Mario as a Great American Folk Hero

Jeff Ryan, in an interview with Slate, talks about how Super Mario Brothers established videogames’ first folk hero, and how those games influenced the obsessive nature of pop culture fandom going forward.

According to Ryan, “[i]nstead of passively ingesting their entertainment, they study it in miniature, read up on each new installment, create and maintain wiki sites to document all its facets.” Here, he elaborates on how playing Mario Brothers resulted in a new kind of fandom: 

In a game like Donkey Kong or Pacman, you go through the levels, and you master the levels, and then you’re done. But with Mario, there’s so much detail and so many possible paths in each individual level that finishing the game as quickly as possible isn’t necessarily the goal. And getting a high score isn’t the goal, either. So what you wind up doing is trying to explore everything there is to do. It’s especially there with Super Mario 3, where in the first board there are 12 different levels. You only need to play seven to get to the bad guy, but if you want to, you can do all 12. From an economic point of view, there’s no reason to do that-if you’re trying to win the game. But if you’re trying to extend your experience and have the most fun, then you hit all 12 levels, and furthermore, explore all the levels to see what’s there. Super Mario 3 isn’t just a video game. It’s an amusement park.

-Richard Clark

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