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Oh no! Can it be? The Mario universe is not as happy-go-lucky and child-friendly as you had always thought? Has the world gone topsy-turvy? Well, no. It's always been like this; it’s just that Mario is a sneaky enough bastard to have covered his tracks and managed PR such that everything is always, well, peachy. However, your buddy Major General Panic is here to help you navigate the Stygian waters of this subject. Let’s get started!

The “Good” Old Days

Our first introduction to Mario came in the form of Donkey Kong, when Mario was living in Brooklyn as a simple plumber. Or was he? In Donkey Kong, Mario owns a pet gorilla, who eventually…

What? Mario is living in Brooklyn in 1981. The current average salary for a plumber living in New York City ranges from $30,000 - $60,000 a year. Obviously, Mario could not have afforded a gorilla — so something funny must be going on here. He is either a thief, starving Donkey Kong to death, or a member of the Mafia just posing as a plumber. Putting aside for now the fact that Mario has obviously had his media contacts smooth over the situation for him, there’s still the often-overlooked matter of the story behind Donkey Kong.

The actual story is this: Mario owns Donkey Kong as a pet, or companion, or what-have-you. Disregarding the fact that an adult male gorilla is about as intelligent and emotionally complex as a human 5-year-old (which is to say, reasonably so), Mario treats Donkey Kong extremely poorly. He makes the poor gorilla perform all manner of outrageous chores, imprisons him in a small cage (a cost-cutting measure, perhaps?) and routinely beats him (I'm not inventing this!). Donkey Kong cannot deal with this, and he lashes out in a way he thinks will greatly hurt his captor, which is to kidnap Mario’s girlfriend and try to escape with her. Escaping through a city not meant for him, in a world which considers him little more than a novelty, he flees into a construction site, where Mario chases him to the top of a partially-complete building, there planning to perhaps smash Donkey Kong’s head in with a hammer.

We know that Donkey Kong escapes; he lives long enough to return to the jungle and sire a family. But the emotional scarring is apparent to anybody who has played the Donkey Kong Country games: he has little left to live for other than reminisce about the old days — which he has apparently been twisted by psychic abuse into feeling fondly about — and verbally abuse his family and friends. The problem grows to the point where his family cannot live with him any more — even his own wife is never seen in the same house as him, and is driven into an early grave by the time Donkey Kong 64 is released. The original Donkey Kong’s son, Donkey Kong Junior, was so hurt by having to rescue his father while still a baby that he has never spoken since, despite his family’s ability to speak in well-reasoned English. This is Mario’s legacy to the Kong family.

The Super Mario Brothers?

Around this time, we are also introduced to Mario’s younger brother, Luigi. Despite being in better physical shape and slightly smarter than his brother, Luigi is constantly abused and battered in a vicious circle of a relationship. In a TV commercial* for Mario Brothers, Luigi is being savaged by all manner of monsters escaping from pipes, without any help from his brother. His last words at the end of the commercial before being dragged off by a hideous clawed monster are “Mario, where are you?!

And where, indeed is Mario? Why, in search of profit, of course. The point of the game is to best your brother while you kill a variety of creatures in an attempt to be paid by some sort of payment authority which sees fit to disperse salaries by dropping coins through sewer pipes. Players are given the ability to leap onto their brother’s head to slow him down and smash the “POW” block, which temporarily immobilizes both enemies and siblings.

And the pattern continues — Luigi is either a clone of Mario or some other form of Mario derivative in nearly every single game that they appear in. In many games, Luigi is simply Mario wearing different colors, or a slightly distorted version of Mario. And he is nearly always relegated to the secondary player automatically instead of being presented as a choice that players should debate and consider.

When Luigi does not appear as a playable character in a game (which is inevitably the outcome in most single-player Mario games, even those with multiple playable characters), he does not serve any sort of respectable role at all. Perhaps he appears only in the instruction booklet, and provides you with a few hints before disappearing for the remainder of your experience with that game. Perhaps he shows up every now and then as comic relief, and his stories, which he eagerly relates (and which are no less interesting or ridiculous than Mario’s) are fit for nothing more than a fine opportunity for Mario and his friends to doze off. We are not encouraged to respect Luigi at all.

Even when he does appear in a playable role, Luigi is given the short end of all available sticks. Perhaps he only appears if you’re the Second Player. Perhaps he’s identical to Mario, but Mario is the default — and why bother switching to an identical character with nothing to offer but more annoying voice samples?

