On Super Mario Brothers and mental parcours games
According to 25 Years of Super Mario Bros: A Look Back Through Mushroom Kingdom History, from which I grabbed the Mario Bros portion of the graphic at the foot of this page, “Since 1985’s release of the second-most selling console game of all-time, over 200 Nintendo titles have featured the eponymous Mario Bros” — on which I’ve played perhaps three or four levels of one or two early versions.
The Super Mario Bros side-scrollers (image above, left) are the work of the brilliant Shigeru Miyamoto, and part of what I find so fascinating about them is the way in which they resemble the mind-blowing practice known as Parcours (image, right), which apparently developed from the work of one David Belle, born in 1973 — who would have been 12 when the first Super Mario Bros game came out.
Let’s take a look at Super Mario Bros and Parcours, and then move on to the issue of parcours for the adventuring mind.
First, for those of you who don’t remember them, here’s what the early Mario Bros games were like…
I don’t think there’s much doubt that the Super Mario Bros games are essentially digital versions of Parcours, and you can see by comparing the video above with this next one:
Finally, this video from Jesse La Flair confirms the comnnection, at least in the mind of one top flight traceur:
My own question is: what would a mental parcours game look like?
I was thinking for a while last week about what a Mario-like side-scrolling game of mental parcours would be like. We already have the “creative leap” side pretty well covered with the various variants of Sembl we’ll be developing, so I thought about other types of mental agility, and what a game might look like if it incorporated a bunch of them — induction? deduction? causality? the sorts of pattern skills that go into IQ tests? — in a side-scroller with playful graphics…
One: my friend Derek Robinson pretty quickly informed me that the actual build of such a game would be enormously complex — I resisted him, saying I wasn’t aiming to build the entire game, just to get the idea down on paper to see whether we could get the initial phases funded…
And two: I ran across Lumosity:
Let’s just say Lumosity seems to have a variety of cognitive skills well in hand, which leaves me free once again to concentrate on what Derek calls the mind’s opposable thumb.
That’s a brilliant concept, I think, and gets to the heart of what we’re working on with Sembl.
The various other conceptual skills that essentially add up to linear thinking — Mark Safranski of Zenpundit calls it vertical thinking, see this helpful diagram — are important, and well-studied. They work best where what you are talking about is quantifiable and amenable to logic and cause and effect analysis, and is explored within fields, not across them.
But lo, that approach may help you quantify the trees and evaluate them as board feet of lumber, but consistently misses the forest, the greater context, the big picture –the combined systemic impact of many tiny details, insects, mosses, the tree as ecosystem within an ecosystem, and the ecosystems within that – the time scale, the slow growth, the root system, the transformation of mulch into nourishment, the sudden spurt of tiny leaves in spring, the photosynthesis — and the human wonder — the glory, dappled sunlight on fallen leaves, the shelter afforded to lovers by a weeping willow (I’m thinking of one willow in an Oxford college garden, but I’m time-traveling and I digress) – the poetry, of beech and birch, copper beech and silver birch, the trees, the words, the metals…
Context, quality, complexity, systems, dynamics, process, simplicity, value, passion, poetry – these are the things linear thinking has problems with. Poetry, passion, value, simplicity, process, dynamics, systems, complexity, quality, context – these are the things horizontal thinking does best.
Oh, and hey — just because I like the tiny antics they’re getting up to in the graphics:
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