Through the darkness of futures past
The magician longs to see
One chants out between two worlds
Fire Walk With Me
david lynch, twin peaks
lee millers eye by man ray (with love poem on the back)

lee millers eye by man ray (with love poem on the back)

There is at least one spot in every dream at which it is unplumbable—a navel, as it were, that is its point of contact with the unknown.
Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams
Frank Bidart, excerpt from “The Second Hour of the Night”, Desire

Frank Bidart, excerpt from “The Second Hour of the Night”, Desire

Super Mario Brothers 2, Psychoanalysis, and Deconstruction

“One evening, Mario had a strange dream. He dreamt of a long, long stairway leading up to a door. As soon as the door opened, he was confronted with a world he had never seen before spreading out as far as his eyes could see. When he strained his ears to listen, he heard a faint voice saying “Welcome to ‘Subcon’, the land of dreams. We have been cursed by Wart and we are completely under his evil spell. We have been awaiting your arrival. Please defeat Wart and return Subcon to its natural state. The curse Wart has put on you in the real world will not have any effect upon you here. Remember, Wart hates vegetables. Please help us!” At the same time this was heard, a bolt of lightning flashed before Mario’s eyes. Stunned, Mario lost his footing and tumbled upside down. He awoke with a start to find himself sitting up in his bed. To clear his head, Mario talked to Luigi, Toad and Princess about the strange dream he had. They decide to go to a nearby mountain for a picnic. After arriving at the picnic area and looking at the scenery, they see a small cave nearby. When they enter this cave, to their great surprise, there’s a stairway leading up, up and up. It is exactly like the one Mario saw in his dream. They all walk together up the stairs and at the top, find a door just like the one is Mario’s dream. When Mario and his friends, in fear, open the door, to their surprise, the world that he saw in his dream spreads out before them!….” - From the official booklet


What is this peculiar construction for a game plot? To a certain extent, there is a way to read every piece of fiction (literary, filmic, or otherwise) as a dream, and certain stories are always to be read as dreams. But is there something about the video game that, formally, resembles a dream? More so than literature and film, the video game is analogous to the dream: the player/dreamer is placed in a familiar world with elements similar but disparate from waking life, where they, with some agency, interact with unknown and bizarre expectations and results. The content of the game concatenates, combines, converges, and obfuscates real world events, people, and settings; much like the dream. The dreamer/player is only sort of in control, always. There is a pervasive internal logic within the game and the dream that is auto-immune, defensive, and self-justifying.

Are dreams themselves not a kind of virtual reality? A kind of reality experienced by proxy? A dream is the ultimate virtual reality, in which a person can feel the things they see that are not real: nocturnal orgasms are the ultimate proof of such an assertion.

Well then, where does this plot come from? What does it mean? Why is it there? A deep analysis of a Mario game, especially Super Mario Brothers 2, is a little decadent to begin with. Mario Brothers 2 was a strange break from the other mario games because it was originally intended to be a stand-alone title known as Doki Doki Panic. When Nintendo realized they could make more money using Mario, they retrofitted the game adding in familiar characters. The game plays differently: enemies are not destroyed by jumping on them, the player can now pick things up from out of or off of the ground, and there is an HP gauge alongside the power-up/power-down health system of the previous game. The world of SMB2 looks different: there are magic carpets, desert levels, ice worlds, whales, and strange transvestite dinosaur birds. If the game takes place within a dream, the creators must have thought, people will excuse the peculiarities. But is something else going on here? What do we make of the construction of the dream? (While the opening description leaves open the possibility of whether Sub-con is an actual location in Mario’s fantasy world or whether it is a fiction created by the fictional Mario, the ending confirms, unarguably, that Mario had dreamt the entirety of SMB2)

There is a prevalent mise en abyme going on here. I will lay my cards on the table and admit this essay was inspired by a tiny footnote in a wikipedia article which listed SMB2 as an example of mise en abyme: from there I got to thinking, how, why? Mise en abyme is a term in literary theory that describes the effect of mirrors reflecting mirrors: they reflect each other infinitely. Mise en abyme, literally means: placing into the abyss. The endless void of the mirror reflecting itself inward, outward, forever. The term is used in lit crit to understand fiction-within-fiction framing devices. A more approachable example of this would be “Itchy and Scrathy” on The Simpsons or “Terrance and Phillip” on South Park. That is, a show within a show. But the show-within-the-show reflects the show itself: people see South Park as a poorly animated cartoon characterized by potty humor, so the creators created Terrance and Phillip, within the show, to reflect what people thought about the actual show. The show reflects the show, which reflects what people think about the show. The two reflect back and forth and comment on each other infinitely. Does SMB2 work similarly?

