Super Mario : The Quest for Authenticity

Research output: Conference Papers (RGC: 31A, 31B, 32, 33)33_Other conference paper

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Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPresented - 21 May 2015


TitleReplaying Japan 2015 Conference
Period21 - 23 May 2015


In this paper we present an existential philosophy -informed close-playing of Super Mario Bros. (Nintendo 1985), the iconic game for NES platform and for game culture in general. Super Mario Bros. is often referred to as ”the pinnacle of pure, unblemished gaming […] [which] still remains in our minds the most intuitive and addictive entry in the genre” (“Super Mario Bros. (Wii)” 2015) since it can cater to wide audiences with different levels of skill. It affords the right amount of challenge to a child playing it for the first time, as well as to a speedrun virtuoso. Perhaps this is one of the qualities behind the iconic status of the game, something that sets the original game apart from the number of clones and variations that have been released over the past three decades. In this paper, we seek to articulate this particular quality in Super Mario Bros and the assumed absence of the same in related games, as an affordance of authentic gameplay. From existentialist literature (e.g. Heidegger 2008; Sartre 2003; Guignon 2008) we derive the idea of ’authentic’ play, which we then apply in the analysis of the original game, and a number of clones, variants, and derivatives (e.g. Kaizo Mario (see Wilson and Sicart 2010), Tuper Tario Tros. (Swing Swing Submarine 2009), The Great Giana Sisters (Time Warp Productions 1987), Super Mario Clouds (Arcangel 2002), etc.). Authentic gameplay is here understood as the self-realization of a game player in a game which is constantly corrupting or influencing this game player and thereby disturbing her project of self-realization. E.g. if a player wishes to be a flâneur (see Benjamin 1999) and merely watch the clouds in Super Mario Bros. she can only do so against the resistance of the game i.e. Goombas, Troopas, etc. who threaten to kill the main character of the game. Building on existing research in philosophy of computer games related to the idea of ’authentic gameplay’ (Crogan 2011; Leino 2012; 2014; Möring 2014; Vella 2014), we will compare Super Mario Bros. and the related games in order to uncover the extent to which these games afford ’authentic’ gameplay in the first place, and describe the material conditions which give rise to these affordances. We hypothesize further that these derivatives and clones are existential extensions of the original game which help clarifying ideas about authentic gameplay than are only present implicitly in the original game. Our analysis will put a special emphasis on Cory Arcangel’s artwork Super Mario Clouds, which is a modification of the original NES Super Mario cartridge – a version of the game from which everything, except the clouds, has been removed. Super Mario Clouds is considered an extreme outlier case, an imaginary ”limit-idea” (cf. Ihde 1990), representing an utopia of what Super Mario Bros would be like to an extremely and impossibly skillful player for whom the game represents absolutely no challenge.

Citation Format(s)

Super Mario : The Quest for Authenticity. / LEINO, Olli Tapio; MOERING, Sebastian.

2015. 29-32 Replaying Japan 2015 Conference, Kyoto, Japan.

Research output: Conference Papers (RGC: 31A, 31B, 32, 33)33_Other conference paper