It was the NES—the janky but genius 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System—that was my real education. From The Legend of Zelda, I learned that the world exists to be explored; from Mega Man, I learned that my enemies have much to teach; and from Duck Hunt, well, Duck Hunt taught me that even if someone laughs at your failures, it doesn’t mean you get to shoot them in the face. Ultimately, though, it was Super Mario Bros., that taught me what remains perhaps the most important lesson of my life. I am being perfectly sincere. I am asking you to consider this seriously. Super Mario Bros., the 1.0 edition, is perhaps the all-time masterpiece of side-scrolling games. When the game begins, Mario is standing all the way to the left of the legendary opening screen, and he can only go in one direction: He can only move to the right, as new scenery and enemies scroll in from that side. He progresses through eight worlds of four levels each, all of them governed by time constraints, until he reaches the evil Bowser and frees the captive Princess Toadstool. Throughout all thirty-two levels, Mario exists in front of what in gaming parlance is called “an invisible wall,” which doesn’t allow him to go backward. There is no turning back, only going forward—for Mario and Luigi, for me, and for you. Life only scrolls in one direction, which is the direction of time, and no matter how far we might manage to go, that invisible wall will always be just behind us, cutting us off from the past, compelling us on into the unknown.
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