How can we analyze SMB2? (I’m about to get a little Inception here, but keep in mind I’ve never actually seen the movie, and I don’t even like Christopher Noland.) There are fictive levels that can be defined as they go deeper into the dream/game structure. How many fictive/dream layers are there and how do they function?

  1. The game is a fictional text. This removes the game one level away from actual experienced “reality” (to the extent that such a thing as “Reality” can be posited).

  2. The game is all Mario’s dream. This is the second level. Mario is in a game within a dream.

  3. Within the dream, there is a whole other world, with its own rules, logic, customs, and systems of government and domination. The dream that Mario experiences is not a dream of Mushroom Kingdom or even Brooklyn (the two places which Mario supposedly calls home), the dream is of Sub-con. Might Sub-con be Mario delving further into his own subconcious, in which Bowser / Koopa is transmogrified, in the way that people are transformed into other things in dreams, into a different sort of nefarious reptilian tyrannical monarch? What is Sub-con? This is the third fictive level, Mario is in a foreign land (which reflects Mario’s waking life), in a dream, in a game (that reflects the formal structures of a dream).

  4. Mario can enter a sort of “negative world” within Sub-con by way of the magical potions. These potions, which are plucked (surrealistically) out of the ground, when thrown on to the ground, create a magical red door: the same door that Mario falls out of once he enters the dream world. When Mario walks through these potion doors, he is in a shadow of the game-world, everything is dark, no one can hurt him, there are coins and mushrooms which he could not access in the positive world. Are these coins and mushrooms reminders of his homeland of Mushroom Kingdom, in which such items were more plentiful than in Sub-con? Why does the original Mario music only play in the negative world? What is the negative world Mario goes into? (this next question might be a stretch) Is the darkness that Mario confronts in the negative world the darkness of his own unconscious, his own id, unknowable and therefore censored by blackness? Why is Mario booted out of the negative world after a few seconds: is this dark world too painful for him to remain in for too long? What is this dream-within-a-dream-within-a-dream? This is the fourth, and I think final fictive/dream level. Mario is now in a negative world, within a foreign land, within a dream, within a game.  And yet, why is it that Mario can only enter this world in the same way that he entered the dream in the first place: through a red door?  As the dream levels get deeper, they get darker and more incomprehensible, as if Mario is diving deeper and deeper into his own unconscious.  (Are the 4 playable characters of SMB2 indicative of the 4 dream-layers within the game?)

The Mario series, as any non-gamer is quick to point out, is not without it’s own sense of dream-like surreality. The magic carpets and cloaked baddies of SMB2 are no more or less strange than the goombas or yoshis of any other Mario game. In fact, Miyamoto said he was largely inspired by Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in the creation of Mario. Alice herself is caught in a dream-within-a-dream, and at one point Alice herself thinks she might be a dream-character in the White King’s unconscious: she might have woken up to someone eases dream. It is easy to see SMB2 as particularly nonsensicle, as Mario wanders through Subcon chased by ghosts, picking turnips out of the ground, more turnips, more turnips, and then a spaceship? The changing size and mushroom-eating in Mario is analogous to Alice’s misadventures in her own fictional kingdom, ruled by a bizarre monstrous monarch. Was this, at all, in mind with the creation of SMB2? Are there other psychoanalytic connections to be made in Mario?

In a review of Super Mario Galaxy (1 or 2, I don’t remember) Yahtzee Croshaw of Zero Punctuation made a half-joking reference to the psychoanalytic triangle of the Mario games: Mario is the Super-ego, Peach is the Ego, and Bowser is the Id. Bowser, the monstrous, sexual, animal part of every human; Mario the hyper-moral restrictor; Peach the unwilling victim caught in the battles between the two. Peach must simultaneously fight for the affection and avoid rapprochement by both Mario and Bowser, always. Might we also see an Oedipal Triangle here? Is Mario looking for exclusive possession of Peach, seeing Bowser as some kind of terrible patriarch who he must fight against?

This clearly ridiculous comparison could easily be a joke meant to exhaust the possibilities of psychoanalysis and point out the generic nature of Freud’s theories: they can be applied to almost any meaningless phenomenon. And yet, rather than refuting psychoanalysis, does not this analysis sort of prove it’s validity? Will artists and audiences always already be recreating and projecting psychoanalytic metaphors on to even the most trivial and useless aspects of our lives: even our video games?