Mario and Women

Most players can name for you Mario’s girlfriend. But…are they correct? In most Mario games, there’s a hot ‘n steamy implied relationship between Mario and Princess “Peach” Toadstool. However, Mario’s had more than his share of princesses waiting in castles at the end of the day.

Let’s look back to Donkey Kong: in this game, we’re dealing with Pauline, who must be Mario’s live-in girlfriend, or at least visit often enough for Donkey Kong to get the idea of stealing her when he escapes. Pauline disappears forever once Mario makes it to the Mushroom Kingdom, and if he feels bad at all about leaving him behind her, he doesn’t really show it: almost as soon as he arrives in the Mushroom Kingdom, he’s off searching for Princess Toadstool. And in those games where he does manage to return to New York, does he look up Pauline, try to console her, explain that he’s been out of his head on mushrooms for the past 10-20 years or so? No, of course not! She’s ancient history!

By the way, even once Mario “escapes” from Pauline, he still isn’t satisfied with what he’s got: in Super Mario Land, Mario is hunting for Princess Daisy of Sarasaland. And he isn’t just there to rescue her from evil aliens, oh no. He’s there to take her as his lover. This is, of course, evidenced by the hearts that he starts spouting out his head whenever he thinks that he’s found her. These are not the actions of a man looking for somebody to play Backgammon with. These are the actions of a man with lust in his heart. And of course, once the game is completed, Mario and Daisy bundle into Mario’s rocket (oppressive phallic imagery, anybody?) and speed off into the sunset, presumably there to screw like crazed weasels.

And Peach! Does Mario care about her at all? Other than the fact that she’s heir to lots of money, and willing to do just about anything for Mario, he seems to feel that she’s worth little. After all, does Mario do anything to King Koopa about the seven half-turtle, half-human bastard children that Koopa got from the Princess? No, of course not. Once he’s gotten past Koopa, he cares about nothing beyond getting Toadstool back to her castle so that he can get his hero’s rewards. And about the children: I don’t even want to think about how they came into this world. Were they laid as eggs? Was Toadstool imprisoned for nine whole months before Mario bothered coming around to rescue her? Why does Mario never help out the Princess by testifying in court that the kids were the result of rape and are most certainly not his? I’ll give you a clue: he doesn’t really care about her.

The women of Mario games do return, but almost always as secondary, cutesy characters in side games. Outside of Mario’s sports games, how many times have we seen Daisy or Toadstool as playable characters? Twice? Maybe? And when was the last time that Pauline made any sort of appearance, playable or not? I’m pretty sure that she hasn’t been seen since the 1994 remake of Donkey Kong, and that outside of a gimmick of some sort, she will never appear again. Deep digging will also produce a few more scary nuggets, although I’ll just give you one. It’s hinted towards the end of one of Mario’s newer adventures that he managed, at some point during the game, to impregnate a Goomba with a huge crush on him. She can’t tell anybody, though — Mario has probably explained to her what happens to little Goombas who tell.

Mario’s Worst Enemy

In Super Mario Land 2, we are introduced to the bad guy to beat all bad guys — Wario. He has all of Mario’s abilities, except that he’s quite evil. While Mario is away chasing after Daisy, Wario has taken over Mario’s castle (where did he get a castle from? extorted from a Princess, no doubt) and generally made a nuisance of himself. Mario must therefore put on his hero hat again and kick Wario’s ass. And good thing, too: Wario is evil!

Or is he? In the Mario Vs. Wario comics that ran for a short time in Nintendo Power Magazine (which is Nintendo’s magazine, so it must be official canon), there was another explanation posited. Mario and Wario were the best of friends as children. However, Mario had a nasty habit of treating Wario poorly. Very poorly. He made Wario be the villain in their games as children every single time except one — and used that one time as an opportunity to mock Wario’s nose. Wario never really gets over this, and spends the rest of his life attempting to compensate.

