Tag Archives: super mario

If you go to a Star Trek convention, don’t dress up as Super Mario

One time I went to a Star Trek convention dressed as Super Mario. “I don’t get it,” my friends all said to me when I told them about my plan. And I was like, “What don’t you get? Star Trek exists in the twenty-fourth century, right? OK, well, that’s our future, right? Their ancestors are us, and so Super Mario and Nintendo all will have existed in their past, which is now. Doesn’t that make sense? Come on, it’s Super Mario, you don’t think he’s going to make it to three or four hundred years from now?”


And my friend Bill was like, “It’s not that I don’t think Super Mario isn’t going to be around, it’s just that, that’s way too much backstory for a Star Trek convention. Why can’t you just wear a Starfleet uniform like everyone else?”

“That’s so lame,” I told him, “I mean, no offense to any of you guys, I know the Starfleet uniforms are expensive and everything. You know what? I shouldn’t have said that. I’m sorry. But you know, my Super Mario costume wasn’t cheap either.”

But it was too late, I knew I was going to piss everyone off by calling their Starfleet costumes lame. But they were lame. And I kind of wanted to piss them off. Because come on, if you want to dress up for a convention, I can think of at least twenty actually interesting costumes from the broader Star Trek universe that don’t involve wearing a generic crewman’s outfit. You could be a Klingon, right, or you could be one of those old school Klingons from the original series. Or you could be Worf’s human stepbrother, or Wesley’s spiritual companion, the Traveler.

I’m just saying, they jumped on me for Mario, and now they weren’t holding back. “Listen Rob,” this was my friend Doug. He definitely had the nicest of the regular uniform costumes, like it had removable pips, a magnetic com-badge, he even had to pick it up at the dry cleaners because of the expensive fabric. “Your Mario costume was from Halloween. And it doesn’t look expensive at all.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about, Doug,” I said. Great, let’s have it out, let’s do this. I knew from Halloween that nobody thought my Super Mario costume was anything special. But not expensive? “Not expensive?” I said in Doug’s direction, but I was talking to the whole group now, “Do you know how expensive a pair of overalls is? I bought them online and they were expensive. And then this hat, this isn’t just a costume prop piece, OK, I bought this specially, and then I sent it to an embroiderer to have the M stitched up front. You see this fake moustache? It’s made out of walrus whiskers, all right, this fake moustache is going to outlive all of you.”

But nobody was budging. It was just me, a lone Super Mario surrounded by a whole group of Junior Lieutenants and Chief Petty Officers. “And yeah, Steve was a Vulcan, so that took at least a little bit more effort than just putting on a blue shirt and a black pair of pants, but not a lot. He didn’t really commit, he didn’t get the Vulcan haircut or anything.

And then my friend Larry spoke up, “Well, if Mario existed in Star Trek’s past, then Star Trek should’ve existed also. Right? How do you explain that?”

And everybody just went, “Oooooh.” And yeah, I didn’t have an answer. I said that it wasn’t fair, that of course Star Trek couldn’t exist as a popular TV show that predicted the course of events for the next three or four hundred years. But you can’t count that, it’s just not fair. There were a lot more words, but that basically summed up my whole argument, that it wasn’t fair. And then Jim, my brainiac friend, he started this big lecture about how Star Trek shaped the popular culture of the twentieth century, directly influencing our electronics, the design of the cell phones, all of those tired arguments you hear every time you read some article about Star Trek in the newspaper. And of course, everyone else just sat around in awe, another boring Star Trek speech.

Worse, we got to the convention, and OK, maybe people didn’t really get the whole Super Mario thing, I get it, it’s a bit of a stretch. And maybe I was a little lazy, just reusing the same costume from Halloween because I didn’t feel like ponying up for something else. But I could have done something, maybe made it like Mario was in Starfleet or something. But no, the worst was, amidst the hundreds and hundreds of regular Star Fleet officers, there was a group of fans who dressed up as Darth Vader and a bunch of storm troopers. And wherever they went, everyone was like, “Ohhhhh!” taking tons of cell phone pictures, having really cool mock fights. And after a while I just wanted to ditch my lame Mario costume, but it really was very expensive, I don’t know why I spent so much extra money. It’s not like it really added anything special to the look. And the walrus moustache? There’s no getting around that. That was just a really bad purchase. A really bad, questionable, impulse, late night Internet purchase.

