Timing Effects in "Many Worlds Mario"

Curator's Note

A post in February, 2008 from a blog entitled “Mechanically Separated Meat” describes a hack of “Super Mario World” in which blocks had been rearranged in a level editor to create what was described as “the most evil Super Mario World hack ever” (grumpybumpers).  The difficulty of the level was mitigated by using save states, which allowed the game emulator to rewind a few seconds to a safe spot in order for the player to try again.  By recording each of these attempts, and then creating a hack that would recover rather than erase them, the video superimposed each attempt, thus visualizing Mario’s near-misses, deaths, and successes in a cascade of what-ifs and temporal branches.

Though some bloggers claimed “Many Worlds Mario” most clearly represented quantum physics’ many-worlds-theory, I wonder if the video can be an expression of a particular kind of timing effect.  The superimposition feature elicits a way of expressing temporality that can only be demonstrated by, rather than text, or language, or even pictorial or video representation, an assemblage of digital media.

There are several ways in which this superimposition technique creates timing effects.  First, the video defamiliarizes the player’s temporal experience of the normative “video game level” by compressing each failed run with the one successful run, by compressing the overall time it takes to defeat the level (e.g. 20 minutes) into the “familiar” time of a normal level run (e.g. 2 minutes).  Second, it represents two opposing time schemes converging into one linear manifestation. In “Introduction to Game Time/ Time to Play,” Jesper Juuls, in a move similar to Gerard Genette’s distinction in a narrative between a time within a story and a time of the story’s telling, posits a difference between play time (“the time the player takes to play”) and event time (“the time taken in the game world”). “Many Worlds Mario” compresses both of these times into one superimposition, and in this compression, points towards a similar convergence of what I’ll describe as user time and code time.  If the user time is merely defined by the time the user takes to watch the video, 1:56, code time is defined by the time, not measured in human or user time, taken for the computer to run the many layers of code.  Just as the logic of  “Many Worlds Mario” compresses the 20 minutes of user time into 2 minutes through superimposition, the logic of code time, or the compression of various levels of code, and code languages, from binary, to assembler, to emulator, is reflected in the superimposed simultaneous distribution of Marios operating in various times.  Perhaps “Many Worlds Mario” makes possible an imagination of the impossible, virtual space of this convergence: the interface between human and computer time.


Thanks, Christopher, for starting off the week with this interesting post.  As I watched the compression of the Mario's 134 attempts to make it through the level, it occurred to me that this recording tool also illustrates a common critique leveled at video game culture, one that, if I recall rightly, Bruce Willis or his equivalent spits out at a testosterone-challenged gamer in some action movie: "In real, life you only die once."  The video makes excessively, gruesomely visible the extent to which Super Mario World is a Thanatopia. (133 deaths in 116 seconds for a rate of 1.146 Mario deaths per second.)  I'm inclined to add "theological" to the intriguing sorts of time that you've shown the video helps us imagine. 

 You're absolutely right, Eric.  Here's a link to some user-generated fan art contemplating this idea:



Mario Holocaust

What's interesting to me about this is what "death" means for the computer, which is in fact merely programmatic.  "Death" is a line of code written into the hack that says, in essence, "return to save state."  In this case, at least for the computer this would be quite the opposite— a topia with no thanos.  But I think you're right that what this video helps imagine is what we might take for granted as gamers- not Mario's complicity in the virtual deaths of an infinite number of goomba's, but our own.  In this case, perhaps this is a gesture towards a virtual theology?

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