Thursday, January 14, 2010

Goodbye Mario, hello XBox

Once upon a time there was a plumber called Mario. He was Italian, he was slightly plump and he had a bushy moustache.

He wore blue dungarees, a red shirt, white gloves and a red hat with an “M” on it.

He spent most of his working life jumping in and out of pipes, trying to rescue a princess (variously known as Pauline, Peach, or Daisy) from a malevolent fire-breathing lizard who answered to the name of Bowser.

Mario had a younger, slightly slimmer brother called Luigi, who dressed in green rather than red. They lived together in the Mushroom Kingdom, and away from their princess-rescuing duties they enjoyed go-karting, tennis, winter sports and pinball. They were all-round good guys, and Mario always got the girl in the end.

Now, as you probably already know, Mario wasn’t a real person.

And as you’ll certainly be aware if you’ve been anywhere near a video games shop in the last 25 years or so, he was (and still is) the best-selling game character ever, having shifted more than 210 million units for creators Nintendo.

In one respect video games aren’t kids’ stuff. They make more money than Hollywood movies, they outsell DVDs and CDs, and they bring millions of pounds into the UK economy every year.

You can read any number of  newspaper articles about how they deserve the same media coverage as books, plays and first-run movies.

Written, one suspects, by journalists who would like to get hold of a few more review copies.

But just like Tom and Jerry, Top Cat or any Disney character you care to mention, video games are a part of modern childhood.

Our children have grown up with Mario, helped him on his adventures, persevered through their frustration as they guided him through the twists and jumps of his surreal, multi-coloured world.

And as parents we’ve enjoyed his company too: harmless, cartoonish, endlessly witty and, yes, mildly addictive. He never swore, he despatched his enemies by bouncing off their heads, and even when he died he didn’t leave a nasty mess on the virtual floor.

But now it may be time to say farewell to Mario in his many incarnations. Kids get older and turn into teenagers, but Mario, a bit like Peter Pan, never grows up.

Before Christmas, Dixon Junior decided that he was of an age where an XBox 360 would be better suited to his gaming needs than our Wii. It has better graphics (if you like brown), it has more exciting games, it’s  cooler (and more violent) than Nintendo’s generally family-oriented offerings.

To his credit, he saved up for one himself with his Christmas money and his allowance.

But now, as the house resounds to the Third Russian Shock Army advancing on Berlin, it does feel rather as if we’ve lost a friend.

So long, Mario. We’ll miss you.

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