Mario’s new voice and twerking Master Chief are upsetting, and here’s why

Of all the stories coming out of this year’s Twitchcon streamers’ convention, the most surreal news is that Megan Thee Stallion twerked on stage with Master Chief.

If you want to see the star of Halo Infinite take some much-needed downtime from fighting The Banished, you can watch it below. I am both here for it, but like many twerking videos, it has wound up making me think about post-modernism.

Meg the Stallion twerking on Master Chief gotta go down as top 5 moments in Twitchcon history pic.twitter.com/1v8lLFYTmfOctober 9, 2022

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Seeing the funky fresh moves of a Chief cosplayer so readily embraced by such a big voice in pop culture does feel surreal, and it’s not the first time this week I’ve had that reaction to video game news.

Character flaws

An awe-struck Mario looks around the Mushroom Kingdom in The Super Mario Bros. Movie
(Image credit: Nintendo/Illumination)

As surreal as it may seem, dancing Master Chief cosplayers are nothing new. There is a fundamental joy to seeing an emotionally constipated supersoldier bust a move like he was at a Final Fantasy 14 Nightclub. Seeing the stoic humanity-saving Spartan cut loose and have some fun for a change is as endearing as it is absurd. Somehow, seeing the hulking frame of John-117 get his groove on fills a void in my soul that I didn’t know I had.

There’s always been great joy to be found in fans taking characters in wacky and unexpected directions. After all, back when Doom Eternal and Animal Crossing: New Horizons shared a release day, fans started imagining mashups of the two games, something even the developers embraced:

together at last pic.twitter.com/aa1ZOX5PUaOctober 19, 2021

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However, moving from fandom meme to featuring in a full-blown performance with a world-famous artist is certainly a step up. For the most part, fans have reacted positively, in stark contrast to the response to Chris Pratt’s performance in the first Super Mario Bros trailer. Though he does have an accent in the trailer, it must be said that Pratt’s attempt at the distinct tones of a Brooklyn accent does leave a strange aftertaste.

Master Chief and Cortana, standing side by side
(Image credit: Microsoft)

What Master Chief and Mario have in common is their relatively newfound place under the warping rays of the pop culture spotlight. As video games have become more ensconced in pop culture, we’ve watched as characters have twisted and contorted to fit more mainstream molds. Though this isn’t a bad thing by default, seeing beloved characters change this way can be jarring.

In the case of Master Chief, we’ve come to know him through the narrow lens of the Halo games, as humanity’s defender. It’s fun to see him twerk on stage with Stallion or recreate memes, but it does force me to see him in a broader context than sci-fi supersoldier. He’s less and less Halo’s Master Chief, and more and more Master Chief, as seen in the Halo games.

My reaction to Mario is stronger still. Mario’s long history is at the heart of that; he’s been jumping on Goombas since before I was born. And, despite appearing in a broader sweep of games and genres, alongside a wider cast of characters, than Master Chief, they’ve always been in the context of being Nintendo games – a company that tightly controls tone and standards. Each new step for Mario felt consistent with the last. Pratt’s voice feels like a leap in comparison, and now I have to recontextualize a character who has felt largely unchanged all my life. If Mario is not himself, then who is he?

Jack Black as Bowser is perfect, though. No notes.

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