Students in U.S. high schools can get free digital access to The New York Times until September 2021.
Featured Article: “35 Thoughts About Mario on Super Mario’s 35th Anniversary” by Stephen Totilo
“Almost exactly 35 years ago, Super Mario Bros., the iconic video game from Nintendo, debuted — making a high-jumping plumber named Mario the Japanese video game company’s equivalent of Mickey Mouse,” the featured article begins.
In this lesson, you will learn more about Mario, what he means to video game culture and why he remains popular. Then you will create a new character to join the Super Mario Bros. universe.
Do you love video games? Would you consider yourself a gamer?
Take five minutes to write about or discuss with a partner the following questions about the role of video games in your life:
What do you like most about video games? The new, strange or fantastical worlds? The design and graphics? The sense of community?
What types of games do you play most? Strategy or simulation games? Puzzle games? Role-playing games? Why are you drawn to those styles and genres? How often do you play?
Do you play any classic games like Tetris, Space Invaders or Super Mario Bros.? If yes, what do you find appealing about those older games compared with today’s games? Do you appreciate the rudimentary graphics and basic action possibilities?
Imagine you could play only one video game for the rest of your life. What would it be and why?
If you don’t play video games, why do you think they appeal to others? Why don’t they appeal to you?
Questions for Writing and Discussion
Read the article, then answer the following questions:
1. Which of the 35 thoughts and observations presented by Mr. Totilo did you find most fascinating, surprising or memorable? Tell us at least three things you learned about Super Mario that you didn’t know.
2. Mr. Totilo writes, “Back in 1985, Super Mario Bros. was revelatory.” What was new and revolutionary about the game?
3. “Avatar of exuberance,” “superb strangeness” and “dreamlike quality of his game worlds” are some of the words and phrases Mr. Totilo uses to capture Mario and the game’s appeal. In your own words, describe the game to someone who has never played it.
4. Mr. Totilo writes that “Mario stands out as a relic.” What are two ways that Super Mario Bros. differs from modern video games?
5. How has Super Mario Bros. adapted over the years to new technology and new fans? In what ways has it remained the same? Do you have a favorite title or spinoff in the Mario series? Or do you prefer the original?
6. What do you think accounts for the enduring popularity of Super Mario Bros.? Give examples from the article, as well as your own experience, to support your claim. Do you think people will still be playing it in 2055 — 35 years from now?
7. Does the article change your views on Super Mario Bros. or classic video games? Do you think the franchise deserves its place in the pantheon of greatest video games? What more about the history of video games would you like to learn?
Bonus “Boss Level” question:
The article concludes:
And finally: Mario’s best jump? I nominate the triple jump from Super Mario 64 — a trio of high-arc leaps, accompanied by three giddy yelps. That might be the best thing in gaming ever.
Do you agree? What do you think is “the best thing in gaming ever”?
Option 1: Design a new character to join the Super Mario universe.
Imagine that Nintendo has asked the public to help it celebrate Super Mario Bros.’s 35th birthday by creating a new character — or giving an existing one a 2020 makeover.
Many iconic game characters exist in the Super Mario universe — Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, Bowser and Yoshi, to name just a few. What kind of protagonist, sidekick or villain do you think would make the game more exciting, fun or help to keep the franchise fresh? What distinctive features, personality, skills or attire would they possess?
Create a 60-second pitch to persuade the company to select your character. Your elevator pitch should be succinct, vivid and persuasive: Why should your character be added to the popular franchise? In your pitch, be sure to include:
The name of your character
A vivid description of the character — including personality, clothing, style and skills
An explanation of how this new character would add to the Super Mario Bros. universe — but still fit into it. Why would players enjoy it?
A consideration of why purists or critics might be skeptical of your character. What would you say to persuade them to see the value of your creation?
If inspired, make a sketch of your character and its key accessories. You can design your work on paper or consider using a free digital design program like Canva.
Afterward, share with your class and have a vote on the next Super Mario Bros. character!
Option 2: It’s 2055 — what game from your childhood will still be lauded and played?
It’s 35 years in the future. The New York Times has asked you to write about an enduring game from your childhood.
Think of the video games you play now or those you played as a child: Minecraft. Roblox. Fortnite. Candy Crush. Madden NFL.
If you don’t play video games, choose another type of game to write about, whether a board game like Monopoly, a word game like a crossword puzzle, an active game like Hide and Seek, or anything else you can think of.
Which do you think will still be played in another 35 years?
Provide at least five “insights and observations” to Times readers of the future: What qualities will make your game endure? The characters? The themes? The graphics? Be sure to include interesting tidbits, trivia and offbeat anecdotes as Mr. Totilo did in his paean to Super Mario. What makes the game distinctive and compelling? What impact has it had on gaming culture? What interesting innovations or spinoffs have been created?