As we all know, it is a fact that the Super Mario series has the deepest lore. This became all the more evident to me while my partner and I were playing some Mario Kart 8, and then I noticed what had been eluding me all these years of playing Mario games. How could I have been so blind? Analyzing the racetracks in Mario Kart 8 didn’t just show me adorable scenery and creatures, it showed me something much more important: the grim economic and sociopolitical circumstances in the Mushroom Kingdom.
Immediately, one has to think about how Mario and his friends, or secretly bitter acquaintances, have all the time in the world to be gratuitously putting on races. And for what? A trophy? Bragging rights? Rep and respect? A lack of purpose in their lives?
In the Mushroom Kingdom, money is clearly not an issue, especially when characters own large amounts of property. As usual, Bowser has his own castle, specifically designed to be completely unlivable. Toad has his own turnpike, with no tolls (Thanks, Toad), but no exit ramps to any other streets (Wow, never mind, Toad). Wario owns a full automated gold mine, most likely to cut laborers out of the picture entirely. This is simply scratching the surface, however. Manual labor is abundant in the Mushroom Kingdom, as made clear by Wild Woods.
Let’s take a closer look at these Wild Woods and see how wild they really are. Why have these Shy Guys been placed in a forest? There are two possible reasons: Princess Peach has given them a sort of live-at-work situation, allowing them a village so long as they continue harvesting the forest’s resources in a timely and orderly manner, or they were exiled for treason, probably. As long as they remain obedient little profit-machines, the Princess is happy.
Not to mention, the stage takes racers along a large water plume, not unlike a sewer system being drained from the village. What are the living conditions for these Shy Guys? Why does the Princess allow them to live in such unsanitary conditions? Is that why they’re so shy? Is their shyness just a metaphor for their lack of a voice in the Mushroom Kingdom’s political climate? Am I insane? Do they unionize?
And what about the Toads?
In this society, Toads seem to be the only subhuman species allowed to serve Princess Peach. Perhaps she pays them or perhaps she pleasures them; it is never clear what is her end of the deal. Perhaps the Princess dismantles every assembling union, such as the International Brotherhood of Toadsters. Their only political representation seems to be Toad and Toadette, who are only allowed to race alongside Mario and company in the name of Toad life, Toad liberty, and the pursuit of Toad happiness.
Toads and Shy Guys still have bills to pay, though, I imagine. The flying Lakitu seems to be the only one actually getting paid for his services, taking three coins from every player that falls off of the track when he rescues them. Even then, I’m convinced that this is an under-the-table operation. He has always been seemingly contractually obligated to save and serve these racers, who don’t even have the decency to thank him, and yet it is only now, after 22 years, that he is actually being financially compensated for his efforts. Even then, he can’t get paid legally.
Financial stability for workers is the least of Mario and his fellow capitalist compatriots’ worries. Also, they hate culture.
Thwomp Ruins and Dry Dry Desert share one thing: they seem like sacred grounds, rampant with history and remnants of the Kingdom’s old cultures. What do Mario and his team of classless associates do there, though? They pave roads through them and race.
With every lap, these ruins begin crumbling, and as these artifacts dissipate, so do the racers’ regard for history, ancestry, and safety. Anything for the win, right? Every racer is expendable. These pyramids are old as balls, so let’s just wreck them. Just put up some billboards, no one cares. History is stupid.
By now, it may be clear to you what a horrific dystopia the Mushroom Kingdom really is. Of course, you might be thinking I am over-analyzing the hell out of the Super Mario series and that I am completely out of my mind, and you may be right, but that’s beside the point.
Getting a little real, though, there is something frightening about all this. No, it’s not because these are the unfortunate lives of some fictional creatures in their acid-trip of a land, but because these situations can actually parallel our own world. They feel familiar, with our own worldly issues of labor, civil rights, and money at the core of so much trouble. Super Mario seems to be a lot closer to reality than it seems, for better or for worse.