December 4, 2013

Mario Galaxy 2 and the Lost Essence of Video Games

Playing through Super Mario 3D World really made me appreciate what makes a game good, which got me thinking about how fantastic the Super Mario Galaxy series is. Then I remembered a piece written by my good friend RaiderBear30 a few years back that was seemingly lost to the ages. Well, I found it. I think it's a great piece that really captures the meaning of what makes a quality gaming experience. I haven't been able to speak with my friend in almost a year, and I'd like to post this in honor of a recent birthday he had. It's too good to have been ripped from the clutches of the internet. Below the break, you will find the original article in its entirety. Here's to you, buddy!

The Lost Essence: Super Mario Galaxy 2
By RaiderBear30
Originally published 5/28/11

Imagination. Courage. Wonder. Love. Super Mario Galaxy 2 incorporates these real human feelings into a fictional world of sheer beauty, but the true genius of the game is how it revives the sense of child-hood amazement and fearlessness that modern gaming, and the modern world–from politics to business–has lost.

Do you remember your first gaming console? Better yet, close your eyes (no, not now, when you are done with the sentence!) and think back to your first game and the new sensations it opened up (okay, close them!). Recall the feeling of euphoria that swept over you as your heart and mind were carried, as if by the flowing rivers of Heaven, into mystical and unexplored lands. I remember the joy I had when I first saw a game console. I must have been five years old at a birthday party. The older children had a Super Nintendo and were playing Izzy’s Olympics, an old game based on the 1996 Atlantic Olympics. I’ll never forget what brought me into gaming: rage. I asked the kids what they were doing and if I could play. They mocked me and said if I didn’t know what it was I had no right to play. Then they had a good laugh, but I knew better. Rather than get angry or cry, I calmly told me dad what had happened. He walked over, saw the name of the console, and told me not to worry. We left the party but my mind never left the game console. Those colors and the thought of controlling a fuzzy blue man jumping over hurdles and killing enemies in Greece on his way to the Olympics enthralled me. Those kids lacked skill, I could tell, despite the fact that I had never picked up a game console before. Next week, on Easter Sunday, my parents gave me a fantastic gift that was truly a blessing from God. There it was, on the floor of my house when I got back from church, a Super Nintendo and a stack of games. Izzy’s Olympics was there, as was Super Mario All-Stars and Toy Story. I hugged my parents and my dad set up the system for me. I put in Toy Story–after all between that and the Lion King they were my favorite movies–and became a gamer. The sensations and emotions I felt on this momentous occasion were only repeated thrice in my gaming career: when I got an N64 for Christmas a few years later, finding Yoshi in Mario 64, and the final green star in Super Mario Galaxy 2. 

Whether or not you consider yourself a gamer, games are a part of us that define who we are. Like movies and books, they are works of art; like art, they are guides for living and commentaries on the nature of the world we inhabit. Games take you on a journey where the steps have been predetermined but you hold the sovereignty in how you reach that point. Mario Galaxy 2 takes this basic premise and, as it unfolds, creates a journey that has been lacking in games since the dawn of the Halo Era. The journey is simplistic: save the Princess. The means are simple: gather stars. The simplicity, however, is misleading because the simplicity of the story is folded in landscapes, challenges, and music that will appeal to gamers of any age. The last star in particular represents a hefty challenge, one that took me hours and pushed a hardened gaming veteran like myself to the edge. Especially rewarding was the fact that my little sister, who was the age I held when I first picked up a console, played the game with me and shared in my fascination, creating future memories of her own.

You might be wondering why I am rambling on about my memories. It is because Mario Galaxy 2 resurrects all those key values that gaming and humanity has lost. The game strips itself of modernity’s trappings while maintaining the levels of visual excellence gamers have come to expect. Games should not be about using the same guns to kill people over and over and over again. These games mechanize you rather than humanize you. Sure, Call of Duty Modern Warfare was fun, but it is no different from any other shooter I’ve ever played. Compare it to, say, the original GoldenEye. What made GoldenEye great was that it made you Bond. The action became secondary to the experience, rather than the murder being the experience. Even the original Halo stood out because of the experience it created, not because you killed aliens. Metal Gear Solid gave us one of gaming’s greatest characters, Snake, despite being a simple story of betrayal and death. The same elements infused Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Like these gaming giants, Mario Galaxy 2 does everything a game should do. It is pure. 

Mario has many lessons to teach us. We should aim for the stars to achieve our goals. We should push ourselves to the edge and worry not about the outcome but about the attempt. We should live fearless, even in the face of fire, dinosaurs, and hammer-throwing turtles. We should love the world for its beauty and wonder even though it might be filled with those, like the goombas, who are out to hurt others. We should grow stronger through our journeys, form fellowships with friends like Yoshi, the stars, and the Princesses. We must stay strong with our family; we may not like Luigi, but he’s always there for his brother Mario. Lastly, we must stay true to our hearts. The journey might change Mario, but the change consolidates and empowers his central character.

For all those who dismiss Mario Galaxy 2 as a child’s game and hail Red Dead Redemption and games like L.A. Noire as the true pinnacle of gaming, I lament what has become of you. The world has driven you away from the essence of childhood. There is more value in the joy of a child then the cynical snarl of a CEO reading his paycheck. Mario Galaxy 2 deserved not only Game of the Year, but even Game of the Decade for what it did to me and what it will do for gamers who give it a chance: it will remind them of what is important in life and give them a story they will never forget.

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