1988: Super Mario Bros. 3 (Gaming in Film and Television)

InfernalMage “The following is a contributor column by The Infernal Accountant Mage.”

People who play video games have been shaped and affected by the popular perception of that medium. As I mentioned in a previous entry, I’ve been playing games since I was capable of conscious thought. I’ve grown up with this; it is an indelible part of who I am. The popular perception of video games and “gamers,” then, applies to me and always has; the scare quotes signify that it’s a term that I don’t really care for, as I may have mentioned in previous columns, but it’s the most appropriate term for the concept.

To be fair, that’s less obvious today than it was years ago. It didn’t take young adult me long to realize that gaming isn’t something you want to be associated with if you plan to get ahead in life. I learned to keep my hobby to myself. I learned to avoid taking handhelds on public transportation – you’re allowed to game on a cell phone, but busting out a 3DS immediately marks you as a “gamer.” I learned that video games were something I shouldn’t mention on the first date…or the third date…or even the fifth date in some cases. I cleaned up the living room of my apartment and moved most of the consoles to a back room; it’s okay to have an Xbox sitting around and visible, but you probably don’t want an Xbox, PS3 and Wii on display the first time someone comes over so I left that back room closed.

Eventually, if friends and romantic pursuits showed interest of their own accord, I’d start to open up about the hobby a little, but the depths of my passion for gaming were something I kept to myself, close friends and long-term relationships.

Why did I feel the need to go so far to conceal something I love so much? Because I was ashamed of it and aware that people look down on the hobby and those involved in it. What was the value of hiding this? Because by hiding it, I was improving the chances that I’d be seen and addressed as a person rather than a “gamer.” Most importantly, and the actual issue I’m interested in today: how are we taught to look at video games and the people who play them?

For the record, I don’t intend for this to be a series where I search for sources and dig up examples of every claim that I make. In this case, I don’t think that’s necessary. Look at the way mainstream media handles video games and I think it’ll largely speak for itself. Through what I imagine was a combination of licensing issues and simple ignorance of the subject matter, growing up I always saw my hobby portrayed via joystick-centric consoles that played what looked and sounded like a takeoff of Space Invaders; note that I was born in 1986 and wasn’t really old enough to comprehend what I was saying until a few years later, so this is around the early to mid 1990s. This wasn’t an isolated portrayal, either, and video games in general were handled this way until fairly recently where the generic game of choice has shifted from Space Invaders to Call of Duty.

More relevant to this discussion is the way that the people who play games themselves were portrayed. In the eyes of the mainstream, when we talk about those people we talk about an archetype: the Manchild.

The Manchild is male, white, cis, straight, probably in their late teens to mid-twenties today (though ten to twenty years ago it was rare you’d ever see anyone but a child portrayed playing a video game.) They’re socially awkward, they’re rife with hygiene problems and they don’t know how to interact with the opposite sex. They are very likely unemployed and even more likely to live with their parents. As the medium has matured and the mainstream has grown more accustomed to it, the common portrayal of the Manchild began to include anger issues to further represent a disconnection from the world at large and to cement their status as an undesirable. The Manchild is, in short, an iconic example of failure in the eyes of society; they have failed to contribute or even so much as fit in. They are lazy, slovenly and angry. They are What Is Wrong With Kids Today. By association, directly or indirectly, their failure is attributed to video games.

This isn’t to say that the Manchild is a myth. He exists. There’s a little bit of the Manchild in a lot of people in “geek culture;” there’s a lot of him in others. The incessant pedantry and negativity that defines “gamer” communities is a mark of the Manchild. “Well actually” is the Manchild’s mating call, perhaps, which may explain why he doesn’t mate, and “gamer culture” at large lopes from one manufactured outrage to the next, howling obscenities and slurs all the while. Hygiene problems, awkwardness and difficulty with social interaction are stereotypes for a reason; one trip to a gaming convention or business conference will make that fragrantly clear. Further, to deny that bigotry and exclusion are hallmarks of many gaming communities is to be willfully blind; this is so entrenched that it makes up a significant reason I don’t identify with the hobby.

