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The Game Effect Editorial

Did You Know Mario is a Metaphor for Immigration?

Four games with hidden meanings we didn't know about

By Daniel Jones on 1/16/2013
I just finished Far Cry 3. While I loved exploring the island, hunting animals, raiding outposts and just getting into mischief, the game's jingoistic, racist power fantasy sort of turned me off. Then I read the interview on Rock, Paper, Shotgun with the game's writer Jeffrey Yohalem, where he explains that the game is actually trying to subvert all of those deplorable ideas and satire games that still utilize them. To that I say "Well why didn't you say so earlier Mr. Yohalem? That's a horse of a different color. My gosh, if only I had actually known that the game was a satire of itself, maybe I would have appreciated that fact." If only I had known. Hmm, sure would have been nice.

So I got to thinking; if Far Cry 3's ridiculous story (and I mean that in the most literal sense of the word, for the plot is truly worthy of ridicule) can be justified by its hidden message that we all simply "didn't get", then what other games might be hiding deep philosophical meanings within their pixelated yarns? What other hidden meanings have we missed over the years?

Super Mario Bros.

Is it just a classic tale of two brothers trying to rescue a princess from a bad guy who wants her for himself? Or is it a metaphor for immigrants trying to make it in America? Look at the evidence for the latter. Peach is blonde, like your stereotypical American girl. She is a trophy wife in every way, with her place of prominence in the kingdom representing America's standing as the leading world power. She screams success, and having her on your arm is exactly what the player is striving for. It feeds right into our own macho tendencies and nationalistic desires.

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Then there's the occupation of our protagonists. Mario and Luigi are plumbers. They're not heroes. They are just your average, mushroom consuming, coin collecting joes. They simply want to get to the promised land and find the American dream. The antagonist of this tale, Bowser - with his bloated shape and army of lackeys - represents the competition for our protagonists. He is the racist, fat American businessman. He is all that stands in your way of the American dream that is Princess Peach. The true meaning of Super Mario Bros. couldn't be more obvious.

Angry Birds

Angry Birds is a metaphor for animal cruelty similar to Planet of the Apes. Think about the situation here. The pigs (who represent humanity) have captured all these birds and are keeping them captive. The birds (representing all of nature's finest creatures) are upset, and want to free their friends from their confines. The pigs may think they're helping the birds - doing research, healing them, giving them a place to live - but that's not how the birds see it. The birds are scared, angry and orphaned. They simply want to free their friends and return to their natural habitat. The blocks and structures that the pigs have built, represent the cages that can be found at zoos, pet stores and research laboratories everywhere.

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The most tragic part of the tale is that all of the birds eventually die in kamikaze-style suicide bombings. The birds eventually commit genocide of themselves and the pigs simply because of the pigs' misguided righteous indignation. When you free a new bird in the game what happens to it? It simply disappears in a puff of dust and feathers. You didn't free it. You killed it. At this point, the game reverses roles and makes the player feel the guilt of killing an innocent creature. It's one of the saddest moments in any game since ICO.

Minecraft

 Minecraft is a simple sandbox playground akin to a digital lego set. But it didn't start out that way. Creator Markus "Notch" Persson wanted to create a social experiment about progress, technology and the industrial age. Everyone starts out Minecraft the same way - with limited resources and a blank canvas. What will you build? A simple farm and house with just the essentials needed to survive the night raids by the creepers, or a bustling metropolis with massive skyscrapers and booby traps to guard your stronghold?

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Like human society evolving from simple hunter gatherers to farmers and finally to industrialists, players in Minecraft have their own choices to make about how they want to live. Notch is a philosophical guy who wanted to perform a social experiment to see how man evolved to the point we're at today. Turns out he has a larger sample base than he could have ever expected.

Tetris

Did you know that Tetris is actually a metaphor for the crumbling of the Soviet Union? In the mid 80's when Alexey Pajitnov created the classic puzzle game, the writing was on the wall that the government of the USSR was no longer serving its purpose for the Russian people. The Soviet citizens were starting to question the laws of the USSR and whether or not the communist regime still had the best interest of its people in mind. The country was divided into two camps: those who wanted to secede from the Union and those who wanted to keep it sovereign.

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Pajitnov was loyal to the USSR and believed that Russia was strongest as one whole, united for the homeland. The falling bricks in Tetris represent the different people of the USSR. When the bricks are together, they're set free. When cracks exist in the foundation, nobody is truly liberated. It's a complex, challenging metaphor that was well hidden by Tengen's PR team. If everyone knew that Tetris was a communist piece of propaganda, I probably wouldn't be talking about it right now.

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Those are just a few examples of gaming's hidden themes. I won't get into Diablo's commentary on consumerism or Halo's metaphor for religious persecution. The world of video games is full of hidden messages that we never knew existed. Not all of them are as well hidden as the colonialism metaphor in Far Cry 3, but they're no less subtly told. This article is itself a commentary on how easily slander and lies can be spread on the internet. So if you believe anything I have told you in this feature, well, I have an island full of pirates to sell you.
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SudoClarity on January 17, 2013
haha really enjoyed this article. you have done a lot of creative work here.
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WatcherJohn111 on January 16, 2013
You may be right.  I suspect you think too much ;)
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indiejones on January 16, 2013
It was all tongue in cheek. None of these are actually true. But yes I do think too much.
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WatcherJohn111 on January 22, 2013
I need a bigger wink icon, maybe two winks  ;)  ;)