In literary circles Salman Rushdie is a much admired award-winning writer, and also one of the biggest names in the book industry. He's also courted great controversy during his career, notably when his novel The Satanic Verses outraged extremist groups and regimes to the point that there was a fatwa issued for his execution by the Iranian leadership in 1989. There was violence around the world, collapsing diplomatic relations and a genuine threat to Rushdie, who subsequently spent many years hiding under protective custody.
It's an extraordinary tale, but what on earth has it got to do with Nintendo? In his third-person memoir, Joseph Anton, Rushdie outlines how Super Mario World provided valuable escapism from the stresses of being in hiding, with themillions.com producing an extract that shows just how absorbing the game was for the author.
Marianne came around and scolded him for playing video games. Thanks to Zafar, he had grown fond of Mario the plumber and his brother Luigi and sometimes Super Mario World felt like a happy alternative to the one he lived in the rest of the time. “Read a good book,” his wife told him scornfully. “Give it up.” He lost his temper. “Don’t tell me how to live my life,” he exploded, and she made a grand exit.
...Alone at Hermitage Lane he reached the end of his Super Mario game, defeating the big bad Bowser himself and rescuing the insufferably pink Princess Toadstool. He was glad Marianne was not there to witness his triumph.
Trying to play games with disapproving friends and family looking over a shoulder may be familiar to quite a few gamers, but it's clear that Rushdie's enjoyment of Mario games carried across into his writing. Similarities with Mario's adventures were particularly evident in a book written for Rushdie's son, Luka and the Fire of Life. Luka must navigate platformer-style levels to rescue his comatose father, working through increasingly difficult stages with 999 lives and fighting through “bouncing, burning, twisting, bubbling levels”. Oh, and the hero is called "Super Luka".
Video games have been more than a fun distraction for the author, with the very sincere statement that the looser, non-linear structure of a game compared to a book inspires him creatively; "I think that really interests me as a storyteller…To tell the story sideways."
Ultimately, this story is all about how a world-renowned author, in hiding and fearing for his life, surprisingly found the escapism he needed in, arguably, the best Super Mario game.