4 min read

Be the Hidden Hero

A story about mentorship, the harm of helping too hard, and the importance of intentionally preserving independence

August 26, 2023

I didn’t like the original Super Mario Bros. game as a kid.

No matter how far you got, if you ran out of lives, that was it——back to the beginning.

I didn’t play long until I decided to quit and didn’t pick it back up again until my mom told me about the 99 lives shell trick.

Not only did she help me, she helped Mario save the Mushroom Kingdom right when his game cartridge was about to get ejected from my Nintendo forever.

She was the Hidden Hero of my Super Mario Bros. story.

But how did my mom know about this shell trick?


As it turns out, there was a long line of people who played Super Mario Bros. before my Mom.

They failed, experimented, encountered serendipity, and passed on what they learned as folklore to the next person.

Each of them were the Hidden Hero for the player after them, just like my Mom was for me.

The Strategy Guide

A few years after playing Super Mario Bros., I started playing as Cloud in Final Fantasy VII.

No one I knew had played this game before, so I had to be the one to fail, experiment, and encounter serendipity.

Or so I thought.

There was now a Strategy Guide that took the place of the folklore that told you exactly what to do to beat the entire game.

However, I didn’t use it because I felt getting all the answers would take the fun out of playing the game.

I felt strongly about not opening the book until I encountered a boss so hard I thought about giving up on Cloud and popping his disc out of my PlayStation forever.

The authors of the Strategy Guide were the Hidden Heroes in my Final Fantasy VII story.

The in-game Hidden Hero

A few years later, I’m playing as Ratchet in the game Ratchet & Clank, but this time, I didn’t need folklore or a Strategy Guide.

I had Clank.

He was an in-game coach that nudged me in the right direction without telling me exactly what to do, causing Ratchet & Clank to quickly become my favorite video game.

This was the first time I can remember beating a game all on my own, and after I did, I felt like a walking, talking Strategy Guide.

Clank was the Hidden Hero in my Ratchet & Clank story.

Becoming a Hidden Hero

One day my friend wanted to play Ratchet & Clank too.

As he played and ran into problems, he would ask me what to do, I would tell him, and he would thank me.

I was his human Strategy Guide.

I was his Hidden Hero.

But one day even after I told him how to beat a boss, he couldn’t, and he was about to give up.

So I asked for his controller to get him past that part, and he thanked me like he always did.

Taking it too far

After helping my friend get past a bunch of challenges, I started preemptively telling him how to get past the obstacles he faced, and if he failed, I’d ask for his controller to get him past it, just like I had before.

I was his human Strategy Guide.

I was his Hidden Hero.

And then exactly what I was working hard to avoid happened...

...he quit.

What the?

Turns out, he wanted to be coached by Clank just like I was, not told exactly what to do every step of the way by an unavoidable human Strategy Guide.

He wanted to fail, experiment, encounter serendipity, learn, and grow all on his own.

He wanted to go on his own adventure and save Ratchet’s home planet how he wanted to, and I robbed him of that by helping too hard.

I ruined the game for him.

I became more evil than the game’s villain.

I didn’t destroy Ratchet’s home planet, but I caused his disc to be popped out of the PlayStation 2.

There was no more story, no more hero, no more villain, no more anything; just nothing.

The worst part, it felt like I was doing the right thing the entire time.

So how in the world would I prevent myself from doing this again?

Well, it has taken me decades of hard lessons to figure it out...

The moral of the story

A Hidden Hero lets others face their own challenges and learn from their mistakes instead of always giving them the answers.

They make themselves aware of the needs of those around them and then share their knowledge and expertise just in time to push them and prevent them from giving up.

The moral of the story is people need to figure things out on their own and grow from their experiences, and if you help too much, you can unintentionally take away the satisfaction of overcoming a challenge from someone who needs it to stay motivated.

You must find the balance between helping others and letting them learn and grow independently to be a highly successful mentor.

This website was proudly made with Nuxt, styled with TailwindCSS, and deployed to Vercel.