Super Mario Brothers (and other genre games): the Next Generation

Video games are science fiction, right?

Well, at least, they can be. Metroid, Einhander, Portal, even Space Quest.

They can also be horror — Parasite Eve, Phantasmagoria, and Resident Evil. And they can be fantasy.

I mean, how much more fantastical do you get than an overweight, moustached plumber jumping on turtles and anthropomorphized mushrooms in an attempt to save a princess who’s been kidnapped by a cross between a dragon, a stegosaurus, Morla, and Michael Savage?

I’ve been thinking a lot about Super Mario Brothers lately. I have a story that’s been perennially submitted that sort of retells the origin of SMB. I’ve been playing the game since the NES — and even remember the extra-tough arcade version at the skating rink in Davie, Fla., where I grew up. And now, with the Wii, I’ve been enjoying the hell out of New Super Mario Bros Wii.

As has my four-year-old daughter.

Not at all unexpectedly, she’s been interested in video games for quite some time already — her first love was Mega Man, and you haven’t lived until your child has interrupted a dance demonstration to show you off by telling a story about how you and she play video games together — and for months we’d sit together and I’d play while she made up stories. But recently, on a suggestion from my friend Chrome, I put a controller in her hands and taught her how to play.

She hasn’t looked back. We play Mario quite a bit now, and she’s not terrible at it. She loves riding Yoshi and imitating the voices of the characters. She gets a major kick out of defeating me (I try to let her win, but she’s surprisingly adept at not collecting coins). And even her imaginary friends are now Mario-related — Bowser, Princess Peach, Koopa Jr, Wendy O. Koopa, and Ludvig Von Koopa.

And when we discovered the old Super Mario Brothers Super Show! on Netflix, well… she was just thrilled.

What she hasn’t done yet, though, is try to act like the actual characters in the game. That is, to try and jump on bad guys or break bricks. But at least one person has: this guy, who hacked his Kinect to show just how tough it would be to really play SMB.

It’s kind of cool to watch how much difficulty he has just trying to get the first super mushroom in 1-1 of the original SMB. Not in a schadenfreude way, but in a “wow, that should be so simple” kind of way.

Makes me not want a Kinect. At all. (Sorry, Microsoft; if you want to advertise here, we’ll still take your money, we promise.)

I wonder how many of us got our start in sci-fi or fantasy as young kids with video game systems, jumping on mushrooms and ducking into pipes, collecting coins and power-ups, and defeating Bowser over and over, only to be told the princess was in another castle. How many of us ran through our houses or our backyards, jumping on imaginary bad guys — or real toys, like soccer balls and pool floats — and flinging imaginary fireballs — or ping-pong balls, or tennis balls, or even baseballs?

The video games we played when we were young — at least, if you’re my age (that is, in elementary school in the 80s) — have a profound effect on what we like now, I think. And I think it’s because we had to use our imaginations. When I played Combat with my dad, I had to fill in the details. At age four, I vaguely knew what tanks were… but I definitely knew what a fighter plane looked like, and in my mind my fighter planes were totally getting blown to smithereens by my dad’s. When I finally got a Nintendo and started playing Super Mario Brothers, 8-bit graphics were awesome… but I still had to use my imagination a little. As games got better, and I got better at them, I used my imagination less and less.

Nowadays, my daughter knows exactly what her favorite video game characters look like. I wonder if, in 20 years, she’ll still hold as fond a place in her heart for the Super Mario Brothers as I do for Combat and the other Atari 2600 games I used to play (and the shows I used to watch with my dad when I was between four and ten — Star Trek, the A-Team, Knight Rider, WCW Wrestling). I wonder if my attempts to indoctrinate her in the things I like — video games, sci-fi (on a limited basis), Miami Dolphins football, thinking farts are hilarious — will stick as well as my dad’s stuck with me.

Just… not too sticky. The last thing I need is this playing at her wedding.