As a young man who’s passionate about video games, then, this is what you are contending with in the eyes of your peers. The moment it becomes clear that you’re a “gamer” – again, I’m loath to use the term because of the connotations associated with it and it’s not a term I use to refer to myself – it’s almost inevitable that you will be conflated in their eyes with the Manchild, because video games and the Manchild are inextricably related in the eyes of the mainstream. The stereotype and the reality build on one another; how many people came into a gaming community expecting a welcoming cadre of fellow fans and were then pushed out by negativity, sexism or bigotry? During my first-ever match of an online game in little-known RTS NetStorm: Islands at War, 11-year-old me was cursed out and berated by an angry allied player after I dared to discuss strategy. This was my first interaction with “gamer culture.” What does that say?

Even today in 2018, you are far better served keeping this particular interest to yourself if you want to be taken seriously. Save your passion for the Internet and, if you’re lucky, the close friends who share it. Nobody wants to date a Manchild, after all; they’re unattractive and lack hygiene. Nobody wants to hire one; they’re lazy and have anger issues. You are doing well in life if people are surprised when they discover that you’re into video games. Understand what they expect you to be and then defy those expectations by distancing yourself from them.

This has been the case for my entire life, and I can look back and think of multiple occasions where I’d have been better served by just keeping my mouth shut about video games; in fact, I think they consist of the vast majority of times where the topic came up at all. Regardless, video games have, in my experience, been a topic that’s better left undiscussed, and passion for other topics – I gravitated to independent film, for instance, eventually developing a love for the festival circuit – tends to be far better received. I was fortunate to learn early on that, rather than “gamers,” my time spent gaming was best spent with friends, and that when we went out video game discussion would be off the table.

In any case, that’s not to say that every portrayal of games in the media belied such distaste. With that, we finally arrive at our actual topic: Super Mario Bros. 3, released in Japan in 1988. Much has been made of the excellence of Super Mario Bros. 3 and there is little I can add to that body of work. Instead, I’d like to talk about The Wizard.

The Wizard was a 1989 film that’s beloved by “gamers” of a certain age for doing a better job of representing video games as they actually were. It follows several kids who go on an adventure to a video game tournament, tying in themes about family, loss and grief and blah blah something or another. I wasn’t interested in the plot and I’m told it’s a bit hackneyed so I wasn’t missing much. No, I was interested in Super Mario Bros. 3, which is portrayed for a few glorious minutes toward the end of the film and which wasn’t released in American territories until late 1989.

Here was a film I was watching with my parents that actually showcased a video game. A real video game. The character playing Super Mario Bros. 3 in the film even showcases a level-skipping trick of the sort that I loved in the games I owned, a trick that would prove to remain effective once I had my own copy. This was still a 1989 children’s film about video games, so it was still enormously condescending toward the topic, but even despite this gaming was treated with a shocking level of decency and accuracy. The fact remained that I was able to go to a film, see an actual video game (not Generic Invaders) on the silver screen and not have the whole affair slathered with implied shame and the stink of failure.

That wasn’t common back then. It’s still uncommon even today. The Manchild has grown and changed his sweat-patched T-shirt, but he’s still the poster child for video games. He used to sit glaze-eyed in front of a television, joystick in hand, rotting his brain as we were all told video games were wont to do. Years later he wasted his life on MMORPGs, barricading himself in his room and only opening the door when Mom called for dinner. Today he sits in front of a monitor or television, Xbox controller in hand, screaming in fury at invisible opponents over the Internet. His looks are different (his weight is not) but what he represents hasn’t changed. He’s still what you don’t want to be. He’s still what you’ll become if you spend too much time with video games.

He is, in the eyes of the mainstream, me. My education, my career, my relationships and the long and twisted path that’s brought me here would be washed away by the pit-stink of the Manchild and the stain he’s left on the hobby. That’s an association with tangible consequences that I consciously work to avoid. When I started college, moved out of my parents’ house, got my first job, began dating, learned to exist in the world around me rather than assuming my presence would be a bother…on some level, each victory, no matter how small in retrospect, was a step away from the Manchild. The Manchild is a template for the kind of person I strive not to be. Angry; ostracized; impotent.

