Syrian netizen Samir al-Mutfi has produced a short parody of the 1985 version of Super Mario Bros., played on the original Nintendo Entertainment Systems, showing a Syrian refugee making the dangerous trip from embattled Syria to the European Union. In the past few days, the video has been widely circulated on social media. But instead of stomping on evil mushrooms and leaping over cavernous pits, the main character, in a red cap and white shirt, encounters smugglers, a treacherous sea voyage and hostile border police before he can make it to safety.
The route the virtual migrant takes mirrors the paths Syrian and other refugees have taken in the real world: from Turkey across the Mediterranean Sea to Greece and overland through Eastern Europe to Germany. More than 300,000 people have made the journey in 2015, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The majority of those arriving are from Syria, the agency says.
“The life of a Syrian refugee is just like the game,” Mufti told the Huffington Post’s Arabic-language site in an interview this week. “You must pass several levels to reach the country of asylum.”
In what Mutfi calls “Super Mario Bros.: The Asylum Stage,” the video game character grows big – like Mario does – not with a super mushroom but with a Turkish flag, in a nod to the role Turkey has played in both welcoming refugees and turning a blind eye to their flight from northern coast.
He racks up money, to the game’s signature coin sound effect. In Mario’s world, that would get him an extra “life,” but here is used pay smugglers who will risk his own. Before he reaches the castle – remade in the clip as a refugee camp – he jumps onto a goalpost waving a European Union flag.
Nearly 3,000 people have been killed trying to cross the Mediterranean this year, the UNHCR says, and war continues to devastate Syria. So, where is the humor in that?
Mutfi, a refugee himself in Turkey, told Huffington Post’s Arabic site that he wanted to use comedy to ease the pain of his fellow countrymen. And the wild popularity of Super Mario Bros. means “it has great significance in people’s minds,” he said.