'Super Mario Maker' and the Rise of Performative Gaming
In Mario Maker, it's more about you the creator than you the player. Credit: Nintendo


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'Super Mario Maker' and the Rise of Performative Gaming

"Super Mario Maker" is the most contemporary game of all.

To me, it isn't a mystery that a lot of kids (and a portion of adults) regularly watch others play video games. As a sprout, I would park my butt in front of Video & Arcade Top 10, Anti-Gravity Room and Nick Arcade just to see some pre-recorded hosts yammer about Road Runner's Death Valley Rally. Even if Twitch, eSports and YouTube Let's Plays are a phenomenon, it isn't a surprise.

What is more shocking is how quickly game developers began adapting to the player/audience hybrid. Dark horse successes like Rocket League, Splatoon and Five Nights at Freddy's seem built around shocks and upsets for spectatorship. Mario's newest adventure, a DIY toolkit called Super Mario Maker, is inherently defined by its user base, and in 2015 that user is someone who likes to watch and show off. In the first week of Super Mario Maker's release, all but two of the top-15 highest ranked levels play themselves.


If you've never taken a peek at the hacked Kaizo Mario World before, a lot of what's being done in Super Mario World might surprise you. Nintendo's never asked players to make use of spin-jumping on spiked enemies, or forced you to sacrifice power-ups and Yoshi to make it through obstacle courses. There are a few super-tough levels, and likely more on the way, but the current dominating trend are levels that show off the finesse of the creators rather than ask anything of the players.

It can feel like Super Mario, the stunt show, rathan than Super Mario, the video games. Mario narrowly dodges fireballs and Thwomps, prompting oohs and ahhs over impressive feats that you have no control over. It's constantly tempting to budge to see if you could make it through with your own skills, even if it means spoiling the efforts of the designer. I'm not whining, it's fascinating! No Nintendo game before this has been so performative in the same way we normal shlubs like to be.

Some of the top levels in Super Mario Maker.

The HD re-release of The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker added a selfie function, a jokey feature that has also been implemented in Metal Gear Solid V, and likely to continue as a kooky trend. Interconnectivity and personal performance are cornerstones of this generation. Spectatorship and sharing increasingly components of video game culture. Even if Mario levels based around purely watching seems to be a phenomenon, it isn't a surprise.