 

The Infernal Accountant Mage believes the pen is mightier than the sword…well, depending on how sharp the pen and sword are. A child of the ’90s and a prolific writer, he strews his work about like Legos made of words, just waiting for your brain to step on them. He enjoys a devilish challenge, so when it comes to talking about some of the more difficult games out there, you might just run into the Infernal Accountant Mage. Some advice: hold on to your soul around this guy, and don’t sign anything. Read more at popzara.com

 

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9 thoughts on “1988: Super Mario Bros. 3 (Gaming in Film and Television)

  1. You are an incredible writer – you consistently put up articles that resonate with someone who identifies as a casual gamer at best.

    This reminds me of when I went to university to study film. Horror has always been my preferred genre, and it was okay to like Argento or Bava or something that had an exotic feel to it. Mentioning my love of 80s slashers usually opened up a disconnect with most of the other students. I didn’t help matters with my attitude that hardly any of them had more than a cursory interest in film before it became hip (and it was time to choose a major). Everyone’s favorite film was Fight Club, Goodfellas, or Pulp Fiction. All fine movies, sure…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for the kind words! This is one of the first times I’ve written something personal like this, so I appreciate that it’s being appreciated. 🙂

      I studied film as part of my college studies as well, and I think we share a particular taste for horror. The film that really opened my eyes to the magic of cinema was Last Year at Marienbad…but one of the first I went to see by myself at a festival for the love of the medium (rather than as a social event) was a surreal indie horror film from 2011 called The Oregonian. It was absolutely riveting, terrifying in a way that clung to you. It struck me in a manner few films had before. At that point I was hooked. 2014’s The Babadook and 2012’s Thanatamorphose were both sticky in a similar fashion and I can’t recommend them enough, though given your familiarity with the genre you’ve probably seen them already!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This post makes me sad to read, because becoming “The Manchild” is by no means a certainty if you immerse yourself in the hobby of gaming — no more than it is for becoming a cinephile, or a petrolhead, or a bookworm, or whatever.

    Sure, as you say, there are people out there who exemplify the very worst of what humanity has to offer… but as initiatives like the recent #GamersAreGood hashtag on Twitter have demonstrated, gaming also has the opportunity to bring people together, better understand one another and share wonderful experiences. (Ironically, the only ones trying to disrupt this hashtag were the ones trying to perpetuate the idea of The Manchild rather than engaging with the people sharing their positive stories.)

    For just one example, while I’m not an active player now, Final Fantasy XIV provided me with some much-needed emotional support throughout some tough times in my life thanks to the people I played with. Hell, I proposed to my wife during our in-game wedding ceremony, a moment that one of my guildmates had the foresight to capture on video. My wife still plays regularly and, this week, is spending time in real life with some friends she’s made in the game.

    Games have a great amount of value, both to individuals and to society as a whole. They provide much-needed escapism, provide a means to explore fantasies safely, and in some cases can even help people come to terms with aspects of their life — either literally through exploring these things through their narratives, or in a more abstract form by providing them the opportunity to connect with others or share experiences.

    It’s a difficult time for the hobby at present, however, because it feels like it’s under constant attack even from the people in the commercial games press who are supposed to be advocating for and celebrating it. And part of that line of attack is playing up the “manchild” aspect — which, of course, makes people defensive and, yes, angry. Anger leads to clicks, so this is a never-ending process, unfortunately.

    No-one is denying that there are plenty of online communities that are toxic and unpleasant to be part of — mostly centred around popular games such as GTA, Call of Duty and the like — but for every collection of garbage assholes like that, there are many, many more groups who love their hobby, and love any opportunity to introduce it to new people.

    Those latter groups are what we should be celebrating and drawing attention to. There’s no reason to consider gaming to be a negative thing or something to be ashamed of these days, with how broad it is as a medium. Let the trolls fester in their swamps, and instead take the time to celebrate those who love their hobby — and, of course, the things they love.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Pete! Apologies for the long response 🙂

      I write these posts far in advance of their publication, so the hashtag you mention wasn’t a thing when I was originally working on this. It did lead me to make some additions, though – namely to point out that the community at large does have serious, entrenched issues and that I’m not trying to pretend they aren’t there when I talk about this. The hashtag, to me, somewhat misses the point; it doesn’t matter how good gamers may or may not be when you go into a PUBG lobby and get immediately bombarded with slurs, when the faces of “consumer empowerment” lead the community in a neverending crusade of outrage and when harassment and death threats are a serious and present issue.

