During the lowest, loneliest, period of my life, I played a huge amount of New Super Mario Bros on my 2DS.
Mario wears red, Luigi wears green… I often wear brightly coloured and patterned clothes, and I was doing that a lot back then, hoping that I stood out so people would speak to me, anyone anyone anyone, because I was so so alone.
When I was at my loneliest, my best friends were Mario and Luigi. Unless my castrated dog counts as a person (he doesn’t), these fictional platforming plumbers were the people I spent the most time voluntarily with.
I’d load up on negronis and lie on the floor, crying, as I listened to British comedy podcasts and played New Super Mario Bros until I passed out.
Mario was someone I could control. Though sometimes he died as I tried to guide him through his 2D world (still less flat than mine felt), every time he did die, the 2DS I gripped in my sad hands let Mario live again. I could pursue a perfect score or I could pursue a swift ending. Whatever I decided would be willed onto the moustachioed plumber: he was not me, but he did my will. I had more control over this red-suited little man than over myself. It made sense that I found myself sinking into this digital world where my actions and opinions and thoughts and feelings made a difference, an impression.
Podcasts and New Super Mario Bros and drinking until I passed out, this was how I hid myself. Headphones in and a small screen, too close, in front of my eyes. I’d play without my glasses on, because if I couldn’t see beyond the bright graphics, the world didn’t exist. If I couldn’t hear anything other than low-budget audio panel shows, the world didn’t exist. If I couldn’t move because I was too drunk to stand up without collapsing or vomiting, the world didn’t exist. I hated the world, I hated the world, I hated the world. And I loved Mario.
The screen on my 2DS was a window into an existence without my problems, an existence without the confusion of money, lust, friendship, pride, pets, ambition and pain. Mario was anxious about nothing. He had a task, but there was no urgency to it: thanks to the gift of immortality, he had no exterior pressure. Mario still had his hair, he still had his career, he still had people he cared about in his life, he wasn’t pushing others away and retreating into an uncommunicative fug, he wasn’t drinking himself to unconsciousness and walking his dog, hungover and teardrenched, on the Thames foreshore as he considered how best to kill himself because he couldn’t imagine ever ever ever feeling better.
Mario did what I told him to do, just like I did what people told me to do. The difference was that Mario was happy: he was energised and loud and exuberant; I was lonely and depressed and isolating myself more and more and more. The voices in my headphones and the plumber on my screen became intoxicants as essential as the massive daily glasses of gin, vermouth and Campari.
I sunk through the screen and into a pixelated, innocent, world. Mario is sexless, simple, uncomplex. I didn’t have to think, I just had to act. Even though I would tell the plumber where and when and how to move, I didn’t feel fully in control, but nor did I feel like I was being controlled. I was floating, intoxicated, unable to see, unable to hear, unable to feel, I was lost and it was what I needed, I was lost and it was the only way I could be.
Mario was my brother, but I was not Luigi. The 2DS was my mind and my friend and my drug. I couldn’t think, because thinking gave me panic attacks and led me to plan suicides. I couldn’t do things that made me happy because because because because and and and bubblewrapping myself, cocooning myself, was the only way I could get through the night. I screamed over and over for weeks “I DON’T WANT TO DROWN MYSELF” and I didn’t drown myself, but I drank and I played and I listened and every time Mario died I felt like I was letting someone else down, but he always came back to life so it was only fleeting. I’d get so drunk I’d have no memory of completing levels or listening to episodes of podcasts and Mario Mario Mario never judged me, but he never helped.
Eventually, I reconnected with my real life friends and things got better. My 2DS now sits unused, like a plastic token of despair, reminding me of a former state of dread. In my darkest hours, New Super Mario Bros was there, and I know it will be there the next time I need it. I don’t want to feel like I felt back then, but I probably will, and that thought is almost enough to make me reach for New Super Mario Bros again.
Scott Manley Hadley is not fine and blogs at TriumphoftheNow.com