Have you ever stopped to think about the soul of a Goomba when you crush or burn its body?

For decades, the Super Mario series has been held up as a shining example that video games don’t have to be violent to be fun. Sure, maybe other developers need to fill their screens with bullets, blades, and other battle gear, but the adventures of Nintendo’s super plumber remain as kid-friendly and benign as ever.

…except, when you stop and think about it, really, Super Mario has always been a very violent series. Sure, it may not show blood and gore, but from the very first Super Mario Bros. game for the NES, Mario stomps on turtles and all sorts of other creatures, crushing them, kicking them off ledges, and burning them severely with fireballs manifested from his hands that there’s not even a corpse left behind.

So yeah, even if there’s no blood on the screen, there’s definitely blood on Mario’s hands, in a figurative sense. That brings us to this video, in which an actual Buddhist priest in Japan plays Super Mario Bros. with a very special extra rule in place: every time he kills an enemy, he has to stop the game and recite a sutra so that their soul will rest in peace.

That’s Yoshimichi Ishida at the controls, who’ s actually a man who goes by numerous names. In addition to being a Buddhist priest at Ehime Prefecture’s Unmonji Temple, Ishida is also part of comedy duo Dodon, performing under the name Hodo Ishida. He’s also a member of Buddhist-themed “entertainment band” The Namuzu, where he’s known as Bon Higanda.

Before starting his attempt at a pacifist run of Super Mario Bros., Ishida reminisces that he didn’t own a copy of the game as a kid, but remembers playing it somewhere a few times, though never getting to the end. He did play fighting video games growing up, but primarily in one-player mode, and doesn’t own a Switch. Nevertheless, he’s now tasked with saving Princess Peach without killing a single enemy, with the responsibility of having to offer a sutra for any life he inadvertently takes.

As for the nitty gritty rules, Ishida is only responsible for deaths he directly causes. So, for example, if an enemy walks, on its own, into a bottomless pit and dies, that’s not on him. He’s also allowed to jump on top of Koopa Troopas one time, as long as they’re on the ground, since that first jump merely causes them to retreat into their shells, and they won’t die unless Ishida kicks them off a ledge (though any enemies that die from getting hit by a shell Ishida kicked will require a sutra).

Things get off to an immediately tense start. While Mario’s first stage, World 1-1, is essentially just a tutorial that subtly teaches the player how Mario controls and the game’s physics, it becomes much more difficult when you have to avoid touching the enemies that have been placed in spots where you’re likely to naturally land on them to discover Mario’s offensive capabilities. “When I was a kid, I just squashed them all,” recalls Ishida, but with careful, considerate movements, he’s able to make it through World 1-1 without causing harm to any other living thing.

That streak doesn’t last long, though, as you can see in the point cued up in the video below.

Early in World 1-2, Ishida is enjoying himself collecting coins, which he says reminds him of the single-coin donations visitors make at temples in Japan. But things go awry when one of the question-mark blocks he hits contains not a coin, but a Fire Flower. As fans know, to make Mario run in Super Mario Bros. you have to press and hold the B button, but if you’ve picked up a Fire Flower, that initial B button press will also make Mario toss a fireball in whatever direction he’s facing, and in Ishida’s case that fireball then bounced right into a Koopa Troopa, killing the poor thing and prompting the first of many sutras he’s going to need to say. So he promptly pauses the game, puts his hands together, and recites a sutra that’s customarily read at Buddhist cremation ceremonies, explaining that he chose it because the Koopa Troopa died by fire.

This means that as long as he has a Fire Flower, Ishida has to be extremely careful about running, but it’s not just a question of patience. The jumps Mario has to make become much more difficult if he’s walking and lacks momentum, and Ishida has to make more jumps than usual since he’s trying to jump clear over enemies, not bounce off (and kill) them like most players do. It gets to the point that Ishida starts calling the Fire Flower the “Poison Flower,” and things get even worse when he uncovers a Super Star, as shown here.

Ordinarily, the Super Star is a welcome sight for Super Mario players, since it grants invincibility. It does so by instantly killing anything Mario touches, though, so in the context of Ishida’s pacifist run it’s now a “Super Killing” Star, and something he’s desperate to avoid, even if doing so means Mario gets damaged by some nearby enemies.

Unfortunately, Ishida finds out that it’s all too easy to accidentally kill things even without any power-ups, especially when there’s an overhead obstruction that prevents Mario from reaching the normal zenith of his jumps…

▼ Unintended violence like this leads Ishida to remark “Mario is a game centered on killing…”

…or when there’s a mid-air enemy that the level designers seem to have clearly placed so that you’d use it as a stepping stone.

Ishida is unable to save Peach by the time the video ends, or even to clear World 1-4, so we don’t know how he would have handled the first iteration of Bowser, who must either be killed by fireballs or dropped into a pit of lava in order to advance. Still, the experience gives Ishida a lot of laughs and a lot to think about. Treating each in-game enemy as a living being reminded him of the importance of being mindful of one’s actions, not just in matters of life and death, but also in being diligent not to carelessly cause pain or distress to others.

We’ll try to keep all those in mind the next time we put a team together to play the original Super Mario Bros. as a three-player simultaneous co-op game.

Related: The Namuzu YouTube channel
Source: YouTube/THE南無ズ
Top image ©SoraNews24
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Follow Casey on Twitter, where he always felt kind of bad for the bouncing Koopa Troopas that fell into pits.