      My initial reaction when the contemporary trend in commercial games media was defensive. How dare they attribute this hate to someone who’s never engaged in hit? How dare they paint me with this brush? Over time, though, I came to realize that it wasn’t the “video game community” that was good to me – in fact, it was usually pretty terrible to me, just like it’s terrible to a whole lot of people. I’ve received nasty messages, death threats and abuse in a hobby that I often gravitated to as a sanctuary from the abuse I was receiving in reality, and that’s even with being lucky enough to be part of a demographic that the “community’ finds acceptable.

      I hold no particular love for the gaming community at large, in other words – it’s the friends I’ve made that stay close to my heart. It’s my tiny, private Discord server full of like-minded individuals who can wryly comment on the industry just as quickly as we can share what’s going on in our lives that matters to me. I’ve met some of these people. I’ve had long-term relationships with people I met playing video games. It’s these specific people who mean something to me, not the bile coming from the zeitgeist.

      The defining event for me is one I plan to write about in detail in a much, much later column: I write for another website where I work with PR, receive game codes and review games. I am, in other words, one of those much-despised “games journalists.” Back in the day I had a favorite game store that would sometimes sell games a little ahead of street date, and one day I made the mistake of reviewing a game I had bought from there a little ahead of its release. I ended up absolutely mobbed by angry YouTubers eager to defend the game’s “embargo” – a non-binding agreement that I had never even received in the first place. These were people who, to hear them tell it, were the face of the gaming community fighting for “ethics”…and they were taking their marching orders from PR, flinging abuse and threats and doxxing whomever they disagreed with without even being paid for it. All over some potentially lost views.

      And this is such a minor incident. Writers for larger sites receive abuse that makes this look like a mosquito bite on a daily basis. That is what “gamers” are today. The community no longer wants me and I’m all too happy to no longer consider myself part of it. I am someone who passionately plays games. I am certainly not a gamer.

      To touch on another thing you mentioned: what I see in commercial games media is, in part, a dying industry struggling to stay relevant in the face of YouTube and Twitch. Both are saturated with, as mentioned, a legion of yes-men-and-women who are more than willing to stay on message for an uncaring industry to the point of viciousness and who don’t even necessarily need to be compensated. It’s not possible to compete with that.

      However, I also see an earnest and desperate attempt at cleaning up the community’s image. I don’t think the hate-clicks and associated metrics hurt anyone’s feelings, but I also don’t think the pieces that upset people are being written solely to upset them. We cannot move past the Manchild if the first thing you hear when you go into an online lobby is a bunch of slurs. He’ll still be there for as long as women afraid to turn on their mics because they’ll suddenly become the center of unwanted attention. His acrid stench will hover over games until we can develop a respectful conversation with the industry rather than endlessly trying and failing to get our way by screaming obscenities. We have collectively decided that video games are art; now I’d like to appreciate this art without the other patrons of the museum threatening to disembowel my cat if I say I’m not interested in Monet.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. A good response, and one I agree with a lot of.

        I guess a lot of it is to do with the perspective from which you look at things, however.

        From where I sit, as someone completely uninterested in triple-A games and multiplayer experiences (which is where most if not all of the toxicity you describe tends to come from), gaming as a hobby is still wonderful, and something I’m both happy and proud to associate myself with.

        I’ve made a ton of friends through the games I enjoy, have people I love discussing things with and have had far more supportive messages than “hate mail” for the kind of things I tend to write about. I’ve had players, developers and publishers alike specifically thank me for covering their work respectfully, since it’s a given now that a low-to-mid-budget Japanese game simply won’t get taken seriously by the “big” sites out there.

        Because I don’t involve myself with the side of the community that errs on the side of obnoxious, hateful, whatever you want to call them… they don’t particularly bother me, because I find it easy enough to compartmentalise them away, completely separate from the things I enjoy.

