Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Quick Takes - Lessons from Super Mario

Teach us your ways, oh wise Italian plumber.

When it comes to the pantheon of great video games, few stand above Super Mario World for Super NES. I recently started replaying Super Mario World and, from the moment I turned it on and got my controller out, I realized I was humming along to the tune with perfect pitch and accuracy. Beep beep beep BOP beep beep beep BOP BEEEEEEE beep bop boo, bum dun dun dun bum dun dun dun bum dun dun dun'l doo dee dum bummm, bom bum bum bum bom bum bum bum bom bum bum bundle bun dee dummmm bummm.

Why does such a simple game, with such an extraordinarily cliche premise (save the Princess, again? Why the face?!), have such a deep emotional attachment to me. It could be that it's a reminder of the proverbial "good ol' days," where I'd rush home from school, push up the purple SNES power button, and sit down for Super Mario World until my parents got home and made me go outside (bastards). Or maybe it's because in the ever-expanding video game world, with games of infinite wonder and story like Skyrim or complex strategizers like Starcraft II, something so profoundly simple that cuts to the core of the gaming experience makes all the superfluous complexity seem unnecessary. Super Mario World takes an Italian plumber with extraordinary calf muscles and turns him into a feeling: Of nostalgia, of joy, of community.

It's so simple, but there's something complex about the little guy's pursuit of simple perfection. When I look at sports, I see a lot of parallels to Super Mario World. Seriously. This isn't a stretch, just bear with me. The complexity in planning and execution has pushed the boundaries of the athlete's mind (and the Kinkos guy who has to pump out all those goddamn playbooks) to the breaking point. Players are expected to function not as athletes, but as databases of information. They're more computer programs than people, and the coaches are programmers spitting out complex code to get them to do, essentially, pretty simple things. Pass the ball. Run the ball. Hit the ball. Whatever. But every great athlete and every great coach always says the same thing: That sports are played at their highest level when the players can stop thinking and can just play.

If Mario were a multi-button combination play-calling RPG battle simulator, it might be a fun game, but the idea of just reading and reacting to the scrolling environment makes Super Mario World something sublime. Simple to play, but hard to master. I would love to see coaches and players take a step back from the over-complication of sports and try to get back to the core of the game. I realize it's easy to say that from atop my shiny Isengard, and the reason it's become so complicated is because coaches and players know more information about each other and each other's strategies than ever before in sports history, but that doesn't mean the answer has to be a complicated one. Maybe try Super Mario's methodology, and simplify the situation. Hitting a baseball is incredibly hard, but having to process through 45 coaches' notes on your swing and scouting reports of the pitcher and the advanced sabermetrics of what you should do in that particular situation and and and ... just hit the ball. You know? Just react. Just Mario.

  • Professional athletes are seriously detached sometimes. Jabar Gaffney, wide receiver for the Washington Redskins, told a Cowboys fan over Twitter to "kill urself" amidst a swarm of angry swearing and poor spelling after the fan Tweeted Gaffney the Redskins' record (3-7). Gaffney since apologized for the incident over Twitter, saying, and I'm quoting here, "I don't want the man to really kill himself it was just a way of saying fuck off and leave me alone to all u lames keep up or don't follow." So, if Rex Ryan is fined $75,000 for one swear word, and Gaffney rolled off four in total plus a "kill urself," I'm guessing Jabar will owe roughly $500,000 to the league (I quantified the "kill urself" at $200,000). I bet Mark Cuban is really enjoying the NBA lockout right now.
  • When asked about the prospects of Tim Tebow being the future quarterback of the Denver Broncos, John Elway, the chief of football operations for the Broncos and the unequivocal best QB in Denver history, said, "Uhhhh ... no!" Just like that. I heard it on the radio. It was pretty emphatic. For all the success Tebow has had this year as a starter (4-1 record), John Elway knows what it takes to play quarterback and win championships in this league, and his answer was as definitive as it could've been. They don't think Tebow can win them a championship. That's the bottom line. He can be America's Christian Anglo sweetheart, he can be the "Rudy" of the NFL, but he's not going to help his team win a championship unless he actually learns how to throw the ball. Personally, I think the Broncos should play with two quarterbacks. Have a traditional pocket passer and Tim Tebow both in shotgun at all times, the center snaps the ball to whomever the play is called for. If it's Tebow, he can pass or run, and if it's not Tebow, he can either take a handoff from the pocket QB or block and split out wide for HB screens. I would pay a lot of money to watch that team play football, and I don't even like Tim Tebow.
  • The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim apparently took free agent left-hander C.J. Wilson to dinner on Monday night to try to woo him away from division rival Texas. But times are tough in professional sports right now, and Wilson was apparently less-than-impressed with the choice of "whatever Carl's Jr. value meal strikes your fancy."
  • Kenyan long-distance runner Marko Cheseto had both his feet amputated after being lost for two days in the snow in Alaska. Cheseto, a nursing and nutrition student in Alaska and a member of his college's cross-country team, got lost without protective winter clothing and was found suffering from hypothermia and severe gangrene. I think somebody took the whole "cross-country" thing a little too seriously.
  • A linesman in Spain was hit by a flying umbrella during a recent La Liga match, prompting the referee to run for cover with his fellow referees and abandon the game. It was later determined that the umbrella was accidentally flung by a child, who still had the handle in his hand as he watched the remaining piece fall to the pitch and slice a deep gash into the linesman's face. Even physics hates referees!

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