Mario as the Imitation of Nature: Video Games As Art

Throughout my extensive career and many travels, I have always made time to appreciate the art unique to the various corners of our world. As we continue to witness the earth flatten, technology has made art accessible now matter where you are in the world. A woman in Beirut can look at the Mona Lisa, or view Angkor Wat, all without leaving her home. She can then share that experience with others, no matter where they may be. Video games, a product of Globalization 3.0, allow us to share even deeper experiences and longer narratives across time and space, however, the way we engage with them remains very different from how we interact with traditional media forms. We don’t study Sonic the Hedgehog in the same way as Rodion Raskolnikov, Mario’s theme music the same way as The Phantom of the Opera, or The League the same way as League of Legends. Imagine, if you will, that every piece of media we engage with is a voice, trying to tell us something. We hear criticism of the monarchy in the Barber of Seville or an examination of obsession in Moby Dick. Truly great pieces of art speak to us both loudly and subtly, but when it comes to video games, Silent Hill is just that; silent.

This isnt to say though, that video games can’t become art, in fact, we need them to do so. We need the likes of Shigeru Miyamoto, Todd Howard, Josh Holmes, Hanzo Shimaeda, Reggie Fils-Amie, and Kaz Hirai to step up and initiate a fundamental change of video gaming culture. The 800 pound tie-wearing gorilla in the room is that our children grew up with games telling them to eat strange mushrooms and to shoot people to score points. Is it any wonder then, that we have epidemics of mass shootings and opioids? When all you have in your toolbox are guns and drugs, everything starts to look like a nail.

Thomas L. Friedman is the New York Times Best-selling author of Thank You For Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide To Thriving In The Age Of Accelerations


I’m just gonna leave these here.

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OK, but what if Mario had a gun?

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This a topic worth exploring .Would he use the gun? Who would he use it upon?

Mario would definitely use a gun. He has no qualms about literally crushing his enemies under his boots, and in fact whoops cheerfully as he does it! Mario armed with modern firearms would be an unstopable force, and lead to an escalation of firepower between Mushroom Kingdom and Bowser’s forces that may even result in nuclear war.

I honestly have always appreciated the “Peach as totalitarian monarch, Mario as facist military regime, Toad as privileged class, Koopas/Goombas/Bomb-ombs as impoverished working class, Bowser as revolutionary freedom fighter,” interpretation of the Mushroom Kingdom.


I never understood why some people would insist that video games are not art. While I agree that the diversification of videogames in terms of its themes would certainly benefit the perception of videogames as art, I see no reason not to consider for example Super Mario art in general terms. Complexity, subltety, even beauty are not necessary criteria for art, nor is any supposed creator intention. Videogames are the result of a creative process, and they speak to millions of people in one way or another. Why is that not enough to be considered art? What needs to change here is perception, not necessarily content. Art is not limited to works of sublime complexity (although that certainly helps), and even if it were, it could be argued that the code and design of Super Mario is extremely complex.

To limit one’s understanding of art to the canonic, the complex and virtuosic is to devalue and dismiss not only long standing traditions of minimalist approaches, but also to keep both the creation, evaluation and ultimately the canonization of art in the hands of elites and experts, who then get to judge and thus tell everyone else what is art and what isn’t. This seems profoundly undemocratic to me; who says a person without a degree in art history cannot understand and value a painting in their own way? And would whatever meaning they gathered from that painting be worth less than the meaning the arts major got from it? Obviously no. So why is it that whatever meanings we take with us from the videogames we play is dismissed as simple childish play instinct? Why can’t the play be art? It is entirely possible to perceive and appreciate basically whatever you want as art, if it adds meaning to your life.

Hahahahaha, that is an extremely well-done Thomas Friedman impression, bravissimo. :clap: