Mario Superstar by Armen of Armenia
In Armenia, young activists are taking charge of their country’s future. The so-called “Mario generation” came of age after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Poverty and war effectively kidnapped their childhoods. Rather than looking to Stalin and Lenin, their heroes were more contemporary: video game icons, like Mario and Luigi. They are the first generation in Armenia to “look beyond the borders” of their country and question the conventions that shaped it.
Since presidential protests erupted in 2008, the civil rights fight in Armenia has been ongoing. Using the motto “struggle, struggle until the end,” these young activists are driven by a sense of socio-economic inequality, and are fighting to improve the lives of everyday Armenians from the ground up. Journalists have been subjected to assault and had their equipment confiscated for covering some of their activities. In literature, the movement translates to a rejection of censorship and heavy experimentation with unconventional literary forms, as is represented in the following work by activist and author Armen of Armenia.
sol ma caro sol feri
o Mario, Mario
ero ero cip cip cip
ero ero cip cip cip
one, two, three
-A favorite nursery rhyme for Armenian children
Your life is less than a life, I have to tell you. You want to come out and you can’t, you’re stuck waiting for the plumber, and he isn’t coming. The sewage is clogged, it’ll burst, and the water will fill the entire space. If, in reality, the last and only hero, the plumber, is gone — if you have invented him — then you will not survive. You will drown, cooped up in your space, in your own sewage water, and that will be the end of the world, the world you know from the telling of others, when you were small and you don’t remember that everything ended a long time ago, and now you can come out but you don’t want to, and that’s why you’re stuck waiting for the plumber, and he isn’t coming.
O, Mario, Mario, it’s not I who invented you. You actually exist. Although it was a long time ago, when I was little; and we were one: lives added to each other. As it turns out I remember everything distinctly. You weren’t Armenian; you were an American plumber with Italian ancestry. We struggled together day and night, convinced we would win. You didn’t have one life like me, you had many lives, my only one had been added to your numbered lives, and we were going forward flittingly.
Photo: Anna Grigorian
Armen of Armenia’s is the author of the interactive short story collection The Return of Kikos (2013) and the novel Mommyland (2015). His work has been included in the 2015 edition of Best European Fiction. His writing is strongly influenced by his political activism in Armenia’s struggle for civil rights. Armen is a fellow in the 2015 International Writing Program at the University of Iowa.
In the beginning, the world was easy: with a leap we could reach the third level and if we were skillful we could lengthen our lives. I remember it well: the palaces of invisible bricks and the underground storage chambers filled with gold coins, one life for a hundred. Now the Goomba mushrooms appear in front of my eyes, let’s jump on their heads and let them explode. They are very stupid and move aimlessly — they would walk into an abyss — but if they touch you, still, we would lose a life.
Mario, how could I not remember a friend like you? You are unforgettable because with you it was easy to lose a life, which wasn’t the last. With you the end of the world was desirable.
So let’s go through come-and-gone worlds again, where we found a “one-up” green mushroom, and swallowed it and gained another life. The mushroom grew from a moving brick, and we could not always catch it. We had to be fast: jump up, activate the invisible brick with a strike of your fist and from inside it the desirable “one-up” would emerge. Push for it. Swallow it.
I was kidnapped in broad daylight, from the Kindergarten playground, before everyone’s eyes: the nurse, the other children. A man of medium height, over 30 bespectacled, entered through the gate. I have ran toward him and hugged him, whispered something in his ear. We kissed. When I descended from his embrace, returned, I took my toy dwarf – my inseparable friend – from the bench, and said goodbye to those who remained, grabbed the man’s hand flittingly, though in actuality, I was being kidnapped in broad daylight, from the Kindergarten playground, before everyone’s eyes: the nurse and the other children.
Day and night they searched for me and couldn’t find me, everyone: my parents, police officers, relatives, neighbors, those who knew and didn’t know me, those who saw my picture in the paper, on the television, those who wondered at the unbelievable but real story that happened to me even though now I can’t even believe it when I am told how everyone searched for me day and night and couldn’t find me.
