Metaphors in Super Mario Bros. that Taught Us about Real Life

How many lives do you have left before it’s “game over”?

Something that Super Mario Bros. taught us first, more so than any other video game, was the concept of having “lives”.  If you fell in a hole (which means you instantly died; no chance that the hole wasn’t really that deep or that you could have grabbed on to a branch while falling), you lost a life.  If you touched an enemy, you lost a life (which is completely irrational; I wonder what would happen if Mario touched a “frenemy”?…). If you ran out of time, you lost a life (okay, I admit, that concept is somewhat lifelike).

However, if you accomplished certain goals to better yourself, like ate a healthy mushroom(this promoted organic a lifestyle), saved 100 coins (which causes the game to most likely be endorsed by Dave Ramsey), kicked a turtle shell that slid into 10 enemies (illogical and scientifically impossible on so many levels), or jumped to the top of a flagpole (because that’s normal in real life), you actually would get a “1 Up”, which means that you gained an extra life.

But the whole point of this game, despite collecting gold coins (which instantly disappeared when you touched them- could that be a metaphor symbolizing how money is meaningless?) and muddling through everyday distractions (like busting bricks with your fist because you thought there was a steel box with an “invincibility star” inside- choose your own metaphor for life on that one…) was to save the princess from the evil mutant dragon named Koopa.

If you could run under the dragon in the final castle when he jumped up while breathing fire and hammers at you, you instantly touched an axe that caused the bridge to collapse, therefore sending the dragon into the fiery lava pit (poor architectural planning, if you ask me…). In the next room, the famous princess was waiting to be saved from captivity.  In other words, despite being responsible by saving money, despite gaining power, despite becoming a hero to anyone, it’s all really about helping other people.

Cool Retro Sunday School Bonus!

And for those from a Protestant background, the Mushroom Kingdom represents the Heavenly Kingdom, the dragon symbolizes Satan who will be hurled into the lake of fire in the end, and saving the princess symbolizes sharing Christ’s message of salvation and loving others as ourselves, which is the summary of Ephesians 2:8-10, and in my opinion, the meaning of life and the whole point of Christianity.

Advertisements

Adventures in Thailand: Man Cave Time Machine

What’s the difference between 1) our memories of actually events and 2) our memories of old dreams?  In theory, not a lot.

The events that have taken place in real life can actually change the course of history and can produce tangible souvenirs such as photographs which can be taken to prove them in the future, whereas the events that occur in a dream do not really have the ability to do those things (though sometimes dreams do predict the future or inspire a person to “be a better person”).

Whether it’s a remembered actual event or a remembered dream, either way, it’s in the past now and it’s just a memory.

If we could take away the two exceptions, that actual events change the course of history and can produce tangible souvenirs whereas dreams don’t, how is a six year-old memory different than a six year-old dream?

In the summer of 2004, my friend Josh and I rode “motorcycles” (they were more like mopeds) 40 miles outside of the mountain city of Chiang Mai in Thailand, in order to find an ancient cave where few tourists ever bothered to visit.  There were no signs in English once we got there.  No English-speaking guides.  All we knew it that it cost non-Thai people $4 to go into the cave and another dollar for a lantern to actually see around inside the place.

As we got to the back of the cave, our guide pointed behind him to what appeared to be a bottomless pit.  I picked up a rock on the cave floor and tossed it into the abyss and finally after about ten seconds, I faintly heard it hit the bottom.  I immediately imagined that centuries ago, prisoners were thrown down to the bottom only to be met by hungry lions.

There’s no doubt, Josh and I are some of the few American people to have visited the forsaken Chiang Dao Cave in Thailand.  Let’s assume that I don’t embed pictures of that event into this post and that nothing happened that day that changed the course of history (and it in deed, didn’t).

In theory, the events I told about in that Thai cave memory only actually happened because I said they did, a theory that I brought to life in Snail Trails.  Especially if Josh forgot about us going to that cave.  No souvenirs.  No life-changing actions.

So what if I only dreamed that event happened?  What if while I stayed in Chiang Mai I only drove by the signs for Chiang Dao Cave, but never took the time to visit it?  What if all I did was just dream that Josh and I actually went there?

How would that dream be any different than it really happening?

