place is reflected in art, Yi-Fu Tuan wrote off-handedly that as people grow older the preference for yellow declines and keeps declining with age. I first read this line in my share-house bedroom in North Melbourne, surrounded by all my yellow trinkets, sitting on my yellow chair, writing the quote down in my favourite yellow notebook. I thought of my brother – uninterested in any aspects of growing up, even more so than me – and then my mother. She often reflects on our childhoods, in the house that is now gone, and considers her marriage as the reason we have no interest in adult milestones like home ownership, children, full-time stable employment. Our mother who was simply trying to follow the rules, set and unexplained by somebody else. 

I return to Darwin often, to different units occupied by my mother and brother, where he brings out the most recent Nintendo console from his bedroom into the lounge room, diligently disconnecting and connecting wires. Under the violently spinning ceiling-fan, with the curtains drawn either to keep in the cool or to let in the breeze of an incoming storm, we talk strategy, or silently and virtually beat each other up. We don’t talk about the house being gone. It didn’t upset me to see the new owners paint the yellow parts blue. We don’t regret not taking more photos or sitting at the same table more often. In these moments even my mother is pleased to see that we are still close, that as adults we are still committed to keeping close. 

My partner and I had just moved from one side of a street in North Melbourne to the other, and my brother came to visit. We did a lot of being-in-the-same-room-doing-different-things, spending the kind of time together that helps turn a new house into a home. I was working a big-person job with meetings and spreadsheets and wanting to call in sick constantly. My brother made use of our PlayStation 5 while I worked at the dining table, writing notes which would go to die in a company-shared folder. Before meetings I would gesture to my headphones and he would know to mute the television. I watched him play in silence, colourfully animated characters shooting or slashing at beasts with the voices of burnt-out academics as a backing track.  

We went bouldering while my brother was here and he was instantly good at it, is immediately good at most things requiring hand-eye coordination and a bit of strength. I was always jealous of how long he could juggle a soccer ball for, and I felt it again watching him scale the multi-coloured walls of the gym, his thinning, long hair trailing behind him. It wasn’t just his finger strength or dexterity, but a belief that nothing bad would happen to him – that if he fell, he would simply do the Kirby thing of sucking up all the air in the room and floating back down to the ground. I wanted desperately to be a natural too, but fear kept me tethered. Second only to the desire to make my mother laugh is the need for my brother to be proud of me. Whenever my legs started shaking up on the wall, I could hear him from down below: c’mon, you can do it

We had run out of time on his visit to play the new Kirby game together, so we buy it separately after he leaves. Over the phone we talk about what had changed in the game, the success of the new mechanics, how the copy abilities could now be upgraded multiple times. My brother also admits to accidentally stealing my house key, which he left in his jean pocket, carrying it with him onto the plane, into our mother’s car, back into his bedroom which remains punctuated by the same objects from our childhood. The only difference is the console in the cradle. 

In Kirby and the Forgotten Land (2022), the smooch mechanic still exists. In co-op mode, whenever either player encounters food to regenerate health, they automatically share it with the other. In Kirby Super Star this occurs with a slight pause in the game when the two players come together, followed by a mewing sound and a kissing animation. It has been referred to as face-to-face food transfer or sharing. Apart from hugging each other whenever we arrive or leave our respective cities, this in-game mechanic is probably the most affection my brother and I have ever shown – healing, completely forced, real. When we are at full health we laugh at the face-to-face food transfer. When we are about to die and one of us eats something, we yell at each other: Kiss me! Kiss me!