A plumber, pipes and a princess – engineering the gaming revolution
The American subcontinent celebrates March 10 as the National Mario day – not because of any historical significance but because the abbreviation can be written as MAR10 and read as MARIO. The lovestory of the plumber going through the green pipes in the mushroom kingdom to save his princess influenced the world in unparalleled ways. To this day, it remains as Ninetendo’s most appealing and profit making game, selling a total of 60 million copies worldwide. Not only did it capture the gaming industry all together, it also enticed humanity into gaming and created a Mario based pop culture, culminating in Japanese gaming influence being showcased by none other than Premier Shinzo Abe dressing as Mario to inaugurate the Rio Olympics in 2016.
The popularity of Mario games were a result of the complex social issues prevailing in the world and a brilliant concoction of media maneuvers. Despite gaming being popular in the middle of 1980s, it did not take off because the American indigenous game makers did not have anything transformative to offer and people found better avenues of spending time. The two years from 1985-87, informally called the Atari depression, resulted in most homes abandoning gaming consoles and moving towards music and the more consuming media outlets then. The tables turned after Ninetendo released its version of ‘Famicon’ (Family console) with Super Mario as the star attraction. People instantly connected with him because in Mario, they saw themselves. A plumber with a big moustache, simple costume, representative of the working class, seeking out to protect his princess from a ruthless monster king in a land not known to him made peace with the middle income earning class individuals. Being in the post-economic depression era, the working class had enough money to spend on games and gaming equipments and they did so in plentiful amounts.
The social circumstances were not the only reason for its immense appeal. Behind this lay a complex software and lots of popularizing strategies. Super Mario was unique when it brought out the 2D gaming experience. He had no super strength as such, but on consuming a secret mushroom, he gained strength, immense power and enlarged in size. This was similar to another extremely popular cartoon of that time, the Popeye. It revolutionized gaming by bringing the new feature of ‘sidescrolls’ which resulted in the screen scrolling to the side as Mario surpassed each ‘trigger points’. The technological innovation wasn’t the only bite. Mario, for the first time, brought to the forefront, music that is played in sync with the in-game events, even though previous developers had tried this, it did not have the far reaching effects of the Mario music.
But the Japanese manufacturers of the Ninetendo entertainment system (NES) did not stop there. They sponsored a short cartoon called Super Mario Bros, a television serial (that did not release) and even set up a support center which provided customers help if they get stuck somewhere in the game. In principle, the support center was because Ninetendo did not believe in just bringing big products to the market but also because they thought that customers should enjoy the gaming experience. However, this contributed to the immense popularity of the game because you wont get stuck in the middle and simply shelf the game but will continue playing it. The developers thought that, Mario, being a linear map based game, will be too predictable and it is worth expanding the gaming terrain by adding secret mini-games and hiding it behind the innocent looking green pipes scattered throughout the mushroom kingdom.
The Mario cultural revolution took the world by storm. Today, people relate Mario to the gaming experience. The music of the game continues to play out in our ears long after we have finished playing the game. Even those who had not been exposed much to gaming will surely know the mustached plumber. It had single handedly saved the innovation strapped gaming industry from the shock of the Atari gaming depression. The game developers continue to keep the tradition alive and captivate the audience by releasing side-kick games and related paraphernalia. It is even true that Nintendo has never released an entertainment system or its upgrade with an accompanying Mario game, paying respects to its gaming mascot. The popularity of Mario has helped to take games featuring him to the wider audience in a much coordinated manner. Mario Kart, Supersmash brothers and other games of the Mario franchise are all enduring testimony to the universal acceptance of Mario.
By way of being the most popular game for people to start their gaming experience, it helps young children improve their reaction time and dexterity of fingers. Mario games are so popular that modern medicine has started to look into gaming based therapy for acute depressive illness, something they call ‘The Mario Therapy’. Its being taken a step ahead by being produced in 3D and 4D platforms, hoping to replicate the success it had when it was first brought out in 2D platform. After being showcased on a number of seemingly unrelated games, its now being taken to the Lego interactive platform for students to come in touch with the plumber –turned-superhero. Mario is also being paid huge respect by Japan, who are fashioning out a Disney style amusement park called the Mario Superworld, with life-like attractions of Mario, Luigi, DK, Yoshi, Gamboochas, Koopas, classic coinery and the entire members of the Mario family coming to appeal, play and interact with children and adults alike.
The fact that a gaming character launched 30 years before has changed the face of gaming and the fate of the industry and continues to make the trends even now is appalling. This story is not just about Japanese softpower and American urge for the finest coming together, but also the interplay of social elements and media components doing their part in making this grandiose happen. In the years ahead, we will know what more Mario can bring to our minds. It is a prosaic masterpiece, no matter what the angle you keep your prism in.