I was released without a demand for a ransom, within a week, returned to my yard. He let me out of the car and drove away. I was small and remember little, but I recall I was crying because everyone was crying: my parents, police officers, relatives, neighbors, those who knew and didn’t know me, who had seen my picture in the paper, on the television, who wondered about the shocking story. I was not assaulted. He only played games with me and then released me, without a demand for a ransom, within a week, before everyone’s eyes.
Your life is more than a life, I have to tell you: it is a struggle, a freedom fight, occurring in the air, in the water, on and under the ground, occurring in eight worlds, each of which in turn, has four levels.
At the end of each level, you reach a fortress. Its flag bows down in front of you, except for at the end of the fourth level. In the fourth level, you always appear inside the fortress of your main opponent, the dragon-like, horned, monster-turtle, standing on its rear paws. That is who kidnapped golden-tressed princess Peach, whom you have come to rescue. The monstrous turtle breathes fire and, from the sixth world on, he hurls his weapons at you. At the end of all the worlds, you meet him on the bridge that hangs over a river of lava.. You don’t succeed in burning the bridges, but it is possible to demolish it. There are two ways of defeating the monster: to reach the axe behind him, and use it to cut the iron pipe that holds the bridge so that the monster-turtle falls into the lava, or to bombard him with fireballs from a safe distance. If you manage to defeat the monster-turtle in the first of the seven worlds, he will turn out to be merely a fake Koopa Then, you will meet Peach’s loyal friend the dwarf toad, who inhabits the Mushroom Kingdom. The dwarf toad will thank you and tell you that the princess is in another fortress, and you will pass into the next world where your struggle continues.
It is not mandatory to pass all the worlds sequentially: there are ways of shortening the road, you simply must appear in one of the belts of disjuncture, from where you can leap from world to world. There are three warp zones; when you arrive, the screen reads: “Welcome to warp zone!” and lists the numbers of the worlds where you can move.
You choose your own way of shortening your road. But remember that when you are little you are vulnerable; if you grow up you can leap higher and farther, break bricks with your head, and demolish platforms. That’s why you must find an orange mushroom, usually under a brick with a question mark, and swallow it. Right here, one like this:
I couldn’t rescue myself without you; that’s why I kidnapped you. Now you have become a struggling star. People often see your image on the television screen, read your interviews in the papers, while I have remained the same: over 30, medium height, a bespectacled writer, who one day entered through the gate of your childish world and kidnapped you in broad daylight, in front of everyone’s eyes. I don’t what to justify myself, but you chose me. You ran toward me, hugged me, whispered forgotten words in my ear, and even kissed me. In other words, in actuality, you chose me, but because you were little perhaps you did it unconsciously.
Now you have grown up, your golden tresses have become short and darker, that’s why I’m writing this short story now: not to remind you of the ransom-less kidnapping, but because I want you to give new meaning to whatever has passed. In reality, I wasn’t the kidnapper, I was the liberator. I want you to be filled with this awareness.
There is no audience here. We are participants. This is simultaneously our common, co-authored work, but in the same moment, the work of one of us.
I read what you wrote; it was as if you remember nothing besides crying, because everyone was crying. As it turns out the choice was yours when you were little, and continues to be yours, now that you are big. I won’t argue. I, indeed, played a game with you. I never hurt you, I simply played a game with you and let you go, because without you I couldn’t rescue myself.
At the end of the second to last world, you fall into a closed circle. There are three rooms through which you run and pass and again appear in the same place. You want to come out, but you can’t; you can’t find a way out, it’s gone, and your time is running out.
Stop. It’s the end. If, indeed, there is no way out, then there is no point in running. Understand that this is a closed circle. In other words, there is no escaping. It only seems to you that everything is still ahead. Look back and see that you made a big mistake, a blunder. You were possessed with the idea of rescuing the princess in trouble, but you are not a knight, you are merely a plumber.
The princesses, they are always your end. They have different names, but they are the same; all of them made of the same stuff. Maybe they are good, deserve love, but they have never loved you. They have taken advantage of your bravery, your struggle to justify the inability to be liberated independently. Maybe they admired you, or your work attracted them, but nothing more. And Peach is one of them also, golden-tressed, blue-eyed, a peach covered with pink velvet, inside a bitter pit. Forget about the last world; take Princess Peach out of your mind. She doesn’t love you. Your dream of a single kiss is a delusion; she is not a sleeping beauty. She won’t throw her arms around your neck, won’t utter forgotten words. Remember your frustration when, at the end of past worlds, the dwarf Toad appeared instead of her and said, like an idiot: “Thank you, Mario! But our princess is in another fortress!”
