How Many Times Has Mario Died? Announcing a WIRED Investigation
There are certain seminal moments in history, and July 9, 1981, should surely stand among them. That was the day Nintendo officially began selling Donkey Kong to arcades—and introduced the world to a mustachioed little fellow named Jumpman.
Jumpman was a simple soul with a simple talent: jumping. He jumped over barrels thrown at him by the game’s eponymous gorilla villain. He hurdled fireballs scooting across the iron beams of the busted construction site where he and Donkey Kong did battle. He leapt, leapt, leapt—all in pursuit of the Princess, his lady love who had been captured by the abominable ape.
But to leap is not always to live, and so July 9, 1981 was also the first day that Jumpman began dying. A lot. When players fed a quarter into one of the 60,000 Donkey Kong machines sold in that first year, it bought them three precious lives, none of which lasted very long. As Billy Mitchell, one of the greatest Donkey Kong players in history, put it: "The average game of Donkey Kong doesn't last a minute. It's sheer brutality."
So, in the spirit of celebrating the 36th birthday of the character formerly known as Jumpman—whose exact moment of metamorphosis into Mario is a matter of serious debate—WIRED got to thinking, just how many times has Mario died?
The little guy has appeared in more than two hundred games, but Nintendo graciously granted the beloved Italian plumber some immortal relief in a number of them. Thus, WIRED decided to focus strictly on the Super Mario series, a franchise that dates back to 1985’s Super Mario Brothers and includes 20 original games (with a 21st, Super Mario Odyssey, to be released later this year). Using figures from Nintendo’s Wiki, WIRED tabulated that the series had sold a grand total of 408.23 million physical and digital units, give or take.
But this is where extrapolating the number of deaths quickly became a data quagmire. How does one best approximate hours played for each game? Or how many times Mario dies per hour? How does one account for variables like degrees of difficulty, tiered skill levels, number of players in a household, or how many times users played, won, and replayed the game?
To be fair, WIRED recognizes it is not the first to pose this question, nor even the first to pose it after an evening of libations near a bartop arcade machine. A cursory Google search found at least one Redditor estimates the Total Mario Deaths to be 26 billion; another ventures 10 billion. That’s quite a spread—assuming it’s not off by an order of magnitude. So now we turn to you, the community, to ask: what do you think is the right number? Or, perhaps more fundamentally, how do we go about divining it? We’re starting this off by listing the games and their approximate sales, but hope to use your suggestions to devise a workable methodology. Don’t think of this as a midsummer lark—think of it as a matter of life and death.
Total: 408.23 million units sold/downloaded
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