On March 31, 2021, designers were no longer able to upload courses to Super Mario Maker (SMM) for the Wii U. Though this announcement was bittersweet, it opened the door to what was once impossible for gamers: officially completing SMM. While Super Mario Maker 2 crested 2 million user created levels within the first two weeks of its release, one can only imagine how many flags would have to be raised, axes touched, and barber striped uprights passed to beat SMM, leaving the completionist in many of us awestruck. When all is said and done, very few players reach for SMM or SMM2 with leader boards or records in mind and no player contemplates completion of either game.
This begs the question: why do we do it? Why play these games at all when there is no true feeling of accomplishment or finality in sight?
Before the release of SMM, Jirard Khalil (The Completionist), shared a story on his YouTube channel after playing SMM at an early look event with Nintendo representatives. Khalil asked why coins were included if they held no standing in the overall game. The response was apropos, “How do you feel after collecting coins?” Without skipping a beat, Khalil replied, “Happy.” The answer to his question was within reach. There is something to be said for these – in the grand scheme of things – meaningless shiny yellow circles with 1’s, 10’s, 30’s, and 50’s on them; there is joy. Joy is found on the journey to the end of each level, each world, and in the game’s overall experience.
While bopping Goombas has its place, so too does seeking out hidden coin caches, red coins, and elusive keys. It feels exhilarating to find and collect them all, running as fast and jumping as high as you can to beat a timer or other restriction that may be in place. Finding these hidden gems really allows the player to reach the flagpole (or axes and uprights) with satisfaction.
Nintendo knows what dwells in the heart of every gamer; inherent joy in doing the things we love, regardless of actual value. Collecting coins in any Mario game makes players happy. The 1-up (or free man as I grew up calling it) at 100 coins collected is ancillary to the joy collecting coins brings.
Gaming, in general, is an exercise in delayed satisfaction. As Christians, patience is a facet of the Fruit of the Spirit, along with joy, long-suffering, faithfulness, and self-control. Likewise, these are all excellent characteristics of a Mario player. Failing is a motivator to retry, change tact, improve strategy, and never giving up on Mario games. This is genuinely a good model also presented to us in the Bible. As James presents, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (1:2-4 ESV)
Though SMM never sought to test anyone’s faith, we see the value of perseverance and the joy that crests its fruition.
Having completed a level or world, especially one that tested your mettle, again you have scripture to renew your joy. “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:7-8 ESV). Our perseverance in Mario is not our salvation, which comes through Christ alone. It is, however, an excellent model for how to live out our faith, pressing on in times of trial or trouble, reaching for the joy God grants in the Fruit of the Spirit, and even jumping for joy with a “Yipee!” or “Wahoo!” on occasion.