Life, death, Super Mario Bros.

I started thinking about life and death way too early in life, and it’s all because of Super Mario Bros. I remember being really little and having my mom try to explain life and death to me in a way that was mostly harmless. When you die you go to heaven. It seemed like a satisfying enough explanation at the time.

But then when I started playing video games I remember the bigger picture coming sharply into focus. Before my family had a Nintendo we just had a Gameboy. Everybody knows Nintendo’s title character Mario, and how in his first game, Super Mario Land, you run from one end of the screen to the other, jumping on bad guys, landing on platforms, eventually making it all the way across to the other side.

And playing that game really made me start thinking about death. It wasn’t when Mario got killed by an enemy or fell down a hole. That wasn’t really death. There were always one-ups to find, extra lives to spend. Even if you totally ran out, you could always just reset and start over. No, what really got to me was the timer on the top right of the screen. If you didn’t get to the end of the level by the time the clock ran out, you just dropped dead right where you stood.

Even worse, as the clock got closer to zero hour, the game kind of paused for a second, and this nervous high-anxiety music clip would play, telling you, “Shit dude, you’re almost out of time. Let’s get going, now!” And then for the rest of that level, as if to heighten the stress, everything would play in fast-motion. Like not only are you almost out of time, but the little time that you have left is going to seem like much, much less.

It sucked because, especially if you were a little kid, and you hadn’t yet mastered the hand-eye coordination necessary to make it to the end of the game, every once in a while you’d finally get past that Ancient Egypt level, to that world where there are little pixies that hop across the screen. And you just wanted to look about and enjoy it for a minute, to try and discover hidden passageways, secret coins. But you couldn’t, because if you spent too much time f’ing around, you’d run out of seconds and it would be all downhill from there.

Or even worse, those levels where you’re in a submarine or an airplane and the board kind of scrolls by itself. You just move up and down and shoot bad guys, and the map moves forward whether you like it or not. At least you can’t run out of time here, but every minute or so a wall made out of blocks comes at you from the right. And so you have to shoot a perfect path across, so when the wall finally gets to where you’re at, you can hopefully slip through the hole that you made or you get crushed. These are all pretty literally representations of time and space and life and death, and I really did understand them at some level, even though I wasn’t even ten years old. The feelings of dread that I got back then, although I’m only able to correctly label them now, they’re the same exact feelings that I get as an adult when I wake up at four in the morning short of breath, dry in the mouth, realizing that my life is this huge illusion, a blip on the cosmic map of what is and what isn’t.

I assume through stuff that I’ve read or conversations that I’ve had that some people go through their whole lives without worrying about stuff like this. Maybe these people didn’t play Super Mario Land as a little kid. Maybe it was holding this little world in my hands, in grayscale, with a very finite amount of time to complete a very simple set of objectives. And even if I did somehow manage to beat the clock, and the wall, and Tatanga, there wasn’t even a guarantee that the batteries would last to the end. We even had this expansion battery pack for our Gameboy that held like eight D batteries. Where was all of the energy getting sucked out to? Why was this thing perpetually running out of juice?

But nothing in Super Mario Land made me feel as helpless as when I’d play Super Mario 2 for the NES. Anybody who grew up in my generation remembers how, after getting through the easy, intro levels, Mario 2 got really hard. There were all of these doors and rooms and you needed specific keys to open everything up. Anyway, there were these certain keys guarded by these circular statues. They weren’t threatening at all, until you touched the key they were there to protect. Once you picked it up, these statues came to life and started flying through the air. They’d fly by once, do a little circle move, try to kill you, and then fly off screen. And they’d keep coming back, following you, terrorizing you for the rest of that level. You couldn’t kill them, you couldn’t shake them, you just had to hope and try and jump out of the way.

And I’d get these same feelings, a huge hole emerging in the depths of my stomach, a physical sensation that I was getting sucked through this hole from the inside out. And again, hindsight is key here, but it’s the same fear of death, fear of time. The knowledge that as much as I’d like to stop time or make it go away or try to get out of its line of sight, I can’t. It’s just going to keep coming. And I can’t jump on it or make it go away and one day that’s going to be it.

And as a little kid these statues would follow me after I had unplugged the Nintendo. I’d imagine them in the periphery of my vision, always far enough behind me that I couldn’t quite get a fix on their exact location, but gaining on me, picking up speed. As much as I wanted to hide away or outrun them or whatever, they were just coming at me, this slow steady pace.

Whenever I’m walking or riding my bike and I’m on a path or a long road where I can see far ahead of me and far behind me, I always get that same sensation, like I’m Super Mario and I’m on the one of those linear levels, and I can see in front of me, all the way toward the end of the path, and I see where I’m at, somewhere, and I’ll look behind to where the road meets at the horizon and I always feel like I can see those same statues moving towards me, far away for now but moving in, closer and closer, steady as she goes and coming at you fast.

Mario Kart: Q & A

I found this link online of a little animation. It’s from Mario Kart. Specifically, it’s of a Koopa Trooper about to get hit by a blue shell, but right at the last second he uses a mushroom and barely escapes the detonation. I kept watching it over and over again. Which was actually easy, because it’s a gif, and it was only like five seconds long, so it just plays over and over and over again.

Q: What’s a blue shell?

A: Blue shells are really rare weapons in Mario Kart. They look like a blue turtle shell with spikes and wings coming out of it.

Q: What’s Mario Kart?

A: Mario Kart is a series of Nintendo games. All of the Nintendo characters drive around in cars and you … you know, you race and stuff. But it’s not just a racing game. I mean, it is, because the whole goal is to cross the finish line first. But there are little floating question mark boxes all around the courses that, when you crash into them, you get items, like shells or …

Q: You crash into the floating question marks? Isn’t crashing bad in racing games?

A: Yeah, but the boxes are translucent. And floating. So maybe crash wasn’t the best word. Or maybe it was. When you drive through one, the box crashes open. Well, it dissolves really, and then …

Q: So you can get these blue shells just by crashing into them? I thought you said they were really rare.

A: Well, you can get any shell really, blue, red, green. When you drive through a question mark box, a little box pops up on the screen and all of the items start blinking. After a second or two you are given an item somewhat randomly.

Q: I’m confused. Is this new box the same box as the question mark box that, how did you describe it, dissolved?

A: No, that was an actual box, like part of the course. These boxes that pop up aren’t part of anything, they’re just for the viewer to see, like to see what item you get. There are a lot of things on the screen that aren’t part of the course. There’s a speedometer. There’s a map, like a little map with little characters that show where you are on the …

Q: What’s the difference between a green shell and a blue shell?

A: The question should really be, “What’s the difference between a green shell and a red shell,” because, like I was trying to say, the blue shells are super rare. Well, they used to be even rarer when Mario Kart 64 came out sixteen years ago. Some of the newer games just give out blue shells to whoever happens to be in last place. Basically, a green shell fires in a linear direction, either straight ahead or behind. A red shell is more like a homing missile, knocking out whoever happens to be closest.

Q: Maybe I should play the game. You’re not doing a great job of describing it.

A: First of all, who hasn’t played Mario Kart? What are you Amish? Secondly, that was a perfectly descriptive description. Green shells, straight. Red shells, homing missiles.

Q: Yeah but you started off talking about blue shells, you still haven’t told me what they do, and I’m watching that little graphic and I don’t get why you think you’d write a whole blog post based off of a weird little video game joke.

A: All right, listen, when I allowed some Q & A, I expected maybe some actual questions. That wasn’t a question, it was just you stating that you don’t get it, and then making a very thinly veiled criticism about my whole writing process.

Q: Thinly veiled? What was thin about it? I think it was a bad decision for you to base a whole essay based on a blue shell.

A: It’s not just about the blue shell, I was trying to explain …

Q: How about a question? Why are you spending so much time on the Internet looking at stupid little video game cartoons? Shouldn’t you be writing more?

A: Yeah, well, I am writing, I was just blowing off some steam and I …

Q: And what are all of these open tabs on your browser? What’s a Super Mario wiki?

A: Listen, you know how the Internet is. One click leads to another. The Super Mario wiki is like Wikipedia but only dedicated to Mario. It’s like …

Q: You see what I mean? What’s this tab here? Who’s Tatanga?

A: Tatanga. He’s the bad guy from the Super Mario Land, you remember, that original Game Boy game?

Q: You know what? You lost me. I’m done.

A: Come on, you never played Game Boy? You don’t know what Mario Kart is? How did you get to this blog in the first place? Hello? Hello?

I’m the best at video games

I get on these kicks every once in a while where I get totally and completely addicted to a video game. It doesn’t happen all the time, and it always eventually passes, but when I’m in the grip of a game, it’s just takes me over so completely that I can’t think of or do anything else.

I remember being maybe two or three years old – I know this sounds like a bullshit story, but it’s true – and being over my grandparents’ house. My dad’s the second oldest of eleven kids, so when I was two or three, all of my uncles were in their teens and early twenties. And I remember one time being over there and everyone was huddled around a brand new Nintendo, the first console. They were taking turns playing Super Mario and Duck Hunt. I wanted to play so badly, but nothing sucks the fun out of something more than letting a little kid without any developed motor functions taking a turn and getting his snot-covered fingers all over the controller.

So I didn’t get to play, but I’d still pinpoint that memory as my first moment of video game addiction. Because I can remember it so clearly. And I was only two or three. I don’t have any other memories from that early in life, except for watching them play Mario I. A couple of years later, my dad came home from a business trip really late at night. At least, I thought it was pretty late at night. It could have been ten. I don’t know, I was a little kid and I was asleep and my dad came home with a Super Nintendo, set it up, woke us up out of bed, and sat us in front of the TV to play.

Little kids go to bed early and they stay asleep for like twelve hours. That’s how it must have been, because my exact memory of what went down had me waking up, regaining consciousness right in front of the television, holding the controller and playing Super Mario. I’ve never had a better waking up experience to this day. I beat that game so fast, I remember sending a photo of the end credits to Nintendo Power magazine, who asked readers to send in their photos, to determine who was the first person in the world to beat it. And it was me. I was the first person in the world to beat Super Mario World.

Then I remember reading Nintendo Power later on and seeing a whole article about The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. It showed all of the enemies you’d get to face, all of the items you’d get to collect and use along the way. Reading that article and looking at those pictures, I remember that I wanted that game more than I wanted anything else in the entire world. But I had to play it exactly right. I couldn’t just beg for it, because then I’d never get it. I had to casually mention that I wanted it, all while presenting little opportunities for my parents to buy it for me as a reward for something. So I’d pretend that an upcoming math test was really hard and that I’d be studying for it even more than I normally would. And I wouldn’t really be studying, I’d just be looking at that copy of Nintendo Power underneath the math textbook.

There were so many cool video games that came out when I was a kid that I didn’t really get a lot of time in between games to let the individual addictions die down. There was Zombies Ate my Neighbors. There was Donkey Kong Country and Mario Kart. After Super Nintendo got old, the Nintendo 64 debuted, with Mario 64 eating up whole chunks of my seventh and eighth grade life. Then there were two great Zelda games for that console. There was Mario Kart 64. There was Super Smash Brothers.

Somehow this blog post has just turned into me listing titles of video games which, if you’re not too familiar with video games, you must find this incredibly boring. I was going to say so much more than just the titles, but all I’d be doing is describing the games. This is the problem with video games, for me, they absorb me so completely, so fully, that I don’t have any other room in my mind for anything else. I didn’t write as a little kid. I liked to draw, but I never really gave it the attention it deserved because I was too busy playing Goldeneye.

So that was the majority of my childhood, Nintendo. Now it’s gotten to the point where most of the time I never play video games, except for like one or two months every two years or so, when the video game bug bites hard and I can’t resist. It happened when Halo 2 came out for Xbox. I would play it for entire days while I should have been going to class and writing papers. It happened right after the Wii came out while I spent entire days trying to get a 300 in Wii Bowling while I should have been going to work. It happened when Doodle Jump came out for the iPhone. That was especially infuriating, because after just one day I really didn’t even like the game anymore. Playing it was more than just this compulsion, it was like I hated myself for wasting my time holding my phone in front of my face, moving it side to side, feeling it grow hotter and hotter in my hands. Most recently, it happened last year with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, where I spent a solid hundred hours playing Team Deathmatch on Xbox Live.

I’ve been good for a while. It comes and goes. It probably has to. If I didn’t let it happen, whatever it is that’s inside of me that compels me to play video games would bubble up inside of me and warp and grow twisted and, well, I don’t know what exactly. Maybe it wouldn’t. Maybe I would spend more time doing other stuff. But at this point I can’t fight it. I can’t predict it either. I don’t know which game is going to lay claim to my soul next.

Whatever, they’re just video games. I guess if you have to be addicted to something, video games aren’t that bad. It’s much better than gambling. Or crystal meth. Right? You ever see pictures of long-term meth users? Gross.