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Does Mario feel pain? It’s complicated

A screenshot from the video game Super Mario 64.
Image: Nintendo

The world of Super Mario is a dangerous place. In the games, the plumber falls off cliffs, gets jabbed with spikes, and has everything from wrenches to fireballs hurled at him. But he always gets back up and goes again, which raises an important question: does Nintendo’s hero actually feel pain? According to Takashi Tezuka, who has worked on the series since the original Super Mario Bros. (including serving as producer on last year’s Wonder), there isn’t really a clear answer. “It may be that Mario does feel pain,” he tells me.

But that ambiguity may be because I was asking the wrong question. The important part, he explains, is the emotions players experience when Mario plummets to his death or is fried by Bowser’s breath. “If the…

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