It's not uncommon for video games and academic research to mix - gaming is increasingly mainstream, and is a ripe source for study in a variety of areas. One such area is artificial intelligence, and German cognitive modelling researchers at the University of Tübingen have been working on a "living and conversing agent" - a Mario with adaptive learning intelligence that doesn't need us bossing him around with button inputs.
There is a reason for the project - there really is - as it's a submission for the People's Choice award from the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI). The team has been working on and programming code that enables Mario - in a PC ROM-hack of Super Mario World - to experiment, learn and even hold conversations. By setting up a complex, exhaustive range of data and code the team has given Mario the tools to behave relatively intelligently, albeit still within perimeters and restrictions.
The results are interesting and - mainly - entertaining, as Mario talks in a slightly creepy voice, expressing feelings of happiness, sadness, and a recognition that he's a murderous monster that destroys countless Goombas. Quite how this virtual Mario sleeps at night, assuming that's planned in future development, is unclear.
It's fascinating stuff - you can check out the research team's video below.