Quantum Geek: Episode 2 – Goombas Feel Pain, Too

"So I've got to ask," Rick said to his newly digitized friend, "What's it like in there?" "Really weird; I feel like I'm in someone else's body. And the world...game....whatever... is even worse. I ca

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“So I’ve got to ask,” Rick said to his newly digitized friend, “What’s it like in there?”

“Really weird; I feel like I’m in someone else’s body. And the world…game….whatever… is even worse. I can look around and see things, trees and rocks, but I can only move forward and backward. It’s like the entire place is in 2D but I’m seeing it in 3D. My head starts to hurt if I try to focus on either too hard.”

“Really? That’s incredible! I think what we’re seeing here is a dimensional extension of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle! I’m going to go write all this down and run some simulations. I’ll be right back!”

“Rick, don’t you dare step outside this…” from Rick’s silence it was clear he already left, “room.” Great, Tom thought, I’m stuck in freakin’ Super Mario Bros. and all he can think about is the scientific impact of it all. “It’s OK, Rick, I’ll just hang out here in your computer, WITH ABSOLUTELY NO CLUE WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON!!!” Tom’s anger was met by a profound silence, punctuated only by the familiar theme song that kept playing cheerily in the distance. “All right, guess I might as well try to do something. Besides, if Rick is right, beating a couple levels might help us figure out how to get me out of here.”

Having only just mastered walking in the digital realm, Tom, as any prudent gamer would, decided it would be a good idea to familiarize himself with how to control Mario.  Commanding Mario using a controller was one thing, but actually being inside his body was an entirely different experience. Jumping was easy enough—landing, not so much. Rick spent nearly ten minutes jumping and ending up on his face, back, knees, rear, and nearly every other body part before he was finally able to land on his feet. Breaking blocks was another difficult task, because the blocks totally failed to break unless they were hit just right. Otherwise, they just ended up hurting Tom’s head. After some more practice and some severe head trauma, Tom finally felt confident enough to continue through the level, very thankful that Mario had a thick skull and was apparently immune to concussions.

Unfortunately, what Tom had hoped would be an easy jaunt through the Mushroom Kingdom turned out to be just as frustrating as everything else that had happened so far. The first Goomba he encountered was dispatched easily enough, though its dying “boop” sounded like an agonized scream to his new electronic ears. “Well that was certainly unsettling,” he said to himself. After a few more similar encounters, Tom resolved to avoid killing them if he could.

Goombas were not the only problems, though. The coins Tom encountered were the size of dinner plates and sparkled with an odd copper shimmer. Simply touching them produced no effect (as Rick had previously hoped) and the only alternative seemed to be to carry them around. Rick took a few steps with them, and then promptly chucked the cumbersome things away. The Super Mushroom, while doubling Tom’s size and granting a slight boost in confidence, tasted like wet dog, although the 1-Up Mushrooms tasted refreshingly of spearmint.

“OK, if I remember right I’m about halfway through this stage. All I should need to do now is grab the Star and just head straight for the exit. Easy.” Tom hit the “?” block, saw the glowing star rise from its depths, and quickly chased it down. The moment he grabbed it, time stopped. The landscape around him seemed to bend, and he saw a beautiful shining light ahead of him. He reached out to touch it, but it kept moving father and father away. He ran, ran so fast that everything in front of him became a blur, but the light continued to be just out of reach. Then, nothing.

“Tom? Tom, are you OK?”

“Rick…go away. I just had the worst dream about being in Super Mario Bros. and I just want to go back to sleep. How’d you get into my house, anyway?”

“Uh….I’m not in your house….and you’re actually in Super Mario Bros.”


“Are you OK? Why are you just lying there in front of the castle?”

Tom suddenly became aware of the cold bricks beneath him and opened his eyes. A pale blue sky greeted him along with some blurry clouds, a blurry flagpole, and a blurry castle. Painfully he stood up, trying to remember how he had got there.

“I’m fine…I think. Last thing I remember was getting to the halfway point and finding the invincibility star….and then I was here.”

“You got a Star? What was it like?”

“You know that scene in Star Wars where they go into hyperspace, where the stars become lines and then they just sort of snap back into place? Kind of like that, except the end isn’t so gentle. And by not so gentle, I mean the stars decide to all come out and kick you in the head.”

“Wow! You’ll have to try it again sometime when I can observe it.”

“Didn’t you just hear what I said? There’s no way I’m doing that again.”

“Tom, we need to document every bit of your experience, including your reaction to various virtual stimuli. I mean, the scientific ramifications of this….”


“No? No what?”

“No, you are not going to treat me like some science project. You are going to focus on getting me the hell out of here before something even worse happens to me.”

“But…but…science!” Rick whined.


“…fine, Mr. I Care More About My Own Survival Than One Of The Most Important Scientific Discoveries In The History Of The World. But if this costs me the Nobel Prize, I’m blaming you.”

“Noted. Now that that’s settled, could you please check the system and see if you have enough data to get me out of here yet?”

“Hold on a sec…” Tom could hear Rick furiously typing in the background. “Uh…that’s weird.”

“What? What’s weird? What could possibly be weird after everything ELSE that’s happened today?!” Tom exclaimed.

“Well, it looks like the system has locked me out, even from my back-door connection. Essentially it’s running on autopilot, but I didn’t tell it to and I don’t know why I can’t get any control. Until I figure out a way back in, there’s nothing I can do except monitor the system and talk to you.”

“So I’m stuck in here forever?!”

“Well, until I figure out another way into the system, yeah. The good news is I don’t have nearly enough data to figure out how to get you out yet, so it’s not that big of a deal.”

“First, I assure you it is still quite a big deal to me. Secondly, what the hell do I do now?”

“Well, I can still read and collect data, so I guess you should just keep playing the games,” Rick explained. “Now that the system is running itself, the games will be chosen randomly, and from what I can tell, once you meet certain objectives you’ll automatically jump to a new game. I can tell you what the objectives are once you get there, but I can’t tell what the new game is going to be.”

“This sounds suspiciously close to the plot of that Quantum Leap show.”

“Never watched it. What’s it about?”

“Meh, it’s not that important. So what do I have to do to get out of Super Mario Bros.?”

“Looks like all you have to do is enter that castle, and you’re done.”

“Easy enough. All right, here’s hoping it’s an easy game up next.”

Tom closed his eyes, stepped into the castle, and felt something tug his mind forward. When he opened his eyes, he was greeted by a blank landscape. Looking up, blocks of different shapes and sizes rushed towards him while vaguely Russian music played in the background.


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