When people die, it’s sad. But when someone dies in a videogame, it’s frustrating. I died a lot in Super Mario Brothers over the years, usually when I was trying to go too fast or show-off in front of friends. Up until the point I found out about the infinite lives glitch in World 3-1, I hadn’t beaten the game; the princess was left to die in another castle and I ended up dropping through space in the Phantom Zone below the bottom of the screen like General Zod and his cronies in Superman II.
When I found out about the glitch from a friend (because there
wasn’t internet in those days) I was able to successfully beat the game by killing Bowser and rescuing the Princess. Although I was cheating, I was still having fun exploring the vast
worlds. Dying really wasn’t so bad when you didn’t have to fear it. I would take risks I wouldn’t have taken and sometimes they paid off and sometimes they didn’t,
but it was fun trying.
Let’s warp ahead to today. After walking out of a keynote at SXSW by Tracy Fullerton, Director of the joint USC Games Program, I was inspired to think about games differently. At USC they are creating games that are not traditional shoot em’ ups. The games they are creating have a much deeper meaning. Combining the use of art and game mechanics, they create exploratory worlds where you can relax, and move through at your own pace.
So I thought about Super Mario Brothers as a different kind of game, a game where you don’t die but age. I mean theoretically it would take several years for Mario to travel through all those worlds (unless you travel through time warps of course), but he never ages, he just changes clothes and grows and shrinks a lot.
And lets pretend for a moment that there are no bad guys in Super Mario’s world either and it’s a world where everyone is put there to help you find your princess. Bowser could just be a big teddy bear with bad indigestion and perhaps you can help him by simply just giving him some Tums. And that annoying cloud character Lakitu, who throws Spinies on the ground, what if he dropped hints to help you on your way; or at least used his sight advantage to scope out the road ahead. Goombas would be grumpy friends that you could help over block walls so they can stop wandering back and forth in a tight places with nothing to look at but each other.
In the end, after all the fish in the sea have swum with you through open waters and all the Koopa Troopas on land have carried you on their backs across distant lands, you will reach your beloved princess and you, as a much older and wiser Mario, will have the maturity you will need to take care of her for years to come. You, the great adventuring plumber, will be able to share the story of your journey with others and when you end up dying of old age as a rich coin collector with a beautiful princess wife, we will all reflect on how we helped you get there.
Life does seem to move from left to right like a side-scrolling video game. We don’t know what is ahead of us, and we can’t go back to change what we have done. So the next time you are playing a game and you can’t get past that pesky boss at the end of a level, try giving him a hug, it just might be the move you need to make to move on to the next stage of life.