For another related post, here’s The Interstate to Memory Lane

my roommate Josh from Liberty University

the 2004 version of me either trapped in the actual Chiang Dao Cave or in a dream

The Importance of a Setting in Real Life, Not Just in Fiction

 This could be Heaven or this could be hell.What makes old graveyards creepy, besides our sneaking suspension that the bearded ghost of a Confederate Army General will appear through the foggy mist and try to tell us a haunting story of he ended up with a hook for an arm?  (Pirates don’t have exclusive right to those things, you know…)  Take away the graves and all the preconceived ideas that human curiosity has handed down to us over the centuries, and chances are, the land itself is still not a beautiful piece of land to begin with.

I assume that the land used for graveyards and cemeteries often was the land that wasn’t aesthetically pleasing as the acres used for building homes, schools, and businesses.  Safe to say it wasn’t feng shui. 

Instead it was the leftover, out of the way, dreary land that someone was just trying to get rid of.  So they sold it for less than they would have liked to an investor who saw its best potential and destiny was for it to become a graveyard.

We choose destinations for a reason.  Why do coffee shops serve as such a great pre-date and unofficial first date venue?  Because there are plenty of other people around in a coffee shop whose collected friendly conversations make for the perfect background murmur, so that while the two single people are surrounded by people, it’s intimate enough of a setting where they can, in a sense, feel alone- without the awkwardness of actually being alone when they don’t yet know each other that well. 

If nothing else, the coffee itself serves as a convenient social crutch, as mentioned in Campfires.  A coffee shop is a setting of safety, comfortableness, and relaxation, as well a symbolic “garden of growth”.  I know this first hand:

Before I asked out my now-wife to the sure-to-get-a-second-date John Mayer concert, I primed our new friendship with several Sunday night meets at the local Starbucks.  It was the coffee shop that watered and fertilized our friendship into dating, then a little over a year later into marriage, and two years after that (present day), a baby.  A human life is scheduled to make its first out-of-the-womb appearance this November.  And it all started, in theory, by me choosing the right setting- which in this case was a coffee shop.

What if instead of asking her to coffee when we first met as strangers, I would have asked her to dinner?  It could have been awkward.  Eating with a stranger she just met the week before.  I could have ended up in a category of guys she had dated but it never really went anywhere- and I wasn’t willing to make that gamble. 

I knew that if I built the relationship on true friendship first, it would be much more natural and relaxing to eventually eat a meal together at a restaurant.  But not before coffee at a Starbucks.

We can choose where either good or bad memories will take place.  Where does a guy propose to his fiancé?  Where do parents announce to their children that they are getting a divorce?  Because those places will never be the same again after that.

Where were you when you found out the cancer is in remission? Where were you when you heard about the two planes crashing into the Twin Towers?  Those places will always be associated with the big news, good or bad.

It’s why the phrase “may I speak with you for in a minute in my office, please?” is so epic.

Whether we choose the place, or it chooses us, the setting is everything; lasting an entire lifetime as it attaches itself to a memory of hope or a memory of damnation.

What Movie Rating Does Real Life Get? (G, PG, PG-13, R, or NC-17)

If your life was a movie, what would it be rated?

I recently watched a documentary questioning the secrecy and allusiveness of the MPAA movie rating system, called “This Film is Not Yet Rated”. While I’m not opposed to the American movie rating system because I see it as a decent way for parents to decide which movies are more suitable for their children, I also admit there is some humor in the way that movies are arbitrarily given ratings.

In general, more than one f-word grants an “R” rating. “Artistic or comic nudity” can land with “PG-13” or even “PG”, but if the nudity involves romantic or sexual content, then the movie will be an “R”. A panel of judges make a living off of making that call.

By now it’s pretty obvious that most studios want the majority of their films to be rated “PG-13” because more people will be able to see it. “PG” is for young kids and “R” weeds out the kids who are not smart enough to pay for one movie but walk into another.

The thing that most stood out to me from watching the documentary was this:

Compared to Europe, America has it backwards when it comes to sexuality and violence in movies. In Europe, sex scenes are portrayed in a more matter-of-fact/this-just-part-of-life manner. An absence of chiseled abs, large breasts, and steamy music. Not glamorized.

But when it comes to violence, Europe leaves a lot more to the imagination. They’re more offended by violence and less worried about sexual content.

In America, our movies are infiltrated by sex any time there’s a slight opportunity for it. But it’s so fake. Women have the sex drives of men. The atmosphere is perfect. The lighting is just right. And of course both participants have perfect bodies that could be (and often have been) featured partially nude on a health magazine cover. For me it’s just not believable.