Derrida warns us of the abuse of mise en abyme for analysis: “I have never wanted to abuse the abyss, nor, above all, the mise ‘en abyme.’ I do not believe in it very much. I am wary of the confidence it inspires fundamentally, I believe it too representative either to go far enough or not to avoid the very thing toward which it allegedly rushes. […] Onto what does a certain appearance of mise ‘en abyme’ open – and close – here?” (The Post Card 304). I ask the same question. And, again, I am sort of unwilling to put any of the fictional complexities within a greater theoretical framework because, to be honest, I highly doubt that the creators of the game really cared much for the semiotic meanings of the framing devices of the game. I don’t want to say “They made it this way because this” or “They made it this way because that” because I don’t really think they had a reason. This sort of analysis does nothing to elucidate the “meaning” of Mario, but perhaps will force us to think more critically of the framing devices within other games or texts. The conclusion of SMB2 shows Mario, momentarily, waking form the dream only to fall right back asleep. Is Mario a true surrealist hero, who goes through the most wild adventure, only to have changed not at all, like Salvador Dali had claimed about Alice? Or, is the dream structure instead commenting on the artificiality of virtual narratives? Have I said anything here at all, or only looked into the abyss of the dream reflecting the dream? Is the pit Mario falls into, the game of Mario itself, a sort of “game over” abyss, from which nothing can be taken? Even though it was most likely not Miyamoto’s intention, the bizarre use of Mise En Abyme in SMB2 does make us more acutely aware of the formal peculiarities of the video game itself. And when SMB2 came out, the concept of virtual reality was so new, so exciting, that perhaps, somewhere in the mind of someone working on the game, the idea occurred that the video game and all the potentialities within it, are not so far from the potentialities of sleep.

the end

I’m not entirely sure who or what this guy is but he came to me in a dream last night and I was so entranced by his simplistic yet alluring design that I wanted to recreate him in his bold style. Hope you enjoy.

I’m not entirely sure who or what this guy is but he came to me in a dream last night and I was so entranced by his simplistic yet alluring design that I wanted to recreate him in his bold style. Hope you enjoy.



Some months ago I read on Bulbapedia about speculations/interpretations explaining that Generation I theme was genetical engineering - That is argued through using pokemon as examples of that genetic mutations, such as ditto, mewtwo, the starter pokemon, fossils and some others. (You can find…

I am so not in the mood to write a response to this but I think it might be necessary, so that the response is still timely.  Also, I want to procrastinate from my actual paper that I should be writing.  There are huge flaws in both of these arguments which I would like to point out very quickly.

The “Atomic Bomb” theory is guilty of participating in post-colonial thought which assigns any narrative from “other” culture characteristics of that culture: we want to think of Pokemon as a story of the history of Japan, because it comes from Japan (thus ascribing it a correlation to the atom bomb) and not as a self-operating narrative.  We want to see Pokemon adhere and represent a “cultural” character, a fetishized, over-simplified cultural character.

The “Dream Theory” of Pokemon is a little less problematic, but is sort of too easy.  Any work of fiction can be thought of as a dream of the main character, especially any that include surrealistic and fantasy elements.  The idea that different Pokemon or characters represent the Jungian Shadow (the writer of the article didn’t identify the idea as such, I’m adding the proper critical term retro-actively) of Ash (his homosexuality, for example) is fair; although a dream-work (even a fictional one) would be a lot more obfuscated and concatenated.  James is gay and evil because Ash is secretly gay.  He needs to, unconsciously, associate James with evil because he does not want to accept his own homosexuality: he has to “other” his homosexuality.  Fine.  But again, too easy.  The symbolism within a dream is never that simple, dream symbols are overdetermined, the relationship of sign to signifier is never 1 to 1. 

Let’s be real, Pokemon doesn’t make any sense.  There is no continuity, no logical system.  The symbolism or meaning of different art designs or characteristics of the fictional Poke-world are only allocated after the creation of these tropes.  Pokemon is a series created by Nintendo to sell toys and games: not a project that we can expect to adhere to conventions of rationality, not one that we can expect to hold up to certain forms of literary criticism.  Because of the nonsense of the Pokemon, we only assign a coherent narrative or logical system after the fact: in the same way that when we retell a dream we give it a narrative that the dream itself never actually had.

While I certainly sympathize with any attempts to understand pop-culture phenomenon as more complex than their surface level, we should be careful of how we go about such analysis so as not to conform or fall back on over-simplification of the text and the theory we apply to the text.


Kill, fly faster, love to your heart’s content. And if you should die, are you not certain of reawakening among the dead?
Andre Breton, Manifesto of Surrealism
Children set off each day without a worry in the world. Everything is near at hand, the worst material conditions are fine. The woods are white or black, one will never sleep.
Andre Breton, Manifesto of Surrealism
"We Have To Keep Going" by Jing Wei.  My favorite of the pieces from Brooklyn BETA spaces.  Like a little miniature dream. (seen @ Fire Proof Bar/Cafe)

"We Have To Keep Going" by Jing Wei.  My favorite of the pieces from Brooklyn BETA spaces.  Like a little miniature dream. (seen @ Fire Proof Bar/Cafe)

I was thinking of you, and I was thinking of you, I was thinking of you, and then I wasn’t thinking of you anymore.
Laurie Anderson, Delusion