The Terrifying Scientific Implications of the Mario Universe

The Mario universe seems like it's all fun, games, and kidnapping. But in terms of physics, it's a pretty scary place!

In most video game universes the laws of thermodynamics are turned up to eleven, made of explosions, and incarnated as the player. You’re a fuse burning through their world, and if there is one brick left on top of another by the time you’ve finished, either they were painted on the skybox or you missed an achievement. Most gaming universes are so stuffed with explosives you could defeat the enemy by just waiting half an hour before starting. A random butterfly or something would have set them off for you.

At first Mario’s universe seems like a friendly exception. Everything is brightly colored and cuddly. Sure, the only visible government seems to be a Royal Society for the Guarantee of Cruelty to Animals, but apart from that, it’s all party games and cake. But this is a world so screwed up they have a species of sentient suicide bombs. And their laws of physics are even more terrifying.

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Inverse Friction (Mario Kart)

The Physics:

Mario Kart spark-turns are the perfect application of game mechanics: working out what would be fun and building a universe which encourages that. Accelerating forward and drifting sideways are the two most fun things in racing, and Nintendo fixed the fact that they’re contradictory. Drift turning causes your wheels to spark blue, then red, and both can boost you directly forward. They couldn’t give you a better reward for acceleration if they short-circuited your speedometer to your sex organs.

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The Terrifying Implication:

The drift sparks are negative transverse friction: grinding the wheels against the ground is somehow causing them to move faster. There’s still regular friction slowing you when you move forward through mud or grass, so this inverse friction is an entirely new force. A force which will destroy everything.

If a new friction can accelerate things, then everything will keep accelerating. After a brief but awesome window of providing sweet boosts for tight cornering, the entire wheel, the karts, the planets, everything that moves will continue accelerating, and sparking, and heating, until they’re all burning balls of plasma streaking through a cosmic conflagration. Everything will accelerate until they’re spaced out enough so that particles no longer encounter each other, all shooting along through an isolated infinity at their eternal maximum speed without ever meeting another speck of anything. And a blue shell will still somehow catch up and hit them.

No wonder everyone’s karting with their worst enemies. They’ve just learned that everything is meaningless as their entire universe burns in a bath of ever-accelerating plasma. Because Nintendo’s kart engines are so powerful they’ve thrown the laws of thermodynamics into reverse.

Terminally Low Velocity (All Platformers)

The Physics:

When something falls, it accelerates due to gravity until the air drag becomes large enough to cancel it out, leaving the object falling at terminal velocity. Mario reaches that in approximately “no time flat,” which is why that’s not a description of his life expectancy and shape when he hits the ground. He seems to be falling through porridge instead of oxygen, reaching a low (non-)terminal velocity in a second and able to safely fall infinite distances as long as he has something solid to land on.

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The Implication:

In Mario World, fighting through the air is only slightly easier than fighting through a jungle filled with Predators. The air friction is immense. It’s why bullets move so slowly you can dodge them. It’s why bullets move so slowly they’ve apparently had time to evolve sentience, and names.

But this is a huge air drag on their technological progress. It’s why they’re still paddling around with medieval technology despite having half their world built out of solid anti-gravity material.

Any civilization with that kind of cavorite should have space stations. Their architectural achievements should make the Great Pyramid look like a doorstop. Instead, their most advanced flight technology is low velocity airships. 

The ruinous air friction wouldn’t just cripple flight technology. It would make trains and even road transport atrociously inefficient. And without a transport infrastructure, the Mushroom Kingdom will forever remain a bunch of provincial hicks with incredibly divided customs and species. It’s why Mario encounters such incredibly different worlds within walking distance of each other.

It’s also why every one of those worlds is eternally invaded. Without any ability to communicate information faster than “running,” it’s impossible to transmit warnings of attack. A kingdom’s only choices are “Always be an army” or “Be peaceful until that army stomps on you for the umpteenth time.” And by now, it’s pretty clear that Bowser and Princess Peach have settled on exactly those roles.

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Observational Euthanasia (All Platformers)

The Physics:

Mario can fall for infinite distances. So why do pits kill him?

We already know he’ll be falling at jogging pace, and he has shock-absorbers instead of ankles, so why does the fall kill him? We’ve seen spikes and lava elsewhere but they’re not in these holes. In Super Mario Bros, he even goes underground for entire levels. Other levels are forced to scroll sideways, and if you fall behind the screen you die.

The Implication:

There are two possibilities, and they’re both the kind of horror which would make the Human Centipede cover all six of its eyes. The first is that Mario’s “instant” death is a shortcut to avoid showing you Mario’s endless and literal descent into madness. He doesn’t need to eat or drink. He could be falling forever.

The second is a bizarre anti-Schrodinger observational effect. In quantum mechanics, Schrodinger’s cat could be alive or dead until you observe it. Mario doesn’t have odds that good, and that’s a cat sealed in a box with radioactivity and poison. In his universe, if you can’t see him for a few seconds, he’s definitely dead, and he desperately knows that. No wonder he’s been making so many games – it’s the only way he can survive. He’s a new kind of shark – if he doesn’t keep going (from left to right), he’ll die.

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Air Jumps (Super Smash Bros.)

The Physics:

Mario can jump multiples of his own height, but still only has a moderate running speed. Which is weird. Any calf muscles capable of projecting him that high should also enable him to sprint at a Terminator and kick it in half before it hears him coming.

In the Smash Bros. universe, Mario can air-jump: jumping a second time in the air as if he’d launched from the ground. It is the most terrifying act anyone has ever performed in any video game. The entire Silent Hill universe has nothing on the awful implications of this simple second leap.

The Implications:

The lesser implication is the end of conservation of momentum. And that’s a terrifying lesser effect: without conservation of momentum, the whole universe will go crazy. The only reason we wouldn’t have cats and dogs living together is that they’d be lucky if they ended up on the same planet. Or if Mario was conserving momentum by pushing off the air molecules, it would transfer so much momentum he’d create a blast of hundred million degree plasma under his feet. Which would be awesome. And finally explain why the soles of his shoes are so instantly lethal.

Of course, the fact Mario can steer his jumps means he’s been ignoring conservation of momentum all this time. Wiggling left and right should have surrounded his jumps with more burning violence than a Shoryuken.

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But that’s nothing compared to the theological implications. If you can jump off air, why can you only do it once? Why can’t you jump infinitely and keep flying? Because the universe remembers what you did and that affects what you’re allowed to do next. That’s terrifying. That proves to their characters that their world is definitely intelligently designed, and that that intelligence designed it to make them fight for all eternity. Their god has condemned them to eternal physical violence. Mario knows that his god is real, and that it wants him to suffer.