Don’t you see that they are playing with you, taking advantage of your love and your selfless devotion to the struggle? She is not in trouble. You are. You have abandoned your job. You must rescue someone who is simply going to play with you and let you go. You are going to squander your wealth for her, pretend you have a lot of it, but you have to bash your head against rock to earn each gold coin. She lives at the expense of your lives and until the last moment she will remain a little aloof and unapproachable, as if she is preoccupied with the worries of her Mushroom Kingdom, as if she is a steadfast, Mushroom Queen, an unwashed peach that calmly accepts your commitment to liberate her.
It’s not worth it, Mario. Stop running. It’s not your end; it’s only the end of the seventh world, a whirlpool that liberates you, Whirl around in ease, until your time runs out.
Don’t cry, little one, wipe your eyes, my princess, and my golden tressed beauty. I know you want to come out, but you can’t because you are cooped up in that ramshackle fortress; and you have nothing to do except weep and wait, shed crocodile tears and wait endlessly. Don’t cry, my angel, there is no longer a need to wait, it only seems to you that everything is still ahead, exactly the opposite, everything has ended a long time ago. Look back and see that you have made a big mistake, a blunder. You tied your rescue to the knight’s arrival; you have made him a hero when he doesn’t deserve even a single teardrop of yours, a single golden tress.
In reality, knights are the ones who keep you locked up. They have different names but all of them made are made of the same stuff. At least the monsters who kidnapped you loved you in their way, while knights have always blatantly taken advantage of your weakness, defenselessness, your inability to be rescued on your own. They will simply become made heroes; defeat the monster, and possess you themselves. Maybe they admired your beauty, or your royal work and wealth attracted them, but nothing more. And Mario is one of them, an agile, resourceful commoner, who thinks himself a hero. With the cap over his eyes, his droopy overalls, he only thinks about money. (As if we don’t know that one life is one hundred gold coins, as if we don’t know that he doesn’t lead any liberating struggle.) His only concern is the ransom he is to receive, and the title of a hero. Forget it; take the plumber Mario out of your mind. He doesn’t love you.
Don’t you see that he is playing his game? Lower your head onto the soft, velvety pillow. Close your tired eyelids, and sleep tight. Become a sleeping beauty, let your real love visit you at least in your sleep, on a white horse, the golden tressed prince you deserve. At least in your dream surrender to the delusion of a single kiss and hear words that are never remembered when you wake up. It’s good that Mario is stuck in the deadlock of the seventh world. Imagine how frustrated you would be if you woke up and saw that your savior is a mustached Italian migrant who spends his time in odoriferous sewage pipes, an unwashed, mixed-race proletarian of Japanese descent.
It’s not worth it, Peach. Don’t cry. If the plumber is the princess’s, then it is the end of the world. Close your eyes. Wait for the end.
Don’t get stuck, Mario. We have won once, a long time ago, and we are still going to win now. The selfless fighter couldn’t forget the joy of victory. Stop and remember.
Don’t sleep, Peach. We liberated you once already, a long time ago, and now we are going to reconquer your liberty again. The selfless lover couldn’t forget the joy of liberty. Wake up and remember.
I am sure you haven’t forgotten the road of self-rescue. There is always a way out. If you are together — he who can win, she who wants to be liberated – then you must simply pass the first room through the bottom, the second through the middle, and the third through the top, and go forward toward the last, eighth world, toward final and supreme victory.
I know opponents spring like mushrooms everywhere. I know is hard to avoid them. But if Super Mario becomes Fire Mario, he will be able to shoot with fireballs, in other words, neutralize the opponent from a distance. In order to turn into Fire Mario you must swallow this, exactly this scarlet flower:
In actuality, everyone has simply played with me; whoever has played a computer game ever. It is the greatest honor for me, and I am proud of that, and thankful.
