Friday, July 13, 2007

Finding the PoMo in Super Paper Mario (a Postmodern statement)

I'm gonna confess... I've been playing a video game quite a bit. Or at least, I've been facilitating and observing its being-playedness by a passing resident of the household. That game is called Super Paper Mario.

Okay, so in the history of Mario, we've gone from a fully-restricted two-dimensional world (Donkey Kong) to a non-restricted two-dimensional world (Super Mario Bros. through Super Mario World and beyond) to a three-dimensional world (Super Mario 64 through the forthcoming Super Mario Galaxy). Paper Mario is, in a sense, a reflection on the history of the two-dimensional Marios, which the game undertakes by offering a third dimension.

Now, because it's oriented around a two-dimensional game, the third dimension isn't that well developed. That's why it's called Paper Mario... the game is conscious of, and in a sense apologetic for, its two-dimensionality. However, for what it lacks as a three-dimensional game, Paper Mario makes up for as Postmodern Mario. Meta-Mario -- that's what we've been playing, and it's a fascinating experience.

To start, there's a level of historicism in Mario that's been a defining feature of postmodernism for a long time. Just as pop-art brought kitsch and self-conscious reference to art, SPM brings to the Wii a salvo of self-conscious references to Mario history, from the enormous 8-bit Mario you become when you grab a star, to the Princess's ability to float... it's sort of futile for me to list them. There are millions.

There are also references to the world outside the game. Occasionally, the characters mention you, the player, in order to explain their discussions of controller buttons, which Mario himself apparently doesn't understand. One of the enemies even has the Wii "processing" animation playing in its eye. These are discursive and semantic break-downs of the fourth wall that parallel Mario's own breaking of the fourth wall when he "flips" from 2-D space into 3-D space.

And about that "flipping" action, which takes Mario beyond the standard platform game world . He reveals hidden enemies, items, and landscapes that are on other two-dimensional planes, thus retreiving a certain more literal meaning of the phrase "parallel dimension." Most NPC's in SPM can't sense or interact within these alternate planes, making Mario unique, a sort of bodhisattva... come on, doesn't anyone else read a certain Eastern mysticism in that move? A moment of transcendence, perhaps? The same theme that appealed to Heidegger and Jung seems to have appealed to the Nintendo developers. Mario even learns it from a sage.

PoMario. That's the game, my friends. PLAY IT.

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