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The Magic of Mario

Or "Why Mario Means Much to Me.?"

    It's quite amazing when you think about it. This web site, which recieves over 800 visits per day, focuses on something that doesn't exist. It's true. Sure, Mario exists as an idea, and his games exist as physical plastic and silicone cartridges, but in the end all he, or any other video game character, ammounts to literally is a group of pixels on a monitor and air vibrations coming from your TV speakers. And yet, despite not physically existing in a literal sense, Mario has had a profound effect on literally millions of people. More influence than many righteous and important real people have had. (Fact: More people can identify a picture of Mario than can identify a picture ofthe Speaker of the House of the United States*). So the real question is how (and why) this non-existant group of pixels enthralls us so, and what, if anything, should be done about it.

    One reason for Mario's success is obviously the ease and simple fun of playing his games. Even four year olds can pick up Super Mario Bros. and be playing like a pro in a couple of hours with only a little guidance. The basic moves are simple: Walk left, walk right, jump. Even the advanced moves are relatively simple: Swim (A button) and shoot fire (B button). The basic objective is simple: Get the items (good), and avoid the enemies (bad). This polarization of good and bad extends to the game's story, which does not get in the way of the gameplay (as with some of the worse RPGs). This simplicity extends past Super Mario Bros.; My seven year old sister can play Super Mario 64 with quite a bit of skill. Complex games that make you concentrate and require lightning reflexes have their place, but the Mario games endure for their relaxing simplicity.

    Conversely, Mario games also endure for their inherent challenge. Every day I get at least one e-mail (usally more) asking me where the 96th exit in Super Mario World is, or how to get the 120th star in Super Mario 64, or how to beat level 7-4 in Super Mario Bros. (A 15 year old game, let me remind you) Mario games are designed to be easy enough for a child to pick up and play, but challenging enough that even an experienced gamer will have trouble beating them all 100%. So as people grow up with video games, they can often come back to that favorite Mario game they played when they were six and still get something new out of it.

    But the most important reason people love Mario, and many other games of all types, is that they provide an escape from the real world. While the real world can often be harsh and cruel, Mario provides a friendly face and comforting, bright colors. Where the real can be scary and unpredictable, Mario provides a familiar situation and memories of simpler times. When the real world seems random and irrational, Mario games provide a world grounded in a solid set of rules: Mushrooms make you grow, stars make you invincible, etc. With all these things going for it, it's no wonder people want to spend so much time detached from reality with a friend that doesn't exist.

    Is this a problem? Should it be acceptable for so many people to be spending so much time obsessing about imaginary friends. I don't think so, as long as you know that it's just a game, and is no replacement for the real experience and human interaction you can experience in the real world. I realize that this is a ridiculously concise rant, but I hope it's given you an idea of why I think Mario and video games in general mean so much to us.

*-This is probably a fact. I didn't bother to check. But it sounds plausible, doesn't it.

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