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Old 04-23-2012, 11:13 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Wild Game Rumors: Part of a Complete Childhood

When we talk about the jagged, 8-bit days of gaming, someone inevitably reminisces about how video game magazines like Nintendo Power were our only means of gleaning game news outside of bizarre experiences like Video Power, and, God forgive us, The Wizard. The Internet as we know it today didn't even exist as a fantasy, newsgroups and BBS'es were rarer than unicorns, and we had to acquire our video game news on a month-to-month basis, harrumph harrumph (puff of pipe smoke, rattle of unfolding newspaper).

But when I went through elementary school, kids rarely seemed to purchase game magazines, let alone boast whole subscriptions to the likes of Nintendo Power. Thinking back, I still don't know why game magazines seemed so scarce when I was growing up, but I can take a couple of guesses. First, everything is more expensive in Canada. That was the law in the ‘80s and ‘90s, and it remains the law even though the value of our Loonie surpassed the value of the Greenback a long time ago. Whatever a US subscription to Nintendo Power cost in 1988, I can practically guarantee that it cost twice as much up here. Second, most of the kids I went to school with were the children of new immigrants to Canada, and their families understandably had to buy food and clothes before shelling out for magazines.

Whatever the reason, I rarely saw the pages of a game magazine barring the few times I managed to sneak into a variety store and absorb a preview before the clerk got wise and yelled at me. I suppose this is also how my peers acquired most of their game information, and what they didn't snatch from their upright reading sessions in the variety store, they'd make up.

And oh boy, were they ever good at making stuff up.

When news recently broke about Nintendo registering a domain for Super Mario 4 (a domain that will assumedly be used to promote New Super Mario Bros. 2 for the Nintendo 3DS), I thought back to the first rumors I heard about the 'real' Super Mario Bros. 4.' They first came to light around 1990/1991, that awkward time when the NES was transitioning to the SNES. We all knew about Super Mario World at that point, though clear details were sketchy. That's probably why one friend of mine thought he could get away with telling me that Super Mario World was not the real follow-up to Super Mario Bros. 3, and that the genuine article was actually titled 'Super Mario Bros. 4'—and it was coming to the NES.

'No it's not,' I said. 'You're getting mixed up with Super Mario World.'

'Uh-uh!' he countered. 'This is different! This is really Super Mario 4! It's already out in Japan!'

I have to admit, I was curious, even hopeful. My NES was not very old at that point, and given my family's financial struggles at the time, the SNES was a faraway fantasy. 'What's the game about?' I asked. As a youngster, I was very interested in the stories behind Mario's adventures. Even now, my heart quickens when I think about turtles and cake—okay, maybe not.

I don't think my friend was anticipating my question, because he blurted, 'Mario goes on a quest for his clothes.'

'You're lying.'

'No, it's true. His clothes are stolen by a Koopa, and he's naked, and he has to chase the Koopa to get his clothes back!'

What the hell.

But I didn't have any kind of game-related reading at my disposal, so for several weeks, I wondered.

All of us had that one friend whose uncle worked for Nintendo and was therefore privy to secret information. Some of this 'information' was total bulldink, but at least made sense in the context of the Mario universe. Take, for instance, a rumor about Mario utilizing a flame thrower. All right, as a ten-year-old with a ferocious love for games but limited access to consoles and supplementary reading material, I could buy that.

I could laugh off obvious jokes, too, like, 'In the next Mario game, he shoots fireballs out of his butt!' (and yet, some tiny, hopeful corner of my soul could almost believe in a game about Mario going on a hunt for his clothes, his bare arse wagging in the wind. Probably the same corner of my soul that believed my grandfather had talked to God via a cooked turkey during Christmas '84).

However, some of these rumors that came from my friends were recited with stone faces and hands over hearts, and they were so bizarre that I still wonder about the thought process that went into them. One other fellow I attended elementary school with tried to assure me that, in Super Mario World, Mario's life extended beyond the '0' count. So when Mario bit it at the Big Zero, it wasn't Game Over, because you'd get another chance at '00', then '000,' then '0000,' and finally, '00000.'

Of all the crazy-ass Mario nonsense that you can make up for attention in the schoolyard—nonsense that can't be fact-checked because, again, game magazines were as elusive as snow leopards at the time—why would you concoct some kind of gibberish about Mario's lives plunging down to the minuses?

Maybe it has something to do with the kind of person we grow up to be. Every kid tells tall tales, and as far as video game rumors go, they're mostly harmless. But I think it would be interesting if I could find the zero kid and see what he does for a living. Does he have some kind of crazy numbers fetish that was just beginning to unfurl when he started fantasizing about what Super Mario World would be like? In that vein, what about the kid who made up that story about Mario's clothes going AWOL? Is he a writer, maybe? Or perhaps he, um, works in the alternative film industry.

I don't have kids, so I don't make a habit out of hanging around elementary school playgrounds. But I wonder if today's young gamers still gather by the slide and trade wild game rumors, even in an age where confirming information is as easy as taking out one's phone. I now realize that the rumor exchange that I grew up with may have shaped our personalities, in a roundabout way.

Also, Mario is going to ride a six-headed fire-breathing Yoshi in New Super Mario Bros. 2. My brother works for Nintendo. He knows these things.

(Images courtesy of TCRF and Mario Wiki)
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