Life Lessons From Super Mario Bros
Welcome to Throwback Thursday!
We’re starting up a new weekly feature where our contributors will talk about those nostalgic moments in geekdom that shaped their fandoms. Maybe it was vintage comics dredged from the depths of the attic. Maybe it was that old Nintendo and blowing on the cartridges. Maybe it was Saturday mornings glued to the X-Men cartoon on TV. Maybe it was hating that stupid dog in Duck Hunt for always laughing at you. Maybe it was all of the above.
(I’m sure I’m not the only one who used to aim that orange gun at the dog when he’d cackle at me…)
The point of Throwback Thursday is to see how we were shaped into the happy little geeks that we are.
For me, my forays into geekdom began with an old Nintendo and Super Mario Bros. My mom and I moved down to Portland from Alaska, following our friends who had preceded us by a few months. When we arrived, we moved in with them temporarily. My mom’s friend had two boys, one my age, one a couple years younger. The three of us spent hours playing through Super Mario and Duck Hunt and fighting over who got the next turn whenever we heard that music and saw the super pixel-y crunch.
In some ways, I think this game taught me a bit about life. There will always be goombas and turtles out to get you. Sometimes you’ll have to dive down a dark tube into the unknown if you want to get to the good stuff. Sometimes there’s really crappy music. You know, important stuff.
The most infuriating line was always Toad telling us that our Princess was in another F*&(@#*& castle. As tied up as that is in the D-I-D tropes (Damsel in Distress), there’s also a little nugget of lesson in that as well. We can fight through lava and dungeons and climb up weird little 8-bit nets all we want and still be unhappy at the payoff. Spent years earning a degree only to graduate the very year the goombas succeed in destroying the economy? Yep. Work for a company for two decades only to wake up to a turtle handing you a pink slip? It happens.
But sometimes you’ll smash your head into a brick wall and gold will fall out. Sometimes you’ll take a running leap at a flag pole and hit the very top, getting ALL THE POINTS. And sometimes, you’ll beat Koopa back into the lava where he belongs.
I didn’t process all of that as a six-year-old in front of a television, heart racing along with the “dun-dun-dun, dun dun dun-dun, dun-dun, dun-DUN, dun DUN dun, dun-dun-dun.” Looking back though, those early video games taught me a sense of satisfaction for overcoming obstacles — even fake ones. Sometimes they required problem solving and learning how to jump from goomba to goomba without falling into a chasm. You know, the important stuff.
The point is, geekery isn’t always about basement dwelling stereotypes. Sometimes it’s about internalizing lessons from the things we love to take out into the world to conquer Koopa.
Which levels of Super Mario Bros made you want to tear your hair out? Did you ever smash your television just to get that cackling dog to shut up? Sound off in the comments!