The Princess in the Other Castle

“All right.  No, I’ve got it.  Here’s how we save the entire video game industry.  So, there’s a giant turtle-dinosaur-dragon thing, all right?  And he kidnaps a plumber’s princess girlfriend.  So now the plumber has to go rescue her, but the big turtle dragon has sent a bunch of little turtles…and some disembodied heads with feet attached to their necks…and…I don’t know, maybe a guy who rides a cloud and throws spiny turtles at the plumber.  Anyway, the only power the plumber has is the ability to jump, like, five times his own height.  And the only thing he can do against the turtles is stomp on them.  Except sometimes when he hits a floating block with his head, a mushroom comes out, and when he eats the mushroom, he gets twice as big.  And sometimes a flashing flower comes out, and when he eats the flower he can spit fire.  And at the end of the castle where the turtle dragon is keeping his girlfriend, the plumber stomps on an axe, which drops the turtle dragon off a wooden drawbridge into a pit of lava.”

In college, my roommate and I used to enjoy pointing out all the parts of Super Mario Bros that sounded like they were made up on a really crazy drug trip. Like the star that turns Mario into an invincible disco ball, or the kamikaze sun that dive-bombs the protagonist in Super Mario Bros 3. But almost 30 years later, it’s still one of the best selling video games of all time, and many historians credit the game and the system it popularized, the Nintendo Entertainment System, with rescuing the entire North American video game market from complete destruction.  This is largely due to its story; Super Mario Bros was one of the first to have not just a goal (“kill all the ghosts”, “stop all the space invaders”) but a true storyline, simple though it may be, with characters and motivations.

But how is that possible? How can a surrealist fantasy story about a plumber rescuing a princess have actually rescued anything?

Princess You

The Princess is kidnapped by Bowser. It’s uncommon for anyone (except a 7-year-old girl) to think of themselves as a “princess” in our culture, but in the context of a classic fantasy such as Super Mario Bros, the frilly dress and tiara certainly fit our cosmic circumstance.  Even if you’re a burly steelworker, you’re in some major trouble.

At the beginning of time, God made the world.  And it was perfect.  But when sin became a part of our existence, it all fell apart.  We were, in essence, “kidnapped” by sin.  And, like Princess Peach dress, helpless to rescue ourselves.  We’re captives, held tight by a monster called sin.

Our kidnapper is no kind monster.  The turtle dragon who has his claws in us wants to destroy us completely from within.  Sin tempts us with promises of joy, happiness, even kingdoms to rule, but its reality is only pain and emptiness.

And so our kidnapper takes us.  We jump on his back willingly, not knowing that we’re going nowhere but to a life of misery and disappointment.

The Monster

The Princess is Bowser.Now, it’s tempting to think that we’re just the helpless victim here, but the Bible makes clear that we’re the sinner – sin deceives us, yes, but we are the ones who rebel.  We deserve the emptiness we’ve earned by our sin.  We ourselves are the monster, scales and all.

You’re probably a pretty nice person.  I believe that you try to do the right thing most of the time, and I’m sure you feel like you have more good days than bad.  At the very least, you’re better than Hitler.  But Romans 3 disagrees:

“None is righteous, no, not one;
no one understands;
no one seeks for God.

All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good, not even one.

Their throat is an open grave;
they use their tongues to deceive.

The venom of asps is under their lips.
Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.
Their feet are swift to shed blood;
in their paths are ruin and misery,

and the way of peace they have not known.
There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

By nature and by choice, you are a sinner.  None is righteous.  All have turned left; together they have become monsters…their back is spiked, their mouth is full of flames and hammers.

No matter how good you are…you’re still a monster.

The Hero

Mario rescues Bowser-Princess

This is bad news.  The worst news.  But like Princess Peach, that’s not the end of your story.

From humble beginnings (neither plumber nor carpenter are guilds I’d look into for heroes) comes a rescuer.  Powerful, persistent, and doggedly determined to rescue you from yourself.

Jesus is the hero in our story, of course, and nothing could stop him from removing the curse of sin from us.  The Bible said he came to “seek and save” the lost – which sounds like the most epic quest in history, especially when you consider that we never deserved that rescue on account of our sin.

For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:7-8)

He came into this world, facing trials and temptations, and never once sinned.  He pursued us through land after land of trouble and danger.  Pursuing us, not to enslave us, but to free us.

The Princess in the Other Castle

Mario reunited with the Princess.He also kept pursuing us, even through our attempts at hiding from Him – because He loves us.  Mario kept going, despite seven Toads who told him that “our princess is in another castle” because his true love awaited him at the end.

Of course, the Princess in the Other Castle that Jesus seeks is still a monster.  Covered in the muck and mire of sin, we’re not exactly fashion plates.  But Jesus loves us too much to leave us where we are; as soon as He rescues us, He begins helping to clean us of the sin that once covered us.  The muck that covers us has to be removed – for our good and our beauty.  As Max Lucado famously said, “God loves you just the way you are, but He refuses to leave you that way.”  He loves you too much for that, and he’ll keep working on you until you’re made perfect.

He’ll chase us through eight worlds.  He’ll do it as many times as necessary.  God doesn’t give up on people, and Christ doesn’t lose Christians.

Don’t keep running.  God isn’t pursuing you to end your fun or ruin your day.  He’s pursuing you to save you.

• • •

Personal recommendation: I read Game Over: How Nintendo Conquered The World years ago and loved it. It’s available on Amazon Kindle right now, and buying it through this affiliate link helps support Redeeming Culture at no additional cost to you.  Thank you!

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3 thoughts on “The Princess in the Other Castle

  1. [I hope you saved your copy of the book Game Over…used paperback copies start at $37 and new paperbacks start at $73.]

    It probably isn’t considered politically correct these days for a woman to think of herself as a princess. “I am woman, hear me roar.”
    But I gain strength knowing that I have been adopted by the King of Kings. Roaring at the world and being a self-contained woman only creates more insecurity; have I done enough, have I been strong enough, to belong now?
    My King takes away all insecurity. I’ve been rescued from myself. He shouts His love for me to the world and reminds me daily that I belong. No one can take me away from my King and His kingdom.
    So I wear my tiara with gratitude and confidence.

    And if anybody asks; I am a princess!

  2. It is true that Jesus is the hero of the video game of our lives. I think it’s interesting that people enjoy playing Mario (the hero) so much. Part of it is the achievement factor of setting goals and seeing them achieved (I beat level 2!), but I think it is also a reflection of who we are. We like saving people, we like being able to help them. No one wants to continually fall off the ledges of life into the fire at the bottom of the screen while their “princess” is trapped on the other side.

    As we’re made in the image of God, I find this comforting. It’s nice to think of God wanting to save people, too; being willing to work at that long jump on level 5 for an hour to come rescue me from the dragon-turtle-dinosaur thing.

    • Both excellent points. There’s so much more depth to why we like video games than I think a lot of people are willing to admit.

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