The hidden meaning behind these video game plots

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If you have even a passing interest in the history of video games, then you likely already know that Mario got his start as “Jumpman,” the protagonist of Shigeru Miyamoto’s Donkey Kong. Eventually, he’d go on to be one of gaming’s iconic characters. But while he’s found success in tennis, go-kart racing, soccer, partying, princess-rescuing, and occasionally being made of paper, he’s been referred to consistently as a plumber by trade ever since the early days.

The reason here is simple: after Donkey Kong, his next breakout hit was the original arcade Mario Bros., which used sewer pipes as a way to explain where all the enemies came from. When that game was expanded into Super Mario Bros., arguably the most influential video game of all time, the pipe motif stuck. This time, though, they were different — they appeared as part of the landscape, leading not to sewers, but to underground caves. By Super Mario Bros. 3, there was even an entire country built out of those famous green pipes, as you can see in the video above.

So while Mario has been changing careers ever since he started climbing up skyscrapers with a hammer, his experience with pipes and plumbing was the one that came to define him — and not just because it’s the kind of profession that makes him an everyman hero and gives a little fun to his fantasy-world exploits. 

In the Mushroom Kingdom, pipes seem to either be naturally occurring geographical features or the last ruins of some ancient society that Peach and the Toads have built their new homeland on. Either way, the Warp Zones prove that pipes have some strange mystical properties, so in that world, a “plumber” isn’t just someone you call when your kitchen is ankle-deep in water. 

The Toads would see someone who had the ability to manipulate and connect pipes as something more like a mystical wizard, in the same way that we’d see someone who could, say, effortlessly travel from one mountain to the next in an instant, as a pretty impressive warrior. You even have to go through pipes to reach Bowser’s castle! In that respect Mario’s expertise with pipes means that he’s anything but an “everyman” in the Mushroom Kingdom — he’s actually the perfect hero for this very strange world. 

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