The Mushroom Tyranny
We’ve all been duped. One of the few things that we can always rely on in video games, the endless conflict between Mario and Bowser over the freedom of Princess Peach, is a lie. It’s a construction, a fallacy, a tale that’s being told by the victors rather than the victims. Princess Peach, the noble face of the Mushroom Kingdom, is little more than a vicious despot, frantically holding onto her fractured empire as it shatters under her feet.
That’s right, Peach is no damsel in distress. She’s the bad guy of Super Mario Bros. The tale she’s told since the beginning of time is little more than propaganda, an elaborate ruse designed to prevent outsiders from joining with Bowser and his Koopa Troop, a militant resistance organization dedicated to tearing down Peach’s Mushroom Tyranny.
The original story, all the way back in the first Super Mario Bros., went like this: Bowser, jealous of the beauty of the Mushroom Kingdom, cast a spell on the land which transformed its inhabitants into all variety of strange objects like blocks and weeds. In the ensuing chaos, he invaded and kidnapped the Princess, hiding deep inside of one the kingdom’s many castles.
Let’s start with those castles. No matter where you go in the Mushroom Kingdom, there always seems to be some sort of fortress looming in the distance, dreadful monoliths punctuatating the various and disparate biomes of the realm. Whether it’s an icy tundra, an ocean kissed beach, or an awkwardly sized land of giants, there’s going to be a castle somewhere in it. Often two, maybe three if you’re unlucky.
The original story suggests that these deathtrap laden bastilles are the product of Bowser and his invading army, a series of bastions against Mario and Luigi. Question is: how did they build them so quickly? Has Bowser occupied the Mushroom Kingdom for centuries, forcing countless generations of hapless fungi into backbreaking servitude constructing monuments in his honor?
It’s a sinister idea I know, that “Princess” Peach was the terrible mind behind the wicked drills and devastating Thwomps that ended the lives of so many mustached liberators, but it bears consideration. How else can one explain their presence in a land that was so recently conquered?
Beyond just the castles, it seems like the very kingdom itself is rising up to try and kill Mario, with even the most benign plants turning carnivorous as he passes by. What kind of ruler allows her people to live alongside flora that’s constantly snapping at you, desperate to gnaw on your fine red-speckled cap? We wage genetic war on entire strains of plant life simply because they don’t look good in our yards, so just imagine what we’d do if they spewed fire at us!
Peach though, she allows them to live on, leaving her people in a constant state of mortal terror. When even the sun is actively trying to kill you, it’s hard to engage in the pursuit of happiness. That is to say nothing of the constant spectre of brutal torture in the shadowy form of one of Peach’s takes on the infamous KGB Lubyanka building.
It’s these things that make me wonder if the Mushroom Kingdom, while at first appearing to be a benign land of rolling green hills and smiling clouds, actually operates under a highly regimented caste system that favors certain light skinned and vest wearing residents over others. Bowser, seeing these grave human rights violations occurring just outside his own borders, had to step in and do something–anything–to help. He’s not a conquering warlord; he’s a devout liberator.
Consider the Goomba. Squat and brown, it aimlessly wanders back and forth, its brow furrowed in anger. It doesn’t come after you, nor does it really even acknowledge your existence. It just moves in a straight line until it hits a wall, whereupon it proceeds in the opposite direction. Its fungal appearance doesn’t seem altogether out of place in a land run by mushroom people, even though it lacks the same rocking wardrobe of its red spotted brethren.
Most people take the Goomba’s harsh expression to be an indicator of aggression, but I think that’s too easy. Just stop for a moment and think: if you were a Goomba, wouldn’t you be pretty pissed off too? They’ve had to watch as their fellow fungi, the creatures they crawled up from dirt alongside, have built a massive empire around them. While they were mastering turning around before falling into pits, the residents of the Mushroom Kingdom were building castles and filling pits with lava. The Goombas are angry, but not at Mario. They could care less about some asshole in a red hat. They’re angry about their lot in life; jealous that they’re the ones left in the dirt while the rest of their people build castles into the sky.
Also, they’re brown. I’m not saying it’s a race thing, but it’s totally a race thing.
Then there are the question boxes. Supposedly, Bowser cast a maleficent curse on the land, turning its resident into all manner of things, including the boxes that you punch to procure power ups. Power ups that look eerily like the heads of the hexed residents. Peach, in some titles, even sends Mario some in the mail, alongside encouraging letters.
Perhaps, knowing the Princess for what she really is, Bowser cast the spell to hide her very residents from her. He must’ve known that the moment he stood up against her, she would rip the heads off her own people to empower her troops. By hiding the residents of the Mushroom Kingdom behind different illusions, he’s trying to save them from their own power-crazed ruler.
It’s not like his Koopa Troopers are the battle crazed maniacs that Peach has led Mario to believe they are. Just look at them! Much like the Goombas, they seem more than happy to just patrol, hiding in their shells the moment Mario comes after them. Despite the name, they hardly make for a well-oiled military machine. They’re frightened conscripts bound together under the banner of liberation. It’s not until Mario has cut a bloody swath through Bowser’s troops that he brings out the real soldiers (the Hammer Brothers) who actually go after him with their angry bludgeons. Even then, they’re hardly soldiers.
It’s not Mario’s fault that he’s been played the fool for decades now. He’s just doing what he thinks is right, dedicated to the dream Peach is selling him. At this point, killing Koopa Troopers and Goombas is all he knows. He’s spent his entire life in bitter pursuit of a princess who doesn’t need saving, constantly egged on by her right-hand man, Toad. Surrounded on all sides by yes-men who are telling him that what he’s doing is right, he doesn’t need to question why these supposedly vile creatures aren’t actually fighting back all that hard.
It’s not his to reason why, but to do or die.