The other day, I made a comment on a Facebook post about how Nintendo saved the video game industry. A friend of mine refuted this and, to be fair, it is a bit of an urban legend that Nintendo saved the industry. There really was no "Video Game Crash" as it has become popularized as, more of a "video game meh." But, that doesn't make what Nintendo did any less impressive and, really, despite the face we're talking about a Japanese company, Nintendo has become a cornerstone of Americana. All because of one little guy who is really good at doing what this blog post is about to do. Jump.
This is Mario:
In any case, you undoubtedly know Mario because you haven't been living in a cave for the last 30 years. Or, if you have, you have internet access now and if you've managed to find my blog without, somehow, learning Mario exists, then I'm terrified of you. Please don't find me and kill me.
Nintendo's story is inextricably intertwined with Mario's story, both real and fictional. Nintendo first entered the American market in 1986 and Mario wasn't really their mascot yet. They didn't really have a mascot.
|They did, however, have a program to give jobs to developmentally disabled robots.|
Okay, so that was the 80s for the young and the old. Now, imagine in that cynical, narcissistic world of capitalism and disenchantment that I wanted to make a video game about a plumber. But not a plumber that plumbs, but rather a plumber that eats mushrooms and flowers and battles turtles and dragons to save a princess in a kingdom with a fungus-based economy. Oh, and he breaks floating bricks and question mark boxes. By the thousands.
This is what made Mario so amazing. It was a game that, from all objective criteria, was just batshit insanity but embraced that insanity so fully and with such vigor that people fell in love with it. Add to that the fact that Nintendo itself gave us these amazing bright, vibrant, scrolling worlds full of catchy music and baffling-but-precise-physics in an era when Atari was shoving ET into blocky pits and it's not hard to see why it captivated everyone.
|To be fair, the shitty ET adaptation came out in 1983. By 1985, Atari had advanced to this shitty Ghostbusters adaptation.|
|Not pictured: Any property invented after 1992. But, you know, WHATEVER.|
As a piece of IP, again, what Nintendo achieved with Mario is astounding. Not only were the 1980s a period where Gordon Gecko was sort of a hero and where no one got the ironic undercurrent of Robocop, it was also a decade where Japanese culture still wasn't a thing. I mean, sure, we bought their cars because they were cheap and Japan hadn't cursed us all with the goddamn Pinto, but beyond that... Remember, Akira wouldn't see American shores until 1989 and sushi was still for horrible people in big cities. At this point, if you were a nippophile in Middle America it either meant you loved the shit out of some Speed Racer and Godzilla, or else you lived in your mother's basement and masturbated to obscure laser disc anime you bought from some shop where the owner TOTALLY has a girlfriend back in Osaka.
It wasn't that popular, is what I'm saying.
But Mario changed that. Listen, you can argue with me that Japanese culture was already exploding by 1986 and you would largely be right. But it was exploding in a "this is so exotic" way. People loved Japan because of how weird it was.
|HOW WEIRD WAS IT? Listen... let's just move on, okay?|
Of course, that was the other aspect of Mario and the reason why, ultimately, we fell in love with him. Mario wasn't Italian at first, that came later. Nor was he clearly a plumber in 1986. But he was American, through and through. Sure, he was Miyamoto's caricature concept of an American, complete with ridiculous overalls and mustache, but he was American enough for us. He was this chubby, blue collar, pasty-faced schlub who looked about as unheroic as possible but, through bravery and hard work, and determination, conquered harder and harder challenges, beat a fucking dragon-turtle and saved a fucking princess.
In a world where wealthy people were getting wealthier and excess was embraced to terrifying extents and we lived in the constant pain of helplessness over the possibility of nuclear annihilation, Mario gave us hope. He was us, with all our faults, achieving the extraordinary. He was never powerless. Never afraid. Never crushed by overwhelming forces. And for a few hours, every night, we could take our controllers and stomp some turtles and ride some floating metal platforms and become a hero. That is why every single one of you were able to look at that picture and instantly recognize not only the character, but a little piece of yourself.