Mario Party and the Laborers in the Vineyard

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. When he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius for the day, he sent them into his vineyard. And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the market place; and to those he said, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.’ And so they went. Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did the same thing. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing around; and he *said to them, ‘Why have you been standing here idle all day long?’ They *said to him, ‘Because no one hired us.’ He *said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’

“When evening came, the owner of the vineyard *said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last group to the first.’ When those hired about the eleventh hour came, each one received a denarius. 10 When those hired first came, they thought that they would receive more; but each of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they grumbled at the landowner, 12 saying, ‘These last men have worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the scorching heat of the day.’13 But he answered and said to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius? 14 Take what is yours and go, but I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. 15 Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous?’ 16 So the last shall be first, and the first last.”

Matthew 20

I love Mario Party.

I HATE Mario Party.

There’s no game that engenders a greater love-hate relationship than Mario Party. Supposedly, it’s a board game, but it hides a subtler brand of socialist claptrap underneath its candy-coated exterior. That’s what the Republican within me wants to say, anyway. Mario Party does hold an ideology, though, and it’s one that Nintendo has developed over a period of time: fun. When Nintendo says “fun”, they mean “fun for everyone” not “fun for the guy who plays way too many video games and can bludgeon other players to death with his skills”. It explains much of Nintendo’s current success because everyone has a chance (and I mean that both literally and figuratively) at victory. This style of game has led Mario Party into the realm where “everybody wins” – or more accurately put, the one person who is absolutely horrible at video games wins by pure happenstance, divine intervention, or the game trying to make you crazy.

How did we survive nine iterations of this stuff?

Going to a Mario Party without the proper mindset will inevitably cause controllers to fly, words to spill, and grudges to form. It’s the nature of a game that subversively plays with the rules of structured play that people get angry or refuse to play the game. It’s absolutely horrific to work incredibly hard to stockpile enough stars (the game’s main determinant for wins) only to see them given away to another player. There’s no way to prevent that event, nor to ease its passing. You just take the punishment Mario Party doles out. It does not care how good you are at mini-game X, nor how you want to proceed across the board, nor any other factor that could possibly make or break a win. The real winner, for the most part, is never determined by anyone’s skill. It’s all predetermined. Well, I don’t know if that’s a known fact or not, but it sure feels like it.

Furthermore, having AI players sends any player concerned about their status over the edge. It’s so obvious that they’re cheating, especially during 2v2 minigames.When my partner acts like a mentally incapacitated monkey (Shigeru Miyamoto though “donkey” meant “stupid” in English – how fitting) who doesn’t understand the rules of the game he’s playing, it’s hard not to become incredibly frustrated. It’s all the worse when you know that the game wants you to lose; it isn’t a rare occurence to start anthropomorphizing the game, silently muttering curses as Donkey Kong, once again, takes a dive for AI controlled Luigi so he can win a star. They act against their own self-interest so the AI can win – how fair is that?! Playing with four people, though not required, is obviously recommended.

This isn’t a fair game. So why should anyone put up with this crap, you might ask? I found myself asking this same question when I picked up the original and its subsequent sequels. They were fun, sure, but it wasn’t long before these issues cropped into the picture. I could not, for the life of me, win consistently. When I play Soul Calibur, domination. When I play a racing game, I win. But when I play Mario Party? Very rarely do I ever win. I may be the current leader with five turns left, but suffice to say any number of turns gives the game enough time to completely turn the tables.

These flaws haven’t made their way out of the series yet. As of this date, the last one I played was Mario Party5 on the Gamecube, where the issues really frustrate any genuine experience. This is not good game design. This does not reward players for any effort they exert; rather, it punishes them for being good and rewards them for being bad. The flaws, though, remain endemic to the design philosophy of Nintendo. Do I hate this sometimes? Absolutely; it goes against everything for which a good video game should stand.

Still…

Take a different perspective on this. Maybe Mario Party’s intent isn’t to usurp traditional game rules just for the sake of it. Maybe Mario Party isn’t emphasizing skill; it’s emphasizing community. Ritual. Shared experience. It’s not so much a game as it is a platform for social interaction (and why, I would guess, you’re not going to see many Mario Party games with online play).

No matter how hard you try, your personal skill will never determine your success, nor how much time you pump into it; in fact, completing a game of Mario Party doesn’t bring the thrill of victory. That portion is a hollow facsimile of the common video game trope. Rather, it’s the experience of a good time, with three friends/family members, and remarking on the utter absurdity of the situation before us. Should the person who barely knows how to manipulate a controller win?  Should the persons who plays video games all the time win?

Mario Party presents a definitive “no” to all these questions. Rather, everyone is rewarded equally for their effort by having a fun time. Embrace the madness, and you’ll like Mario Party. Complain about the other players, and you’re bound NOT to enjoy yourself. If you miss Mario Party’s intention, then that’s your problem. The last shall be first, and the first shall be last: that’s the rule of Mario Party.

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.