First posted on April 13th, 2011 on The Retroist Retro Blog and Podcast - CW post link
Video games have had a fun, but sometimes dark history, accused of everything from lowering test scores to inspiring criminal behavior. One game, it turns out, actually had military roots and was planned as a simulator to train soldiers to kill. Those of you that are well versed in the history of gaming will know that I am, of course, talking about Super Mario Brothers.
It all began in 1979 when the United States Military commissioned Nintendo Corporate Systems to create a video game based on an experimental training program. Seeing the enormous amount of money such a contract could bring, Nintendo immediately agreed. They began the work of re-writing a game that had just been submitted by one of there top gaming designers by the name of Giuseppe Linguini. Giuseppe, was a crude Italian stereotype and rising star of the videogame world. The original game allowed users to play as one of the two “Salvatore” Brothers (two Italian electricians living in New York City) as they hang out, eating pasta in their apartment while engaging in wacky hi-jinks with c-list celebrities.
Strangely enough the original case study for the Pentagon program involved two actual brothers named Mario and Luigi (last names unknown). They had been enlisted in a brand new covert training program. At the time, the US was engaged in heavy strategic planning for an invasion into France using the world famous Paris sewer system. While only elite soldiers were accepted into the Subterranean Invasion Force, or the “Plumbers” as they were known in military circles, the Marine Corps had even bigger plans for them. Over the years, Pentagon scientists had been working on a way to create super soldiers and while not yet able to genetically engineer these warriors, they had developed a temporary fix in the form of serums. There were two, each providing a different temporary effect, and code named “Mushroom” and “Star”. I have been privileged through one of my MANY contacts to view select classified footage of the Plumber Training Program. At one point, Luigi and Mario are given a dose of the “Mushroom” and an amazing transformation takes place. Both men, upon ingestion of the serum, have an explosion in muscle mass and seem to nearly double in size. This enhanced state can exist only until the test subject is injured, after which they return to normal size. The second, or “Star” serum caused apparent invincibility and super speed, for small periods of time. During these demonstrations, the lab experienced power surges and the constant flickering of the lights made it difficult to focus. Suffice it to say, the content of this footage, made it nearly impossible to believe your eyes.
The hope of the United States Marine Corps was that through the use of a video game, the trainees could be immersed in a virtual world designed to perfectly test their new found power. Because of a natural limit in their range of motion resulting from heightened muscle mass, the avatars in the simulation were given stiff, limited and awkward mobility. The play proved to be frustrating at first but upon practice, could become as natural as breathing.
Early results of these tests proved more successful than anyone involved could have possibly imagined. In further footage, the commanding officer demonstrates to his superiors the physical abilities of his new soldiers. The brothers are put through a battery of tests while several scientists and dignitaries look on. “Take one step“, the officer barked. “And then again!” One can easily see through these choreographed movements, the extent of the enhanced muscular strength. “ Now, swing your arms from side to side! All together now!” It is remarkable to watch the control and coordination.
Not everyone was pleased with the path that the training program and simulation had taken. When Linguini found out what his creation had become, he stormed into Nintendo Headquarters, confronting executives and demanding the program be stopped. A transcription of a Nintendo board meeting proves the extent of his rage.
Giuseppe: “Dis isa outarage! Ima no maka my game for these things. It for da peaceful purpose of to bringa da joy to da little paesanos all-a over da world!“
In the end, however, the large government contract proved once again to be too much to resist and Nintendo and Giuseppe Linguini permanently parted ways.
In the aftermath of the shakeup at Nintendo, the program was thrown into disorder. During that time, Luigi escaped from the training facility and effectively went rogue. He is still being hunted to this day and reports have surfaced that he can be found in Europe exploring haunted mansions and sometimes riding in his trusty go-kart. Mario felt the call to help his fellow man and left to enroll in Medical school. Three months later the plan was scrapped altogether when no one could remember why we were invading France in the first place.
Years later, a similar experiment was undertaken using a young army captain. This Super Soldier program was a much bigger success, yet it was still kept under wraps. Some say, a comic book was created to pay homage to this American Captain, but I have never been able to figure out which one.
Super Mario Brothers 2 had been in development as supplement to the original training program. It too was eventually released as simple home entertainment, just as Linguini had fought so hard for. Super Mario Brothers 3 however, never had any military connection at all. I have become aware that there are several internet articles linking 3 to the Mario Bros. Defense Program. These rumors are absurd and completely false. One has to only look at Super Mario Brothers 3 to see how innocent it is. I mean, it’s a videogame! Sometimes you people need to stop taking things so seriously.