PewDiePie (aka Felix Kjellberg) is the pied piper of the YouTube ‘let’s play’ genre, in which a captive (and massive) audience tunes in daily to watch him play through platform scrollers, horror games and anything that will evoke his signature ear-piercing, Swedish squawk. YouTuber Alyce Rocha aptly dubs his modus operandi:
“Pewdiepie – a man that can make any innocent childhood game the thing of nightmares.”
In What Are You Doing, Mario?, PewDiePie and his cohort take on the classic platform game Super Mario 64, a throwback to the halcyon days of his youth, having been released in 1996 as one of the first games to be packaged with the Nintendo 64.
Unlike its side-scrolling predecessors, Super Mario 64 was built to allow for a 3D sense of in-game exploration and freedom, which PewDiePie and co. take to disturbing levels.
The playthrough consists of PewDiePie and his friend taking Mario and Luigi through a homo-erotic incestual adventure, as the Brooklyn-born plumber pair plumb the depths of each other’s bodies (as well as can be rendered by the 64-bit game mechanics) throughout the various backdrops of the N64 classic.
In the opening sequence, PewDiePie and consort refer to each other as Sam & Dean, another pair of brothers derived from the spectacularly mediocre CW series, Supernatural. — and quite possibly inspired by another pair of fantasy-sci-fi protagonists, Sam Beckett and Al (Dean Stockwell) from the Super Mario 64-era TV series, Quantum Leap.
Using the Supernatural vernacular, Mario and Luigi (Sam & Dean) speak of salting the ground, refer to Bob-ombs as demons in need of cleansing, and mourn the loss of a maternal figure (Sam’s mother, who is slain by the demon Azrael at the show’s inception.) all while finding solace in each other’s arms (and anal cavities).
The playthrough crescendos when the two demon-hunter-plumbers are going at it in a sky-based board, conveniently using the clouds for cover. They climax simultaneously, backflipping away from each other amidst a cacophony of release, exultation and shame. Ultimately they fall off the edge of the board and plummet to their doom — an encapsulation of Freud’s Death Drive. Mirroring behavior that Freud has observed a century ago:
“as the celebrated Fort/Da [Forth/here] game played by Freud’s grandson, who would stage and re-stage the disappearance of his mother and even himself). “How then does his repetition of this distressing experience as a game fit in with the pleasure principle?”
Ultimately the pleasure principle, as is the case with much of PewDiePie’s work, yields to a celebration of Thanatos – as in the world of video games, the player is constantly faced with a kind of absurd immortality, dying countless times and being unceremoniously respawned, without fanfare, without feeling, until the value of living is completely erased and all that is left is a Groundhog’s Day-ist orgy of self-destruction: