Every gamer has had that moment where it all made sense to them.
That moment where the sounds and button presses fell into place and the game became a little more real. It’s the point of no return, because beyond that moment, your life was irrevocably changed. That moment moves you from ignorance of a world hidden in plain sight and initiates you into a world where you have agency.
For me, that moment came very early in my life, with an iconic character that’s still recognised today.
Simple, Clean Design
The original Super Mario Brothers game is nothing like the platformers of today, even if all modern day platformers drew inspiration from this game. There were no weapons, ammo count or complicated mechanics. Modern day gamers might have a bit of a hard time getting used to it today.
There were 2 only things you had to do:
- Get from left to right
- Don’t die
There were only 3 things you could do:
- Move left and right
- Grab Power-ups
This means that the entire game is functionally what you see on this gif:
As a child, this was both accessible and enchanting. The simple controls, when tacked on to a colourful and clearly presented world, drew me in almost instantly. What closed the deal was the music, and I think almost everyone knows the music. For the uninitiated, this was how the first level of the game opened.
Every sound made immediate sense: Coins were represented by sharper, clinky audio while jumps had a tangible “toing”, almost like a cartoon representation of a spring.
As I ran through the levels, jumping on Goombas and grabbing (magic?) mushrooms, I realised that I was a little concerned about Mario on screen. Every inch I moved him could mean certain death, or survival, depending on how I fared. Those moments gave me a sense of agency in the world; satisfaction and relief when he got to move on to the next castle and disappointment when he dropped off the face of a cliff (or into hot lava) due to my ineptitude. I think that was the moment I became a gamer.
My adventures with Mario are unlike my adventures today with so many of the heavily advanced, highly versatile video game protagonists. Mario taught me that simple didn’t mean boring, variation can be impactful in small doses and vegetables were good for you. All 3 of these life lessons are still carried along by me today.
I love gaming. But more than that, I love what it has taught me. To think it all started with an 8-bit character on a machine that was consistently foiled by dust (remember blowing into cartridges?) is simply remarkable. I hope that as I age, I’ll get to play in more worlds with more characters that are just as magical and charming as Mr. Mario and his oft-forgotten brother, Luigi.