Twenty-five years ago to the day, the videogame Super Mario Bros appeared. This epochal fact has been celebrated in some style already—the Guardian offers one fact for every year—happily ignoring the emergence of Mario himself as a character back in 1981. Why exactly is it, though, that the most influential and renowned fictional character of the last quarter century—arguably in any medium—is a plump Italian plumber known not for his wrench skills but for his inexhaustible, effort-free athleticism, and his unquenchable fondness for consuming fungi?
For a start, Mario isn’t really a character, not in the sense that Becky Sharpe or even Mickey Mouse are characters. He is a cypher: a Platonic little man in an Eden of a world whose gift to you is the journey you’re able to take in his shoes. Your motives are discovery, mastery and—almost incidentally—rescuing a woman who’s