Ennuigi: Bringing Existential Angst To Super Mario

Ennui. Boredom. Existential angst. Heidegger wrote what was probably the most extensive philosophical treatment on the subject, 100 pages that tackled the tedium of railway stations. Fair enough, Marty, but didn’t you know the truest form of ennui is depicted in the empty eyes of gaming’s second most famous plumber?

Meet Ennuigi. It’s the work of indie dev Josh Millard, a browser game in which you press down to smoke and up to ruminate on ontology, ethics, family, identity, and the mistakes he and his brother have made. The Mushroom Kingdom is crumbling and our laconic Luigi is left to wander what is left. It is excellent.

Here’s Millard on Ennuigi:

“This is a shot at a collection of ideas I had a few years ago, about looking critically at the universe of Super Mario Bros. in light of the total lack of explicit narrative in the original game in particular. Who are these strange men? What motivates them? By what right do they wreak the havoc they do on this strange place? What do they feel about where they are and what they’re doing?

“And so, this is one lens through which to look at all that, with Luigi, the second brother, the also-ran, as a complicit onlooker, wandering now through some fractured, rotting liminal place in this strange world, reflecting on it all in scattered fragments.”

You can play it by clicking here, here or here. Thanks, boingboing.

23 Comments

  1. Josh Millard says:

    Hello! Huge RPS fan, daily reader and once-in-a-blue-moon commenter, totally delighted to see my work show up here. Just wanted to pop in and say thanks for the mention; Ennuigi was fun to finally put together after thinking about it off and on for a few years, and I’m glad folks seem to be liking it.

    Also, it was built using a fantastic new in-development retro game dev toolkit thing called PICO 8, which you absolutely should check out if you’re at all interested in the idea of constrained, wee game development. I’ve fallen head over heels for it, it’s great fun to work in.

    • Sam says:

      I’d really like Pico 8 if:

      1) They removed the code length limit. Intended to keep games short, it instead leads to people spending hours trying to squeeze in a few more lines of code. The result is code that’s hard to understand and almost impossible to maintain. The source of someone’s cartridge should be a valuable learning aid, but now any game that pushes at the limits will be full of compressed code that’s barely comprehensible. The skill of compressing code isn’t even a useful one in the “real world” of programming, so you’re just wasting time to comply with a completely needless constraint.

      2) It was available in some manner other than by buying a $20 game. Ideally open source it, but if it’s a commercial project they need to make it available as a product as soon as possible. It’s absurd that I can give someone a free copy of Unity, but this little BASIC-like thing costs real money. I know it’s still alpha (isn’t everything?) but they need to realise that interest is spiking at the moment and make a move.

      With those problems addressed, it would be a really nice way to give budding programmers a small environment where they have complete control and can make interesting stuff. No dealing with vast libraries, just a few typed commands to make stuff appear on screen and go from there.

      • Josh Millard says:

        I hear where you’re coming from, and I don’t fundamentally disagree on either point in terms of encouraging broad uptake.

        But on the first I think there’s a lot of value and charm to PICO 8’s existing constraints that set it apart from a more general and unconstrained library, and I think those are really valuable; the difficulty of doing increasingly complex things in a limited code space seems more like an issue of scoping on the developer’s part than anything, and learning to figure out how much to do in any given cart is part of the process. Taking a proof of concept in PICO 8 and then moving it over to a more traditional open-ended library like Love2D seems like a pretty reasonable path.

        On the second point, free and open source would be great, but PICO 8’s the side project of a tiny indie dev; Unity can afford to give away a subset of their toolset for free because it’s still a large commercial project that generates a pile of revenue, and they likewise have the resources to hire folks to document and support.

        That said, the dev has talked about presenting it as a stand-alone project rather than the current sideways-feeling free-addon-if-you-buy-Voxatron method, once it’s a little farther along. I think that’ll be great.

        Anyway, I’m excited to see where PICO 8 goes in the long run, and it’s possible that it’ll go in either or both of those directions you mention at some point if it makes sense to the dev. But right now it’s very much it’s own unique little thing, and I love it for being specifically that and consider the $20 I dropped on it the best money I’ve spent this summer.

      • Sam says:

        One of my demands has been met, you can now buy Pico 8 as a standalone for $15.
        link to lexaloffle.com

      • corinoco says:

        It’s $20. It’s hardly breaking the bank, is it? It’s from an independent developer, I doubt they fly first class or even drive first class. It’s not like MS asking $12k or whatever for Visual Studio is it?

        • Sam says:

          The version of visual studio that a solo developer would need (or most small teams) is free, so that’s maybe not the best comparison. Likewise Unity, Unreal Engine, CyEngine, and dozens of open source engines are all free.

          Pico 8 could be a nice way to introduce people to games programming. But telling someone that the way to get started is to buy a totally unrelated game and then dig out a link was all a bit silly.

    • Ruigi says:

      I can’t wait to get home and check it out! There is a drunken rant of mine that exists on the tubes about how Mario is an asshole, Peach had a thing with Bowser and Luigi dutifully followed his brother into unwarranted genocide. Why is the ruling class of the Mushroom kingdom human anyways?

    • shadybearfaced says:

      Ennuigi is freaking great man, it reminds me of Spec Ops: The Line but somehow darker and with more existential depression/nihilism. The writing is freaking fantastic, better than anything I could ever think up. It’s got that perfect balance of depressive feels and philosophical wankery, and doesn’t ever feel ham-fisted or over-written.

      I love how you can see all the random thoughts the creator had when playing through the first Mario. I’ve had similar thoughts about other old games without any real narrative, but never the motivation or creative energy to actually create something like this to showcase those thoughts.

      Awesome work man.

    • twaitsfan says:

      This is phenomenal Josh – you’ve just killed any productivity for my team this morning.

      • Josh Millard says:

        I suspect Luigi would, to the extent that he can feel anything at all, feel a kind of grim satisfaction at the idea of disrupting the capitalist machine, before reflecting dourly on the futility of such transient victories.

  2. kalzekdor says:

    “I looked at the turtle and thought, I have done you one better. You wear a shell, whereas I have become one.”

    • shadybearfaced says:

      Hahaha, this was one of my favorite lines. I also particularly liked the Stranger in a Strange Land reference, I never realized how surprisingly fitting it is for a Mario game.

  3. The_invalid says:

    Oh my god, this is everything I could want in a game. You had me at the name!

  4. mr.black says:

    Awesome writing, Josh! I had fun playing it.
    “Sometimes she’d just silently sit by me, watching little Goombas scuttling by. The ones he didn’t stomp.”

    • Josh Millard says:

      Thanks! It was a lot of fun to write, to try and figure out the right blend of existentialism and philosophical wankery and noirish patter and just plain free-floating depression and uncertainty to get poor ol’ Luigi’s headspace where I wanted it to be.

  5. satan says:

    Made me smile, thanks.

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    Bluerps says:

    This is amazing!

  7. heretic says:

    Very nice writing, adequately mellow!

  8. jrodman says:

    I found myself empathizing, wishing for a conclusion, but knowing it would not come.

  9. Charles de Goal says:

    I loved it. Just the right mood, so delicate.

  10. BlissAuthority says:

    This is by far the best thing I’ve played in the last year that the not-a-game crowd would claim is not a game.

  11. Toupee says:

    Well-spoken, meandering, thoughtful, clever, amusing, and dragging in a couple of ways — this Luigi smoking simulator hits all the right spots.