Viral High Score: How YouTube, Video Games and Culture Collide

November 09, 2011

This post was authored by Will Goodman, managing editor of's The Feed, for a YouTube Trends series exploring viral video phenomena.

The 90’s are back, and not just the reboot of classic television programs running on Nickelodeon. We’re starting to see an interesting trend of viral videos that are impacted by retro video games, primarily from the 1980’s and 1990’s, created by the generation who grew up playing them. Don’t believe me? According to the Entertainment Software Association, the average age of a gamer is now 37 years old. Shocking, right? Okay, fine – there’s a good chance you’ve probably already heard something along those lines, so how about I go ahead and show you the first example of the impact video games have had on viral video culture instead.

This creative video, done by special effects master Freddie Wong, re-imagines the Nintendo classic Super Mario Bros. in a context more fitting for modern gaming: the first-person shooter. It also adds some slick new graphics while making sure to properly show the original context of the game in the top-left corner and pay proper homage to everyone’s favorite Italian plumber.

Nintendo’s Mario over the decades has become iconic and instantly recognizable by just about anyone. Don’t believe me? (Seriously, I think you may have some trust issues to resolve.) Then let’s move on to our next example to illustrate Mario in pop culture and show you the faux-film trailer for the 2011 SXSW Film Festival that went viral last Spring.

When your first thought after watching a hilarious trailer like this is desperately wishing it were a real movie, you know you’ve got something special. The Mushroom Kingdom gets a darkly humorous twist in this very mature re-interpretation of the Mario story in real life with a “Requiem for a Dream”-like edge to it. What’s not to love? And while these are just two quick examples, there are a multitude of viral videos that have sprung up involving just the character of Mario. But just how deep does the rabbit hole (or in this case, bright green pipe) go?

That right there was the 2011 National Jitterbug Championships and shows that Mario can kick more than just shells, he can kick it on the dance floor. Where else does this mustachioed wonder pop up? Would you believe me if I told you the Mario Bros are appropriate for all stages of love and life? No? Well, get over yourself; it’s true. Let’s take a look at a young couple searching for love, plumber-style.

What’s wild is that this video is far from being the only wedding proposal out there with a Mario Bros. theme to it. And while I could write a thesis solely focused on the legendary plumber and his significance within Joseph Campbell’s idea of “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”, he’s far from being the only examples of video games influencing a generation of YouTubers. To paraphrase the character of Cobb from the film Inception, “We need to go deeper” with our next example.

While Nintendo may have become the system that blew up in households during the 80’s and 90’s, it was predated by arcade machines in public places and Atari consoles in some homes. And to this day there is still a lot of love and respect given to seminal games such as Space Invaders, Tetris and Breakout. We saw a case of the former in the above video, so how about we take a look at an example involving the latter two (and a few more recognizable ones) in our next one?

So what does it all mean? That a generation of people in their 20’s, 30’s and even older are playing way too many games and experiencing some form of arrested development? Possibly, but that seems a little reductive. If anything, the explosion of gamer videos online is a testament to how the rise in video game culture and online videos go hand in hand. The two mediums grew up together and are both powerful forces in the media landscape. It would probably be more surprising if there weren’t millions of video game clips floating around the Internet.

Whether on your laptop, desktop, Android, iPhone, Xbox 360, PS3, Wii or otherwise, video games are an ever-present and growing part of everyday life now. Plain and simple. And we’re bound to see more of their influence as time goes on. So let's end this with a fun rap tribute for a game I personally can't wait to start playing when it comes out on Friday: Skyrim. Game on, everyone!

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