        To put it another way, I tend to liken the experiences they’re into to “sports” rather than games; they’re completely different experiences in the virtual realm to the more “artistic” and “cultural” experiences I tend to engage with (to sound pretentious) and I’ve argued on a number of occasions that the word “games” really isn’t sufficient to describe the medium as a whole any more. The guy who plays Call of Duty every night and calls all his opponents racial slurs is, so far as I’m concerned, not even engaging in the same hobby as me. And thus I don’t really feel like I’m in a position to tell him what to do; I just choose not to engage. I don’t bother him, he doesn’t bother me.

        I understand where you’re coming from, though. The concept of the “gamer” as a whole isn’t a particularly helpful one any more, which is why it tends to smart so much when people who think (or know!) they are above the behaviour of the lowest common denominator get lumped in with the festering crap at the bottom of the pool. “Gamers are awful” tends to be the rallying cry of the self-professed “progressives”, who shout and cry and moan about everything without actually doing anything to make things better.

        Ah well. So long as you find a way to be able to enjoy the things you enjoy, there’s no need whatsoever to feel like you are part of a broader “identity”, I guess. As you say, it’s those smaller groups of friends and peers that are far more important than the overall “culture” from an individual perspective.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. You make a good point; my preferred genres are multiplayer-focused and I have a particular love for fighting games. I’ll be writing about this in the future, but I deeply value the personal growth and introspection that can come from gradually improving at a game, and fighting games in particular are a wonderful outlet for this. In few other genres is losing such a valuable experience, assuming you’re in the right mental state to take advantage of it.

          Not everyone sees it that way! You have not seen true anger until you beat certain people in a fighting game. Hilariously, more serious players can often be some of the nicest folks around; I had the good fortune of interviewing fighter guru David Sirlin at one point, which was a bit of a dream come true and led to a fantastic conversation about the genre. The random people you end up playing against, though, just might go ballistic.

          The unfortunate fact is that, both to society at large and to much of the hobbyist media, experiences like that are the rule rather than the exception. I’m in no place to doubt another’s lived experience; I don’t think quite so highly of myself as to tell someone that abuse or mistreatment didn’t happen, as we sometimes see when the topic comes up, and I know how long even a minor incident can attach itself to you after the fact. Beyond that, when someone calls another player a racial slur, sends a death threat or launches into a ten-page Reddit rant about how The Industry Is Screwing Them Again, the tragic fact is that this reflects on the hobby and on those who identify with the hobby.

          When you talk about the tendency toward saying that “gamers are awful” and other such statements, I can understand the frustration with the verbiage, but consider that we both just discussed situations in which gamers actually are awful. They behave in a particularly gross manner. It pushes people away and detracts from anyone who shares a space with them, as if the Manchild was rubbing his sweat-soaked pits on any unassuming bystanders. It makes people feel unwelcome who might otherwise come to love the hobby as we do and who might need the sanctuary it offers just as badly. That statement, then, is just taking things a step further than the point we both, in our own ways, made: “I’m not a ‘gamer’,” we say – we both said that we don’t identify with the kind of person who gives the hobby a bad name. “Because gamers are awful.” comes the conclusion that the statement adds. It’s finishing our sentence, that’s all.

          Still, it sounds like we’re on the same page for the most part. The end result of all this, I believe, is evident in the growing popularity of Discord and similar solutions; people who aren’t interested in being part of the cesspool anymore are becoming able to opt out of it. It’s increasingly possible to be part of a community of people who love games without being a “gamer.” That seems like a positive to me.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Having read through this really great conversation, I too think that I see both of your points and agree with both of you. I too distance myself from the “gamer” by not playing much online multiplayer or hanging out at Reddit. Monster Hunter World has been a unique experience for me in that regard.

            Then again, as a writer in the public sphere (if you can call it that), I’ve dealt with rather toxic remarks and comments from people who were offended because I was criticizing a certain game they must’ve somehow wrapped up their identity into. Which, to me, that’s a little sad but I empathize with it in that I’ve sometimes taken offense when someone criticizes something I like a lot by taking the criticism personally. But as it stands, that’s my exposure to toxic gamer culture, that and Twitter. The people I choose to surround myself with I think says a lot about the kind of attributes I cherish, and while some people may actually enjoy the company of toxicity, I agree with Infernal that the migration to Discord is demonstrative of the exodus away from that cultural identity.

            I just wanna talk about games with nice people. Put that on my epitaph.

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