His first act is to take over Mario’s castle, of course, but it does not end there. He has managed to become one of Nintendo’s recurring heroes, but a very flawed one. He has no aspirations but to acquire money in a futile attempt to show up Mario. Nearly every one of his games has as the goal to acquire as much money as possible. In Wario Land, the ending of the game shows Wario being presented with a domicile of some sort. The one that he gets is entirely related to how much money he managed to acquire in the course of the game, leading us to think that all he wants to do is show up Mario’s castle. The next Wario Land has him going to extraordinary lengths to keep his castle. The first game also features an interesting twist at the end: after beating the final boss, Wario discovers a gigantic golden statue. Rejoicing at his good fortune, he is cut short only to watch powerlessly as Mario flies by in his airplane, waves cheekily at the camera, and steals the statue using a giant magnet. Is Mario seeking revenge, or just continuing his campaign of hurting his best friend?

Wario can do almost nothing with his life except fill it with hollow attempts to improve his self-esteem. He has become an egoist of the first sort: when he managed to off the Magikoopa and become a driver in the Mario Kart Grand Prix, his arena was filled with cameras which could display him from a number of angles, as well as having his face plastered over every available surface.

This is not to mention the Wario Ware Inc. games, where Wario, upon learning that video games are selling well (a not-so-subtle tip of the hat to the popularity of Mario games), decides to make one of his own and become rich. The game is incredible: the minigames are amongst the best thought-out, most intuitive games I’ve seen in a long time, the humor is great, the graphics are perfect for each game, and the game is obviously not to be taken seriously. I say, why not? Why shouldn’t Wario get some genuine time in the spotlight for once?

Cruelty to Animals, part II

It seems like a good enough time to talk about some of Mario’s other animal friends. Let’s start with Super Mario World. In this game, we’re introduced to Yoshi, who implores Mario to help him rescue his friends. This Mario does. However, there is no point from then on that a Yoshi is seen without a saddle. This cannot be the result of natural selection. There is no evolutionary advantage to having a saddle in a world of dinosaurs. Yoshis are forced into this in order to serve Mario and, to a lesser extent, Luigi. And they serve willingly. Why? Because they’re stupid. And Mario likes it that way.

Apparently they’re so stupid that in order to get them to use their fantastic ability to eat things (and Mario doesn’t care what they eat) they need to be punched. Take a good close look the next time you play Super Mario World: Mario punches the Yoshis in order to get them to eat things. He treats them poorly, and never helps them out when they need it. In Yoshi’s Story, all of the adult Yoshis (to whom Mario owes his life: see Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island) are kidnapped. The baby Yoshis must go rescue them. Where is Mario, offering his support? Probably off chasing some new Princess.

Other animals are abused constantly throughout Mario games. Still in Super Mario World, dolphins are friendly and helpful. So Mario leaps from dolphin back to dolphin back in order to get where he’s going. Never mind the fact that dolphins are intelligent enough to be hurt by what Mario is doing — he has a princess to impregnate! There are dozens of other animals of all shapes and sizes throughout Mario games, just begging to be blown up, decapitated, or stolen back from their mothers and thrown off cliffs. It’s all in a day’s work for Mario. No wonder the monkeys in Super Mario World 2 try to steal and eat him.

Concluding Thoughts

There’s not much more to say. Mario is a ravening monster who consumes everything in his path in order to get what he wants. He’ll use anybody, destroy anything, and eat people out of house and home in order to accomplish whatever he currently has his eye on. He has no social graces, and is never at all grateful for what people do for him: the ending of Super Mario 64 consists of the credits rolling while Mario beats the Princess until she bakes him the cake she promised. (The beating is my speculation. But it’s certainly not out of character.)

The real evil of all of this is that a happy face is put on all of it. Whenever Mario treats people badly, it’s either glossed over or made to look like a silly joke. We never deal with the deep psychic trauma that Mario has caused to almost everybody with whom he comes into contact. We never see Wario crying himself to sleep, we never see the Princess finding out that she’s pregnant again (and being forced to take massive amounts of medication from Dr. Mario), we never see the Yoshis struggling to remove their rib-crushingly tight saddles with arms that just don’t reach, and we certainly never see Luigi struggling to find a way to come out of the closet that won’t result in an impromptu game of Smear the Queer 64. How does Nintendo get away with this? How does nobody notice? I guess it’s just a game.

Source: http://www.salary.com (for estimating Mario's salary)

As a side note, if anybody could help me find a source for estimating the initial cost and yearly upkeep associated with owning a gorilla, I will be Eternally Grateful.

For further reading on bizarro interpretations of the Mario universe (as well as some shameful nodevertising) check out Super Mario Brothers: The Movie.

* I actually have this clip on my computer, if you're interested.