Gamers Drop Controllers, Strap On Bungee Cords To Re-Create 'Mario,' 'Tekken'

Civil War re-enactors face tough competition in new breed of gamers-turned-stuntmen.

Some people re-enact battles from the Civil War. Some people dress up in frilly costumes and stage fairs re-creating the Renaissance.

And then there are the people who re-create the battles of the Mushroom Kingdom.

Over the last year real-life re-creations of video games have become among the most popular videos on sites such as YouTube and Google Video. At long last real people can be seen acting out "Final Fantasy" in the flesh. No longer is the role of Super Mario one that's performed just by the likes of Bob Hoskins. Just last week a re-creation of "Space Invaders" using a crowd switching seats in an auditorium was popular. Next week? Maybe Angelina Jolie's role as Lara Croft won't be safe.

The video game re-creators are a far-flung group, each trying to make real games that don't always cooperate with real-life trappings like low budgets and gravity. In April a creative five-minute re-enactment of "Super Mario Bros." hit the Web and racked up a couple of million views. That came from Massachusetts' Gordon College where, during a school talent show in April 2005, then-freshman Andrew Breton donned the Mario overalls. As Breton ran in place, 10 classmates clad in black ran painted cardboard coins, clouds and enemies from right to left. He jumped at the right moments. An iPod played the famous theme music and a PC was used to pluck the right sound effects. Offstage three girls handed props to the rotating men in black. (Watch their antics and other video game re-creations in this video clip.)

"We were going for as close as we could get to the video game," Breton told MTV News. "That was our goal. We knew people would like it because of the nostalgia of everyone growing up with 'Mario.' "

Breton conceived the idea just three weeks before the show. One friend had heard of a "Mario" re-creation, which inspired them to perform a full level. Breton dove through dumpsters behind Best Buy and Home Depot to gather materials, and borrowed $100 from his parents for extra supplies. They made giant-size Mario pipes from fabric and hula hoops, but then were faced with a more difficult challenge: making their live performance "pause" while Mario was in mid-jump, as if someone hit a button. "I had to jump on this kid who was 6 feet 6 inches and jacked up at the time," Breton said. The problem was that Breton had torn his anterior cruciate ligament once, and though it had healed, he was unsure he could make the leap. "My mind doesn't want to do that motion."

They didn't practice until the night before the performance. At the talent show they nailed just about everything, including Breton's paused jump. They got a standing ovation and a year later a tape of the performance made it to the Web.

Video Games Get Real

Watch as gamers leap like Mario and re-create their favorite characters in physical form.

On July 4, 2005, Michael Tai, a budding filmmaker and a just-graduated student of New Jersey's Montville Township High School, gathered some friends in a field behind their school. Tai had played several "Final Fantasy" games and wanted to add a re-creation of one to the library of parodies by his production company, Adarahs. "I'd never really seen anyone doing something like that," he said. "So I figured I might as well just go ahead and do it." His called the movie "Ultimate Utopia XXIII."

One of his friends played a swordsman, another a mage. In total there was a party of four, plus a bad guy. The script — if Tai's rough outline could be called that — asked for the full group to exhibit the idiosyncrasies of "Final Fantasy" characters: fighting foes by lining up at a distance and bouncing incessantly on their toes and gesticulating through a tight loop of "animations." "It was 100-degree weather outside and everyone was really pissy," Tai said. "A lot of times a lot of them weren't coordinating right." Tai had to be firm. "Every time, I would have to say, 'Start the bouncing first and I'll start shooting.' "

Tai posted the video online in the fall and racked up a quick 20,000 hits. Then it went to YouTube and blew up to more than 1.5 million. "My parents don't understand the humor in this video," he said. Nevertheless it's been a success. Now Tai is entering his second year at the University of Michigan and thinking of switching from a business major to film. And he wouldn't mind making a live-action short based on "World of Warcraft" while he's at it.

In Slovakia last year, Milos Polakovic, 23, and Igor Martinicky, 24, kicked, punched and grappled for a full month before they had enough footage for their four-minute "Tekken" knock-off. Two months of editing and special effects later, their brawling homage was ready for the Web. Little did the dueling duo know that their stylized rumbling would garner so strong a reaction — since it was posted on YouTube four months ago, the video has notched more than half a million views online. But nobody said Internet fame comes easy: Martinicky had eight years of kung-fu training under his belt, and even after two weeks of choreography, some fight scenes were re-shot 30 times to get things right. So of all the games they could mimic, why "Tekken"? "We used to play it a lot," Palokovic said. "In our opinion, it is the best fighting game ever made."

These and other re-creators who spoke to MTV News, like the comedic "Mega 64" team, said they made their movies out of the love for the subject. Cheap technology and the fact that "Duck Hunt"-era gamers are old enough to do this sort of thing make shooting films and getting them in front of the public over the Web a cinch.

But for some people it's not enough to re-create video games for viewers' enjoyment. This past school year, NYU grad students decided this past school year that everyone should be able to participate. Dan Albritton, Noah Shibley and Quanya Chen dreamt up "Nintendo Amusement Park": a theme-park ride for the "Mario" set. For school they created a prototype that lets people don a parachute harness suspended by bungee cords and hop up to punch question-mark boxes, pop yellow "coin" balloons and crush a giant inflatable Mario enemy called a goomba. Dressing up as Mario is encouraged but not required. The idea came from exhibits at Space Camp and gaming hits like "Super Mario 64." Said Albritton: "You know when you're a kid and you're playing those games you're crazy and excited? Let's take that excitement and actually bring it into the real world."

Unlike Breton and Tai, Albritton's team has had official contact from the people behind their source material. Albritton said Nintendo's legal team has asked them to add a disclaimer avowing that they're not part of Nintendo. But beyond that, video game companies are keeping mum about these re-creations.

The gaming pros are busy making games, after all. For making movies about them, it's the fans' turn.