So we start another year; bodies full of seasonal excess, minds full of ‘entertainment’ you won’t go near again until December. Embracing the to-be-polite “how was your NYE?” questions and “uggh…get me back on the sofa…” laments from your co-workers, many of us succumb to the gloom of real life with a whimper. Call me greedy – but if seasonal entertainment is THAT good, there must be a few things of value we can harness in the first ten months of the year? Can we not see Kris Akabusi and other down-on-their-luck TV personalities in pantomime in July too? Well; maybe just Akabusi…
Under the spectre of the Playful 2012 and H+K: D2 Content conferences I was still to write articles for (sorry @anjali28!), I spent a lot of my ‘holiday’ reading nonsense – stimulating nonsense, but nonsense nonetheless. So – avoiding any obnoxious post-Christmas parallels to gifts from the Biblical Magi, I have resolved to write three short-but-hopefully-polemic pieces to kick off 2013 on a place where I feel most at home; on my soapbox. Keeping these pieces short, sharp and ‘to the point’ will be the challenge…which I for some reason, have accepted.
This first piece was borne from a chance finding of an article (read: aimless online article grazing) that got me seriously thinking about the opening paragraph above: take a peek at Story #5 here. Crazy. Was I duped into an everlasting love for the Super Mario franchise through devices borrowed from the stage? Having referenced the related article by Jared Newman, the below quote bounced around my head for a week or so:
“Mario was never once in danger, you were merely the audience. The whole game was a show, its characters the actors.”
Here goes: the article detailed the rising curtain and the ‘cast’ rushing onto stage when you first load the seminal Super Mario Bros. 3 game. The introduction of Mario regularly changing costume via his power-ups (beyond the historical colour change of his overalls), denoted the titular character is in fact playing different parts. The game levels often resembled a stage set; blocks are bolted to scenery, platforms are either suspended from the ceiling by ropes or ‘driven’ by machinery. Heck, Mario even exits stage right after each level to a quasi-backstage area, as you would on-stage (alas, sans groupies). The equally-lauded Super Mario 64 took this further, portraying the game from the perspective of Lakitu, who follows Mario in each scene with a video camera. Remember the small production touches, such as the use of circular fade in/fade out effects between levels? Even the game ending is effectively a shot of the main characters waving to the camera in a final theatrical moment! Jesus wept.
“Is there a word for discovering clues that suggest your childhood was a lie?”
Why would our friends at Nintendo bother with all this? It’s because of emotional impact – there is an overwhelming feeling upon completion of this ‘mere game’ of a story, VERY well told. It tugs on our heartstrings, reminding us of the shared experience of film and theatre. The approach stays true to the integrity of ‘Brand Mario’, if we assume the original Super Mario Bros. was the only real adventure – each subsequent game therefore exists as a re-telling of the brand truth, allowing each performance to be neatly tied up in a package, providing closure when the ‘adventure’ ends. You don’t have to look hard to find the anger fans feel when storytelling corners are cut; especially via the “it was a dream all along” façade – yes, I am looking at you Sunset Beach, Dallas and most relevant here, the ‘New Coke’ of the Mario franchise – Super Mario Bros. 2.
“…although nobody on his TV thought wearing a top was necessary, Mario was still only able to dream in PG-13…”
Anyhoo. I chose the title to this piece not as a melancholic monologue; just take those words in verbatim for a moment – if the outside world is a “stage”, the onus is on us marketing types to think about the comms we produce simply as a “play”. In as much as life has seven stages in Shakespearean logic, a play has a structure – a narrative that the author (us?) wants to convey to an audience – such that those who experience your vision may similarly inspire you with their work (c.f. crowdsourcing), or more bluntly, to ensure the outside world understands what you are selling. Whether your objectives are awareness, changing opinions or purchase preference, the Holy Grail is for our ‘performance’ to “do a Mario” – leave your audience with a feeling of a story being very well told. Those are the things we remember, not whether we liked it, re-tweeted it or not. Very few things last generations, but it would be nice to create something that lasts beyond that standard four-week burst of paid media support, no?
…and on that cliff-hanger, I bid you adieu. The next piece in this series will look into how delving into the dark side of performance within the “play” on your “stages” is likely to be far more productive than self-indulgent. Cryptic as ever, huh? Until then, go and see Seven Psychopaths – it is a little bit amazing.
Posted by John Duku, Digital Client Services Manager (@dukes4)