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Q&A with Charles Martinet

What was unimaginable in video games a few years ago is commonplace today: better graphics, better platforms, and better stories to be told. Yet, even with frequent releases of 4K, “triple-A” games that touch on hard-hitting and relevant subjects, gamers often retain a soft spot for the classics. Among these classics is the story of a plumber journeying across a kingdom to save his princess. This story, of course, is that of the beloved Nintendo franchise Super Mario Bros.

Charles Martinet, known for voicing Mario and Luigi among most of the male cast of the franchise, told The Sandspur how video games have impacted his life throughout the years.

Q: In college, it can sometimes be difficult for students to balance studying and gaming. What do you think students can do to better allocate their time?

Balancing life is challenging for everybody. […] And I know everybody in college is super busy studying, super busy gaming, playing, dating, taking care of social needs and personal needs.  […] It’s all a balancing act. 

But I think you have to keep your priorities in mind. The most important thing is doing the best you can in life. The game is long and there are lots of turns. 

If you’re in college, you want to do the best you can. But you don’t want to do it at your own personal expense. You have to be able to step back from the battlefield and look down on it before you re-engage in it. You have to have time in and time out. 

I believe university is about falling in love with learning. Yes, you want to learn as much as you possibly can, but you really want to fall in love with the process of learning so that you keep doing it your entire life. And to me, life is about having fun. Finding what you love to do in life, exploring your passions and your joy, seeking your happiness, living your dreams, and finding what it is that brings you joy and happiness. 

To find joy and happiness, you have to be good to yourself. You have to be, in a way, your own best friend. You have to respect yourself, build your self-esteem, and treat yourself the way you treat your best friend in order to be supportive enough to give yourself the freedom to do what you love in life. And of course, you have to get rid of your own limited beliefs, get rid of the mythology that is handed down to you, and create your own. I think that’s a big part of what college is: becoming your own person. And you want to be the best person you can be, so you have to give yourself permission to have fun, forgive yourself when you have a little bit too much fun, and be caring and compassionate with yourself in guiding yourself back to the path you want to be on.

In the end, you are the hero in your own story. So it’s important that you learn to expand your horizons, go for the brass ring, forgive yourself when you make mistakes, learn from your failures, embrace your failures, brush yourself off and get back into the game or back into your studies.

Q: How can video games positively/negatively impact the mental health of college students? 

Well it’s all about balance, isn’t it? Video games are great for escapism, for exploring your passion, your joy, for being entertained and taking your mind off of things that may be stressful or out of your control, in order for you to get back into a sense of balance.

And video games are empowering. I remember working with a children’s hospital many years ago, and they had done a study that showed that kids who play video games […] tended to heal faster […] Feeling empowered […] in their healing process can be very helpful. And it was also very esteeming because all these kids could play better than their doctors. 

[…] I think that video games can only negatively impact people if they use them too much for escapism and lose the perspective of what they’re doing in college, which is to get a great education, stimulate the learning process, explore possible career goals and life goals, and get to work at creating your own destiny. And you can only do that if you create balance in your life. 

And it’s that way with anything. Not just video games. Anything that you do in excess that takes away from your focus and attention, your passions and your drive… Anything that allows you to escape more than you stay engaged in your life, present and aware of your present state is problematic. But again, being your own best friend in life, treating yourself with compassion and love, will give you insight into what you would do with your best friend, and what you can do with yourself to not overindulge, and to keep things balanced, and say on the best track for your growth and development.

[…] Life happens awfully quickly. And you want to be as engaged and as present as you possibly can. And you want to get the most you can out of life. To experience the most, to have the most passion, the best explorations, the most engaged curiosity and inquisitiveness, and the most joy you can. That is certainly what I wish for you and for everyone at your school. That you find what you love in life and pursue it with passion. And by all means, have fun!

Q: In your opinion, is complexity in modern video games engaging or overwhelming?

There was quite a gap in between my exposure to video games and my being a part of them. I remember playing pong and Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man, [etc.] in my early 20’s…And then I put down the controllers and went about my acting career. 

[…] When a [Super Nintendo Entertainment System] arrived on my front door from the folks at Nintendo, I opened it up and started playing, and I was absolutely amazed at this character [and] his interactions with the environment he was in. […] I played for 12 hours straight. Then I did the same thing the next night. That complexity that was in this Mario game had never been in games like “Asteroids” and “Space Invaders,” and it absolutely and completely engaged me. I was drawn into the point of losing track of all time. And it was incredibly fun, frustrating, challenging, and absolutely delightful.

But “[Super] Mario Sunshine” was spectacular! And with the GameCube platform, the memory stick or “wand” allowed the player to save his or her advancement and start again from there. 

[…] I devised a wonderful trick when I was doing media in Australia for “[Super] Mario Sunshine.” The reporters would come into the room and play the game for a while and then we would talk about it. And I would be sure to save each reporter’s progress so that I could play from his or her progress, and then the next reporter had a more difficult aspect to play, and so forth. 

That way I ended up going way past where I ever would’ve been able to advance on my own. It was magical. And since then I have relied on people as young as five to help me along when I get stuck on levels. And I literally do. I recently handed my Switch to a 7-year-old, who took me to levels in Odyssey I hadn’t seen since recording it.

So video games themselves are just as engaging as the very first Mario game I ever played. And so much more complex that I find myself able to go not much farther than finding out that the princess is not in this castle. But […] I rely on other people to do that for me, and find myself enjoying being a spectator when things get incredibly challenging. 

So yes, they have become immensely engaging, and immensely overwhelming. But, it’s always great fun!

Q: How have the expectations of players changed?

I think it’s true that different games are marketed to different demographics and there are so many games that find their level in the times we are in. During the COVID lockdown, […] online gaming became more and more popular where people could compete with each other without being in the same room.

I think early on in video games, we didn’t have many expectations because everything was so new. That said, every invention seemed to bring us along to a new dimension, a new level of fun. From single screen, to side scrolling, to three dimensions, the increased memory in the chips allowed for more music, more dialogue, better graphics. And certainly, as video games continue to evolve, fans want more of all of it. And they expect better graphics, better adventures, better interactions, better music. […] One thing I’ve learned is that the surprises never stop, and just when you think they can’t get any better, they do!

And the history is there! The video game industry profits eclipsed Hollywood and all filmmaking decades ago. The revenues are enormous, and the creative teams are comprised of great minds and great artists that have to create products that live up to and exceed the expectations of gamers. And so far from what I see, this is being done masterfully.

Q: What is the importance of accessibility for video games?

I think accessibility to video games is extremely important. I’m always grateful for games like “Animal Crossing” and for Mario games that people of any age can enjoy. I think one of the great traditions of video games is that they are made for everybody […].

Video games also offer not only great entertainment, but great career opportunities for graphic designers, artists, directors, actors, producers. They are a great art form and a great entertainment form. And they are here to stay, in what seems to be an ever-expanding medium.

I am fascinated by the fact that when I started watching competitions 20 years ago, the people that seemed to win were always in their 30s, [then] the winner’s age dropped down to those in their mid 20s, and now younger and younger teenagers so often win the competitions. Because that skill set is growing so fast, almost by osmosis. Each generation is getting better.

Because video games are such a wonderful art and entertainment form, I think absolutely everybody should experience them in some capacity. I think some older people enjoy just watching the games, but can participate in many of the family games that are created today. As we go forward we will see more and more people playing, and more and more games developed for specific audiences that today have not yet been engaged.

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