While multimedia is a type of media that incorporates the usage of various content forms (i.e. text, audio, video, etc.) to convey a message, transmedia storytelling is the concept of promoting one single message (or product) across multiple platforms of media. Typically, these products and stories represent what the current cultural norms are, as media makers tend to push their agendas on the public by creating content that appeals to consumers. Most would probably argue the film making industry is the guiltiest of all culprits, as their products generally turn into video games, apps, and spin-off television shows, and usually adheres the agenda of the media conglomerate it belongs to.
Henry Jenkins, in “Searching for the Origami Unicorn,” writes: A good transmedia franchise works to attract multiple constituencies by pitching the content somewhat differently in the different media,” adding that while films appeal to a great diversity of viewers, video games appeal to the narrowest, (Convergence Culture, 98).
But in my search for a the premier example of transmedia storytelling, I was re-introduced to a childhood favorite, and realized that this particular product had made its way across media in an inverted order. Beginning as a video game for the Nintendo console series, Super Mario Bros. changed the world of video games, allowing players to operate a single or multiplayer styled plot. As one of the first successful Role Playing Games, Super Mario Bros. had a very simple, traditional objective: save the Princess. This “boy rescues girl” concept has lasted centuries, and proved to be just as victorious in 1985 when the game was first released, as gamers took on the role of Mario, an Italian plumber whose ultimate goal was to rescue Princess Peach from her castle. Other protagonists included Luigi, Mario’s brother, who simultaneously fought to save Daisy, his love interest. Antagonists included Bowser and King Koopa, both of which were responsible for keeping Princess Peach kidnapped.
Super Mario Bros. was ranked first on Electronic Gaming Monthly’s “Greatest 200 Games of Their Time,” and second in Game Informer’s “Top 200 Games of All Time.” The game was also ranked first on G4’s “Top 100 Video Games of All Time, as it was noted for “almost single-handedly rescuing the video games industry,” according to G4TV.com.
The success of Super Mario Bros. gave birth to several other Mario series games, including Mario Kart, Mario Party, Paper Mario, Super Mario 64, and about a dozen others.
Soon, the series wasn’t just available on a Nintendo video game console hooked up to a television, but in the palm of your hand. Devices such as Nintendo DS and other handheld electronics were now supporting the Mario series. As recently as August of this year, the Japanese designers created another installment to the video game series: Super Mario Bros. 3, available for the Nintendo 3DS. Stephen Totilo of the New York Times wrote, “Like all the best Mario games, New Super Mario Bros. 2 toys with our capacity to discover, to understand and to adapt to a set of elegant rules that has been evolving for 27 years and counting.”
But the popular video game wasn’t just creating more video games; the Mario storyline was making it’s way down other avenues. In 1993, Super Mario Bros, a film starring Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo as Mario and Luigi (respectively), made its way onto the big screen as a movie based on the entire Mario franchise.
While the film tanked, only making less than half of the $48 million spent on budget in return, it was a sign that Mario was becoming more than just a video game. There was also a movie series created for children called “Super Mario Bros: Mario’s Movie Madness.”
Henry Jenkins, in MIT’s Technology Review, wrote: “We have entered an era of media convergence that makes the flow of content across multiple media channels almost inevitable. The move toward digital effects in film and the improved quality of video game graphics means that it is becoming much more realistic to lower production costs by sharing assets across media. Everything about the structure of the modern entertainment industry was designed with this single idea in mind-the construction and enhancement of entertainment franchises.”
Soon, Super Mario Bros. was becoming among these franchises.
As the popularity and efficiency of cellular phones were increasing, the famous Mario theme song that had been prevalent through each installment of the video game series was developed into a ringtone that was ranked among the top ten for 226 weeks in February of 2009 in Billboard Magazine. The theme song was also featured in concerts such as “PLAY! Chicago” and “The Columbus Symphony,” and is often described as the hit tune of the ‘80’s.
Super Mario Bros. was also made into a comic book series, one of three series umbrella-ed under The Nintendo Comics System. Replicating a real life consumer-based product and advertising strategy, the comic book series featured fake advertisements pertaining to the Mario storyline, such as “Koopa-Kola” (named after series antagonist Koopa Troopa).
To help market and spread the story of Mario even further, a game guide series was created. Gamers could purchase full guides to Mario gameplay, learning all there is to know about the games.
All and all, the Super Mario Bros. series was a huge success, not only in the world of video games, but in the world, period. It thrived on the concept of transmedia storytelling, availed itself in many avenues, and is still among the most popular and successful products today.