Does Mario feel pain? It’s complicated

The world of Super Mario is a dangerous place. In the games, the plumber falls off cliffs, gets jabbed with spikes, and has everything from wrenches to fireballs hurled at him. But he always gets back up and goes again, which raises an important question: does Nintendo’s hero actually feel pain? According to Takashi Tezuka, who has worked on the series since the original Super Mario Bros. (including serving as producer on last year’s Wonder), there isn’t really a clear answer. “It may be that Mario does feel pain,” he tells me.

But that ambiguity may be because I was asking the wrong question. The important part, he explains, is the emotions players experience when Mario plummets to his death or is fried by Bowser’s breath. “If the player feels that Mario is feeling pain, that’s a better experience, rather than talking about whether Mario actually does feel pain,” Tezuka says.

And players can sense that emotion much more in Wonder, with the game’s more detailed and lively animations. Mario’s face contorts in uncomfortable ways when the game over screen pops up and jolts into the air when taking damage from a spiky shell or chomping Piranha Plant. It’s enough to make you wince — which is kind of the point.

“For us, if Mario hits an enemy and the person playing goes ‘ow!’ that’s ideal,” says Tezuka.

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