Mario, Oh Mario


I’ll never forget the Christmas that my sister and I got a Nintendo Entertainment System. It came with Super Mario Bros. / Duck Hunt / World Class Track Meet 3-in-1 Game. In addition to two controllers it came with additional accessories: a gun to shoot ducks with, and a Power Pad to run on and compete in the track game. Even though the gun was cool, it was really hard to use. We didn’t get past the first few levels once the ducks started flying fast. The Power Pad was neat to unroll and stand side-by-side on, but the repetition soon became monotonous and boring. That’s when my love affair with Mario began.

Back in those days, there was no saving games for later or cheat codes to bypass difficult levels. And once you lost your lives, you had to start at the beginning of the entire game! So perseverance and endurance is what made our winter pass that year. We even had callused thumbs to prove it! Each time we beat a level, we cheered and danced. Each level had harder characters to conquer and difficult obstacles to get through. If we got stuck on a level, we’d go to school the next day and ask friends if they had any advice. This was the pre-Internet age, and guide books were just a twinkle in the sky.

Eventually we got past Bowser’s cronies and the fire level, the water level, the cloud level, the Venus flytrap level…and finally to Bowser’s castle where the Princess was being held captive. It took us close to one year to beat the game and figure out all its secrets. There were secret warp zone pipes, walls that you could walk through, and 1-Ups hidden throughout the levels.

I remembered the thrill of winning the game when my husband and I went shopping for a game system. The snow this winter really hindered our usual activities. Between reading and watching the series The Shield, we noticed that we were turning into couch potatoes. We demoed different gaming systems at different retailers and decided to purchase a Wii. In addition to getting a little more active with their sport games, I’ve also rediscovered my love for Mario. This winter I’ve discovered new worlds, new foes, and new secrets. Mario can not only turn into a frog, a raccoon and throw fire balls; he can also jump from 2-D into 3-D, transform into a bee, a ghost, a penguin and a rock! Though I have spring fever, I’m happy to have Mario help keep me company until the snow melts. He and some of his friends can help keep you company, too:

My favorite movie at this age was The Wizard. Fred Savage takes his brother to compete in a video game competition featuring the new Super Mario Bros. 3. This nostalgic, Nintendo-laden look at ’80s gaming culture showed a secret to the new Mario game. What could be better than that? It’s also fun to watch now as you see Christian Slater and Toby Maguire in their youth.

Before he was Ferris Bueller, Matthew Broderick was computer hacker David Lightman in War Games. He could bypass the most advanced security systems, break the most intricate secret codes and master even the most difficult computer games. When he unwittingly tapped into the Defense Department’s war computer he initiates a confrontation of global proportions. Technology sure has come a long way since the early ’80s!

I haven’t seen the sequel yet, but the original Tron was spectacular for its time. Jeff Bridges plays a hacker who is abducted into the computer and forced to compete in the gladiatorial games to win his life back. As a kid it was easy to take my Mario game as a life and death situation.

I’ve been following the research that has come out on the “gaming generation.” Here are a few titles that support video games, in moderation of course:

In Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter the author explores not just his own affection for video games but also the games themselves. He highlights the good and the bad, and explores the key elements of video games: dialogue, character design, voice performance, visual appearance.

Despite headlines and legal defenses naming violent video games as the cause of teen violence, Grand Theft Childhood: The Surprising Truth About Violent Video Games and What Parents Should Know  suggests that video games are no more harmful than earlier forms of entertainment that worried parents in previous ages.

Don’t Bother Me, Mom, I’m Learning! How Computer and Video Games Are Preparing Your Kids For 21st Century Success and How You Can Help contends that games can teach a multitude of skills, including problem solving, language and cognitive skills, strategic thinking, multitasking, and parallel processing. The author cites research showing the benefits of games in teaching skills children will need in a twenty-first-century economy, pointing to the military use of games to teach strategy, laparoscopic surgeons who play games as a “warm-up” before surgery, and entrepreneurs who played games growing up.

While many parents fret about their children’s minds turning to goo as they squander hour after hour absorbed in electronic diversion, The Kids Are Alright: How the Gamer Generation is Changing the Workplace argues that gamers glean valuable knowledge from their pastime and that they’re poised to use that knowledge to transform the workplace. The authors base their claims on an exclusive survey of approximately 2,000 business professionals.

Game over.

Lisa Shaia is the children’s librarian who is counting down the days for Super Mario All Stars to be released. (Seventeen in case you’re counting, too.)

One thought on “Mario, Oh Mario

  1. Lisa – as a grandparent, I look back on our strict monitoring of tv and games with our children and wish we’d lightened up a little! I get it now – and your blog demonstrates perfectly – cool, trendy, age-appropriate pastimes (comic books, when I was growing up!), in moderation, do not produce either ax murderers or illiterates. I’m sure you saw David Pogue’s article in Thursday’s NYT about a child’s ‘addiction’ to the iPad. I enjoyed your post – as I do all the OWL posts – and appreciate the time and thought it takes to prepare these. Thanks!

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