We have all experienced it before. If not personally than through a detailed account from a friend. The kind of experience I am talking about is that of playing “Super Mario Brothers.” Released on the Nintendo Entertainment System in September of 1985, it has since been ported and pirated by corporations and consumers for decades. The design and story that Shigeru Miyamoto and Takashi Tezuka layout for the player is quite astounding. The learning process which one undertakes is seemingly an unconscious one. There is no text explaining what to do, merely context clues as for how to progress in the game. This reliance on design to teach the player how to play creates an environment for a total ideological brainwash. Both Miyamoto and Tezuka present their cultural theory through a Marxist lens in their groundbreaking design of “Super Mario Bros.”
Thematic patterns within a game’s design can let the player in on the sacred ideologies bestowed upon it by the developers. From Mario’s perspective, within the game, he is given three lives. Three exact copies of himself to make a total of three mistakes on his way to rescue the princess. On his journey, he will cross checkpoints so even if he does make a mistake, he will not have to return to the beginning of his adventure. This particular piece of design highlights the working class’ alienation from their own livelihood. None of the three lives could ever hope to see themselves grow from nothing and finally achieve the fruits of their labor. Instead, they are an assembly line of workers who only see mere fragments of an adventure out of context. The alienation that each of these Mario’s suffer is immeasurable. Of course, if the player is good enough then they can beat the game with just one life. However, it has been statistically proven that this is only achievable by the top two percent of “Super Mario Bros.” players. In fact, there has been a growing divide between casual and elite gaming classes since the title’s release.
Another important aspect of the game’s design is how the game utilizes its multiplayer function. Player One controls Mario and Player Two controls Luigi, his younger brother. One would hope that both characters could be in play simultaneously and cooperate to complete the game. However, it is not so simple. Instead, each player merely takes their turn until they make a mistake and lose a life. The two are forced into a bitter competition rather than a prosperous cooperation. According to the second chapter of “The Communist Manifesto,” the foundation of the bourgeois family (i.e. King Koopa and his army) is “capital, or private gain” and that “this state of things finds its complement in the practical absence of family among the proletarians, and in public prostitution.” There is no doubt in my mind that Mario and Luigi represent the plight of the working class family. They are brothers pitted against one another in King Koopa’s capitalist Mushroom Kingdom.
Miyamoto and Tezuka were clearly working with grand and even great ideas when they were developing this title. Up until that point, there had been no hardware that came near to the capabilities of the NES. The possibilities were endless. The hardworking cultural theorists and game designers at Nintendo pushed the hardware to its absolute limit with this title. Now, millions have been indoctrinated with a Marxist historical framework because of this little plumber man and his task of conquering capitalism.