A man is having his first physiotherapy appointment. A woman comes in wearing a white doctor’s coat. Their conversation begins on a clinical level, the doctor asking the man about how he sustained his injuries. The man explains that he works in the videogame industry, and in fact has come from work. She assumes that he works as a labourer, because of his overalls, but he admits in the tone of a reluctant celebrity that he’s Mario from the Mario Bros. games.
She isn’t that impressed, doesn’t seem to know the game, so he describes what he does in glamorous terms, and he shows her pictures: Mario in a race car, Mario battling monsters, Mario playing sports — shots taken from the infinite supply of Mario spinoffs. She says that his body doesn’t have repetitive-stress injuries from driving race cars. “Being a game character isn’t all fun and games,” he says with a grin.
A few seconds later she sits down and fills out a report on him. The questions are about his work-related injuries, of which there are many. He complains (though good-naturedly at this point) about the long hours, having to be everywhere at once, running and jumping at the behest of the players. “Some people have one demanding boss, but I have millions,” he says, laughing at his well-worn line.
Immune to his charm, she asks when he started having back trouble. He explained that it was soon after he made the transition into the 3-D of Super Mario World in contrast to the 2-D flat, scroller games he was used to. She asked him if he thought it was brought on by the extra demands of the new environment. He wasn’t sure — there was a lot wrong at the time. To adjust to the extra dimension, he was on an anti-nausea drug, and it was a bad combination with the mushrooms he ate to grow big…
The doctor takes him to task for this, erasing something on the clipboard, saying that he was asked if he’d been using drugs and he’d said no. He explains that he has to take the mushrooms as a part of his job, that they weren’t those kind of drugs — but he had noticed that he’s begun to crave them when he’s off the job. They’ve always assured him that the variety they used wasn’t habit-forming, but frankly, he’s worried about becoming a shroom junkie. He attributes his mushroom use to the job’s constant pressure to keep up with the times, to stay competitive: the good old days of Donkey Kong, when he could really focus on his job and save the princess without performance enhancers, are long past.
“Going 3-D really ruined it for me. First of all, it’s like a 33 per cent increase from 2-D, which is a lot… everyone was really happy for me, talking about how realistic it was, but….” He shakes his head. “It’s like — I’ve heard about blind people who get their sight back. But they’ve spent their whole lives being blind! So they find all this extra stuff confusing, too much. Sometimes they end up going back to being blind.”
His complaints become more bitter at this point. He confesses he’s been missing jumps on purpose, on-the-job sabotage, in a way. The physiotherapist makes an adjustment to his straps and makes a few other notes. Mario is in a bit of a depressed state, and describes having dreams of falling through fields of gold coins, becoming infinitely richer but never winning the game and never hitting the ground. Just that “ching-ching!” of the coins echoing in his ears, forever.
The doctor says that it sounds like he needs some time off. He shrugs off his depression, says that he gets put on pause once in a while, and a pause is as good as a rest. “As long as it’s not in the middle of a jump!” he says with a bit of his old spark back. The doctor says that she meant a vacation.
“You know what happened the last time I went on vacation?” he says, his big eyebrows furrowing. “I come back and guess who’s dressed in red? My brother, Luigi. The second banana, dressed in my overalls.” His fists clench. “He jumps over to me like there’s nothing wrong, this weird smile on his face. He suggests I dress in the green ones for a while. I punched him in the fucking mouth.”
The physiotherapist raises her eyebrows at this.
“You don’t understand,” he says. “It was their way of showing that they owned me. That week I was away? No one knew the difference. I may be famous and everything but — it’s not like I even get any credit. Even the kids. They get a high score? Whatta they put up there — Jack, Jill, Boogerman, I8U — but never Mario. Just once, I’d like to look up on that board and see the guy who did all the work get some of the credit.”
Talking about credit, Marc Ngui not only did the illustration but also brainstormed some of this up.