Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Why Do I Love Video Games? A Recent Playthrough of the Original Super Mario Bros. Reminded Me Why

Why do I love video games so much? Just what is it about these electronic, computer-created jumbles of pixels and polygons that stir my heart so much? A recent playthrough of the original Super Mario Bros. for the NES reminded me of all the central reasons why I love video games so damn much.

Of course this is a big one. The first time I ever picked up a controller, it was just joy to move a character around in a colorful environment. And what game better demonstrates pitch-perfect gameplay than Super Mario? Super Mario Bros. is still a blast to play nearly thirty years later. It’s a challenging, rewarding and supremely enjoyable experience. It’s this kind of player control-infused enjoyment that makes me love video games.

A key factor of video games is their immersion. A rich, engrossing atmosphere is a must for a game to draw me in and make me fall in love with it. As a child, Super Mario Bros. drew me in with a strange, new world to interact with and explore. There are the bright and colorful surface areas filled with floating bricks and question-mark blocks, green pipes and all manner of odd creatures stomping about. Then there is the underground with its mysterious ambient music and dank atmosphere that just begs to be explored. The Mushroom Kingdom’s weird and wonderful atmosphere is why I love video games.

Music and Sound Design

Great atmosphere goes hand-in-hand with great music and great sound design. Super Mario Bros. has such memorable and catchy chiptunes that the main theme of the game is recognizable even to those who don’t play video games. From the aforementioned famous tune to the mysterious underground theme to the calming underwater track to the ominous castle music, Super Mario Bros.’ music is mood-setting and sets the rhythm to brilliant gameplay and level design. And that’s to say nothing of all the iconic sound effects from collecting a coin to that oh-so-satisfying power-up sound when Mario grabs a mushroom or fire flower. Great music mixed with great sound design is why I love video games so much.

A compelling tale that is told through a mixture of gameplay and well-directed cut-scenes (or purely though gameplay) is another reason to love video games. On the surface, Super Mario Bros. tells a straightforward and classic tale: a hero embarks on a journey to defeat an evil villain, save a princess, and save a kingdom from tyranny. This classic story is great and it’s always fun to feel like a hero, but it’s the parts of the story that aren’t explicitly told in-game, as well as the completely untold parts of this story that truly capture my imagination. The backstory of the original Super Mario Bros. tells the tale of how Bowser and his underlings who live in the harsh badlands of their world grew jealous of the neighboring Mushroom Kingdom’s prosperity and decided to conquer it using black magic. Using this dark magic, Bowser turns all of the citizens of the Mushroom Kingdom into blocks and bricks and kidnaps the kingdom’s ruler and locks her up. Bowser has basically already won. As Mario travels through each world in the game, he is defeating Bowser’s sentries and lowering the enemies’ flags, effectively taking back every fortress in the land. This (for me at least) is the meaning of the flagpole at the end of each level. Also, I always imagined the untold parts of Super Mario Bros. How did two Italian plumbers end up in this strange world? I’m not sure if this is meant to be the story or not, but I imagine that Mario and Luigi were once two ordinary plumbers living in New York City or somewhere and one day they stumbled upon a warp pipe which led them to the secret Mushroom World. Once there, they learned of the kingdom’s plight, gained super powers and saved the day. After saving the kingdom from Bowser and gaining the princess and her people’s affection, they decided to live in the Mushroom Kingdom and had many more adventures afterwards. This is how I imagine it anyway. It is this imagination and this combination of told and untold story that makes me love video games.

The World and the Aesthetics
I’ve mentioned before that the beautiful and imaginative worlds of video games are one of the main reasons I love them so much. I’m also going to include is this category the art and graphics that make those worlds vibrantly come alive. In Super Mario Bros., the senses are treated to a colorful and surrealistic landscape that Mario hops around in. These aesthetics change abruptly to dark and dreary when underground, soothing and peaceful when underwater, and treacherous and nerve-wracking when in one of Bowser’s cold, gray castles filled with spinning fire blades and leaping lava. This memorable and unique world design is why I love video games so much.

So there you have it. Super Mario Bros. is one of the greatest video games ever created and it contains everything I love about the medium. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go play some Zelda next.

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