You have already grasped that Mario is the absurd hero. He is absurd as much through his passions for golf, tennis, and karting as through his torture of 2-dimensional platforming. His scorn of Bowser, his hatred of homicidal turtles, and his passion for 1-Up’s won him that unspeakable penalty in which his whole being is exerted toward accomplishing nothing.
Shigeru Miyamoto and others at Nintendo have condemned Mario to walk ceaselessly to the right toward a castle to save one “Princess Peach,” whence he would find that the princess was in another identical castle further to the right.
And at the very end of his long effort measured in eight levels in eight worlds (naturally excluding warp pipes or warp whistles), Mario rescues the princess. Then the console resets, Princess Peach gets captured by Bowser, and Mario must descend back to World 1-1 whence he will have to rescue her again.
Opinions differ as to how Mario became the futile and hopeless laborer of the Mushroom Kingdom. If one believes the instruction manual accompanying the game, Mario is a stout middle-aged Italian man from Brooklyn. According to another tradition, he is portrayed by Bob Hoskins. I see no contradiction in this.
But we must agree that Mario is a plumber. Perhaps he came to the Mushroom Kingdom to repair the green pipes casually strewn throughout the land as they are not in compliance with any sort of sensible city infrastructural ordinances. He may have attempted to replace them with stainless steel, which he believed to be a better investment long-term despite it being more expensive up-front. It is also said that Mario went to the castle in World 8-8 where he found not only skeletons and fire pits but also hard water. Alas, the text does not say.
When Mario is asked what he is thinking, he often replies “Let’s A-Go!” If that reply is sincere, then it is truly absurd. Why does he long for the next level when he should reject it?
Yet, there are moments of lucidity as Mario screams “MAMMA MIA!” Where would his torture be, indeed, if at every castle the hope of actually rescuing the Princess upheld him? What would he do then? “Hang out” with Luigi? No, Luigi is awful.
There is but one truly serious philosophical question and that is whether or not Mario should commit suicide. Should he collide with his very first obstacle, the Goomba (a clear metaphor for Mario’s inability to reconcile his Italian-American identity)? Should he shoot himself with a Bullet Bill eight times his size? Or should he simply jump down one of the many bottomless pits? Mario is weary for he knows that should he die, he still must live at least two more times.
It is during his return back to World 1-1, during that pause screen while the 11-year old playing the game runs to the bathroom, that Mario interests me. I see that mustachioed man finally able to walk left only to trudge with a heavy yet measured step toward the torment of which he will never know the end. The game is never really “over” and neither is his despair.
Yet, the reverse is also true. There is no angry sun in World 2-1 without shy ghosts in World 8-1. The absurd man rejoices and says “It’s A-Me Mario! WAHOO!”
Mario’s joy belongs to him. His red hat is his and his alone. Unless it’s orange because he ate a fire-flower. Or he’s wearing a Tanooki suit or Frog suit or another power-up that disposes of his hat. Or he’s thrown his hat at an enemy.
I leave Mario at the start screen. One always finds one’s mushroom again. This universe henceforth without a Player 1 seems to him neither so futile nor so frustrating that one needs to throw one’s controller at one’s mother’s TV set. Each atom of that first question block, each shell on a Koopa Troopa, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself is enough to fill a man’s heart for each of his three lives. One must imagine Mario super.