I am thankful to all the people who have passed even the halfway point of the road of my struggle, and especially the children I inspired. I am thankful to my only parent, Shigeru Miyamoto, for creating me; the “Nintendo” company for distributing more than two hundred million copies of me and making me a worldwide star, my twin brother Luigi, who never surrendered to the greed of first place but remained second by my side forever; the residents of Saragossa, for naming a street in my honor; my Armenian speechmaker, for writing this fire-breathing speech; in short, everyone. I have surely forgotten someone. I am immensely thankful, and am especially thankful to you for struggling until the end, for not just playing and then forgetting me.
You actually exist. I haven’t invented you. I loved you when you were little, and now I love you more. I was yours and now I belong even more to you. I was proud of you and now I am even more proud. I was strong because of you and now I’m even stronger. I was responsible in front of you and now I’m more responsible. You were a hero and now you’re a hero all the more, you were just and now you are even more just. Our struggle was unstoppable and now it’s even more unstoppable. Our victory was inevitable and now it’s even more inevitable. So, make my struggle real. Don’t forget: I loved you when you were little, and now I love you more.
And now, when the entire world has joined my struggle, I am still the last hero for you. We are building a big edifice together. Perhaps we are again enflaming the extinguished fire of struggle in one person. Perhaps we are liberating ourselves. I beg you to be encompassed with this awareness.
There is no audience here. We are participants. This is our common, co-authored struggle, while simultaneously it also belongs to only one of us. If this harmony is gone, our struggle will not be successful. Our strength is our confidence, our reserve. The reserved one wins, the confident one wins, not the crackbrain.
You are fired up with hope and courage, knowledgeable and excited, bright and open hearted, you have enlisted in my struggle. You have added your name to those who have never been a multitude, who have always been one plus one, plus one, plus one and now, a hundred thousand, five hundred thousand, one million, ten million, a hundred million, and now, a quarter century past, when the entire world has joined my struggle, you don’t cease to be the only one for me, the last real hero.
My victory depends on one person, and you are that person, and you are that person, and you are that person, because I am simply the hero of a computer game. The final goal of my struggle is the victorious end, an end where the affirmed reality accurately corresponds to its description. Every time I chant the slogan, “Struggle, struggle till the end,” I mean not only the final goal but those points, the strategic goals, with the conquest of which we are approaching the final and supreme victory.
Don’t get stuck and wait. In this fatal phase, when your sewage bursts, and the imminent danger is drowning in your own sewage water, cooped up in your space, remember that in reality I am and I am not. I am as a tool and history. I’m not a plumber. I have been invented so that if one wants to struggle he or she will be able to, and will be able to win as well. My victory depends on one person, and I am that one person, and that one is you, and that one is each and every one of us.
In the last, most complex world, a real battle for survival begins. Spin’s wild weapons fall on your head from flying, sacks with eyes. Cannons fire upon you at every step, Cip-Cip fishes unexpectedly jump out of waters, predator piranha plants swim out of pipes, with their open traps full of sharp teeth, ready to swallow you at any second. I won’t even mention the hammer rainfall of the Hammer brothers and the bombardment of Koopa’s sickles. Even though you have become little like before, it turns out you have become invulnerable. The opponents are neutralized when they touch you because you just swallowed the flying star.
The plumber really excited me. Although he was late, he came and performed his duty flawlessly and told his entire life story while he did it.
He was a short, sincere, and animated man with a moustache and a cap. It is unbelievable how many trials and tribulations he had gone through and yet remained confident and reserved, kind and amicable. It turned out he is in the movement, one of our ideologues, an activist in his neighborhood. And he made me blush; he said he highly appreciated struggling women, and he considered me the most deserving daughter of our people. And he also said these authorities are monsters, they have confiscated the country and must leave before too long.
How can you not love a guy like that, who has managed to stay hope-fired and courageous, knowledgeable and excited, bright and open-hearted, and continues to struggle? I don’t know about you but I was really very excited by the plumber, who, although was late, came and did his job flawlessly.
Do not let me forget to say that no matter how much I insisted he refused to take money from me. I had to leave, so I offered to take him in my car, and he agreed. I gave him a ride, dropped him off in his yard, and forgot to say…