Yet despite our obsession, compared to Europe, we’re much more offended by sex in movies. Culturally, America is a Christian nation. So we’re much more likely to be bothered or affected by heavy sexual content in a movie.

So we shy away from sex in movies, but indulge in violence. And not just grotesque stuff like the Saw movies.

We love war movies. We just do. Because there’s nothing more American than seeing the good guys kill the bad guys.

Like any James Bond movie for example. Loaded with countless murders by gunshots. Yet a lack of blood. Therefore, James Bond movies aren’t rated “R”, but “PG-13” instead.

The theory is that violent movies have this undertone that speak to teenage boys and young men: “Just imagine, if you fought in the U.S. military, you could be the one with the gun. Protecting our country. Killing and defeating the enemy.”

The regular presence of violence in American entertainment desensitizes us to it. The more we see it, the more we’re used to it. And it’s not really a moral issue to us.



While we may not be willing to be part of the firing squad that executes an American criminal convicted of murder and rape, our conscious doesn’t bother us as much about killing the enemy in a war who happened to be born in the wrong country with a dictator who is forcing him to fight against us. Yet he may have never killed or raped anyone. Until now, he could be just a another normal family man. But if he doesn’t fight for his corrupt political leader, his life will end anyway.

Both the sex and the violence are fake. We know this. But our conscience doesn’t really bother us about watching Saving Private Ryan or Band of Brothers (which neither really contain any sexual content).

I’ve noticed that Baptist preachers can mention Saving Private Ryan during a sermon to drive home a point and no one in the congregation thinks twice. We’ll overlook the vulgar language and bloody deaths in the name of war. Yes, it’s violent. But it’s war.

The point: Even Baptist preachers don’t mind violence, as long as it’s associated with war. I know this because I’ve been in the congregation enough to hear it. But if a movie was rated “R” for any other reason than war violence, it would be taboo for the preacher to admit he even saw the movie.

I get it. It makes sense.

America excuses violence. But has a tough time with the other stuff.

Now that I’ve established that America is okay with violence, I will quote Michael Tucker. He is the producer of the 2004 war documentary film, Gunner Palace, which shows the everyday lives of soldiers fighting in Iraq. This film is unique in that it received a “PG-13” rating, despite it’s 42 uses of the f-word and brutal violence and imagery. Tucker had to appeal the MPAA because of course they originally rated his film “R”:

“When a little girl was running down the road in South Vietnam, burnt by Napalm and she’s naked, is that PG? Is it PG-13? Is it R? You can’t rate reality.”

Great quote. I’ve seen the exact photograph he’s referring to. It’s awful. And I’ve seen even more hellish pictures from The Rape of Nanking during World War II, when Japan occupied China, raping all females and killing all men they could find in that city.

That can’t be rated. It’s so worse than “R”. Worse than NC-17. Yet those photographs can easily be found in Wikipedia or in any History section in a Borders or Barnes and Noble. It’s not fiction. It’s not art. It’s reality.

Michael Tucker is right: You can’t rate reality.


In the back of my mind I’ve always wondered what my life would be rated if it were a movie. The question is, how would my life not be rated “R”? Just considering an average workday. Even on a tame day, I know the language I hear around me would be rated “R”. As it definitely was in high school.

I guess I’ve always thought it’s ironic to hear a handful of f-words in a movie and know the movie is rated “R” because of the language itself. Hearing that language has become normal to me. Which of course defeats the whole idea of certain words being vulgar. When they’re common, they can’t truly be as vulgar as we let ourselves believe.

One of my biggest reasons not to use profanity is for that very reason. It just seems cliche to me. I can’t bring myself to do it.

Yet watching a movie than contains a few f-words is at least a little bit offensive and shocking. Why? Because it’s not in real life? Isn’t there a double standard somewhere in there?

Why, in real life, is it not a big deal to us?

Because it’s not real. Watching it happen to someone else in a movie makes it worse. It’s magnified. We pay closer attention. We’ll except it in real life, though.

It’s a funny thought.  To give a movie rating to real life.  Especially your own.

Related post by the same author:

Mixed Reviews  http://wp.me/pxqBU-2y

The Ball  http://wp.me/pxqBU-fv

And one more thing… Now that you’ve read my take on this, why not read my perspective on being a dad?  That’s right- parenting from a dad’s point of view.  I have been documenting my thoughts as a dad since the week we found out my wife was pregnant.  I formally invite you now to read my “dad blog” by clicking on the link below:

dad from day one