Five Things We Learned From Mario Paint

By Aaron Matteson in Five Things, Humor, Lists!
Tuesday, August 23, 2011 at 12:00 pm

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Mario Paint -- saviour of our youth's creative skills.

Since the dawn of video games, detractors have lamented the fact that children mashing buttons in front of their TV are wasting their creative faculties. They envision a generation of performance artists, sculptors, novelists and professional polka dancers lost to the lures of Nintendo and Sega. After all, Mozart composed his first piece while he was having his umbilical cord cut, right? How many potential child prodigies could there have been if only kids had picked up a tuba or a pen instead of that damned controller?

So the argument goes. And though no one, not even devout gamers, will argue that sometimes video games can suck up a lot of time, the idea that they will invariably depress the creativity of children is not exactly a slam dunk.

But do not fear, whimpering advocates of the arts! Video game giant Nintendo has heard your plaintive cries! In fact, they heard your plaintive cries about two decades ago! And they released a game meant to spur the latent artistic abilities of young gamers the world over. Its name is Mario Paint.

What's that? If Mario Paint is so beneficial to its players, what did it teach us?

 

 

1.) A "sandbox" game can mean several different things.

 

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The possibilities!

When we think about it, the Grand Theft Auto series doesn't have a lot in common with Mario Paint. Just off the top of our heads, we can't find much overlap between a game that centers around gang violence and a game that centers around making supercute Mario collages.  If there was a Venn diagram, with one circle being GTA and one circle being Mario Paint, what would the traits in the middle section include? "Are video games?" "Cost money?" "Alternatives to reading?"

But considered further, both could be classified as sandbox-style games. Neither holds your hand (though if video games could literally hold your hand, Mario Paint certainly would), and while GTA does have a narrative thread, it doesn't force you to follow it. What gameplay consists of in both games is, to a large degree, up to the gamer. In GTA this can mean a choice between going on a horrifying rampage in one part of the city and going on a horrifying rampage in another part of the city. In Mario Paint it means the option of drawing Mario and pals in any situation you can dream up, from the conventional to the nonsensical to the wildly inappropriate. But the fact remains -- Mario Paint, for its time, was a rare Nintendo experience that allowed you free reign over the game's functionality.

 

2.) The power of creation and destruction are inexorably linked.

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I AM BECOME ERASER, DESTROYER OF DRAWINGS

 

The selection of full-screen erasers in Mario Paint is an important part of the experience. After all, isn't the impulse to create connected to the impulse to destroy? Like the multitude of choices a graffiti artist has while defacing an earlier tagger's shoddy work, Mario Paint offers many options as to how to obliterate your digital canvas. From Rocket Erase (EXTREME!) to Water Erase (ELEGIAC!), the choice of how to ditch your masterpiece is yours.

 

3.) Violence is a part of life.

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And you thought this was a family game!

 

Mario Paint can be a game that doesn't fit the stereotypes associated with the medium. There are no guns in sight, no buff dudes killing each other, no alien threat to snuff out. It's just funny pictures and music composition!

But even in this most benign of games, there is the lingering shadow of violence. The mini-game "Coffee Break" includes the systematic extermination of a group of living beings!

Yes, okay, it's just insects. And yes, okay, they are trying to sting you. And as far as violence goes, the virtual swatting of malicious insects isn't exactly deplorable. But it just goes to show how deeply ingrained the act of killing is in video games.

 

4.) Creativity, even in the modern era, is alive and well.

 

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And now we come full circle to the beginning point of the article: creativity. Every couple years, with the release of a new Apple product or the bankruptcy of another chain of bookstores, there is a round of hang-wringing among certain elements of society that the newer generations have lost their capacity to appreciate the finer things in life. The idea is that kids these days, with their 3D movies and their iPhones and their instant gratification, have lost the artistic spark that comes with constant use of one's imagination.

For a powerful (if goofy) refutation of this, all you have to do is search "mario paint music" in Google. You will find that there is quite literally a cover of every song ever written that has been created by people using Mario Paint's extremely basic music sequencer. Creative souls from all over have used a musical tool that is mostly used to make crummy dog and cat noises and have used it to painstakingly recreate their favorite songs. If that's not a testament to the power of creativity, even in this day and age, then what is?

 

5.) No matter how horrible the circumstances, human beings can become accustomed to anything.

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Since the beginning of time it has been man's dream to synthesize the noise a cat makes when meowing. Ladies and gentlemen, with Mario Paint, that dream is now a reality.

 

You know those cat and dog noises that the Mario Paint music composer can make? For the first ten minutes of exposure they are the dumbest, most grating noises you have ever heard.

After an hour or two they begin to become kind of catchy.

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