By: Taylor Abbey
Have we been wrong about one of the most famous video game characters?
For generations, philosophers have discussed what exactly makes us human: the grit, the soul, our awareness of death; the list goes on. Even scientists have cracked down on the unique social, physical, emotional, and biological traits we possess that differentiate us from other mammals. Now with this in mind, it’s clear that there are obvious criteria that have to be met in order to be seen as “human”—criteria I have never questioned for a second. “Of course,” I thought. “Any organism that has these certain traits is surely human!” Plain and simple. I accepted it as a universal truth.
Until I played Super Mario Odyssey.
As a Nintendo fanatic, I was eager to get my hands on the newest installment in the Mario franchise. After months of relishing the promotional gameplay leading up to the game’s release in late October of last year, I was finally able to nab a copy. At first, everything was pretty standard. I was exploring different kingdoms, collecting moons, fighting evil villains—the whole shebang. However, one kingdom in particular threw me in for a loop: the Metro Kingdom. Also known as New Donk City, this kingdom is a vast and vibrant metropolis which seemed weirdly out of place considering the franchise’s long history of not being too grounded in reality. Regardless, I ventured onwards, ready to advance further into the story.
As I was just starting to embark on my journey, my eyes noticed something peculiar. Staring at my TV dumbfounded, a feeling of unease engulfed me; I was faced with an eerie sight. I was greeted with a tall, humanoid figure adorned in a dark grey suit and fedora standing within close proximity to Mario. My eyes darted back and forth, trying to grasp why two supposedly human characters looked so different. They both had similar features, but the contrast between the two was apparent. The figure was significantly taller and more closely resembled what actual humans look like; his proportions were perfect. Then there was Mario with his enormous cranium, disproportionately large eyes, and bulbous nose. My mind was sent into a frenzy. If the civilians of New Donk City were designed in such an anatomically correct way, does this mean Mario is not human? Was this purposeful? Are the game developers trying to imply that we are not a part of the same genus as the beloved plumber?
Equipped with my unwavering curiosity on the topic, I set out to answer the question of the century: Is Mario actually human? Since the release of the first Mario game in 1983, it’s always been assumed that Mario was, in fact, a human being. I mean, why wouldn’t he be? Even Super Mario Odyssey director Kenta Motokura claims that Mario is human. In an interview with Waypoint, Motokura was asked why Mario was so different compared to other “humans” within the game, to which Motokura responded with, “In the world, there are many different types of people, you know.”
You would think that the director’s answer would put this question to rest. However, based on what I had seen, I wasn’t convinced. You can’t possibly chalk Mario up to just a “different type of person.” In order to get to the bottom of this, I asked my family, friends, and peers to give insight into what they considered “human.” Almost all of my interviewees commented on different aspects of our anatomy that separate us from most other species. We’re bipedal, have opposable thumbs, are able to speak and sing, etc. However, upon asking my mom for her personal take on the question, she commented on how our cognitive capabilities are far more complex when compared to other species. “Our brains are way more intricate,” she said, “The way we’re able to sympathize with others, feel happy, sad. I imagine that we are probably the most expressive organism.”
Reflecting on Mario games from both the past and present, it’s apparent that Mario has exhibited some of the emotional capabilities my mom mentioned. In-game evidence shows that Mario clearly feels determination as well as feelings of despair, joy, etc. However, in an interview with junior Jacob Lau, he highlighted a handful of characteristics Mario has that are not rooted in human nature in the slightest. For instance, Mario’s height is able to rapidly increase in a matter of seconds by consuming mysterious mushrooms, he mercilessly stomps on tiny creatures with seemingly no remorse, and he’s able to acquire certain abilities based off of the things he consumes off of the ground (i.e. flowers that allow him to shoot fireballs at will, leaves that enable him to fly, etc). With this in mind, It seemed as though I hit a dead end. I simply couldn’t decide whether or not Mario could be considered a human being. Perhaps the Mario universe has different subspecies of humans? Is it possible the civilians of New Donk City aren’t even human? Truly, I don’t know if I’m the one worthy of cracking this case.
In the end, Mario’s humanity may continue to be shrouded in mystery for generations to come. The societal influence of this pesky plumber is profound, yet with every new game released he becomes more and more mysterious. It’s possible that at some point in our evolutionary lineage, one of our early ancestors diverged on a new evolutionary path which would soon develop into present day Mario. We may never know. Now, I pass the question on to you, dear reader: this beloved character has grown with us, but is he one of us?