I’m not a gamer, but I remember the first time I met Mario. It was sometime during the late 1990s, when my family carried a N64 console and a Mario Kart cartridge to my cousin in Brazil. In the weeks leading up to our trip, my parents and I played Mario Kart on repeat. And I guess after handing over the console, we missed him, because when we got home we bought a N64 and Mario Kart for ourselves. This story isn’t particularly special. I mostly bring it up to say that probably everyone has a “first Mario memory.” After all, in his 40 years, Mario (surname, “Mario”) has appeared in over 200 games, the Tokyo Olympics, and my cousin’s living room. And now, the iconic mushroom-fighting Italian plumber has also made his DSI debut. 

Last semester, one of the most well-attended DSI events was a Mario Kart game night in the DSI space (G325 Mason Hall). And after DSI Staff Writer Giselle Mills discovered that it was by and large students’ favorite DSI event at the End of Year celebration, we on the DSI newsletter team decided to learn a little more about how DSI Mario Gaming Night came to be. 

Despite having already established a pretty strong presence on the U-M campus, the DSI has only been around as its own, independent entity since 2019. In other words, most DSI programming has been virtual until the Fall 2022 semester. As DSI Training Coordinator Sarah Torsch explains, the big question for DSI staff has been how to build community in the DSI space now that students and faculty have more in-person commitments at the university. 

Given the vast gaming library and equipment that the DSI purchased before the pandemic, Student Programming Assistant Tris Brooke-Cunningham suggested a Mario Kart night. “The barrier to entry for Mario Kart is low,” explained Tris. “It’s an inviting game and a character people recognize,” they added.

In other words, you’ll have fun at DSI’s Mario Gaming Night even if you’re not a pro. For Torsch, the event was her first time playing on a Switch. “It was a humbling experience,” Torsch confessed. “Eric [Mancini] and Tris were helping me—it was chaotic, but really fun!”

Student feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, during and after the Mario Gaming Nights. “Throughout the event, I heard students talking about how nice it was to connect in person,” said Torsch.  After attending a Mario Gaming Night, U-M first-year Thomas Gala-Garza wrote to Torsch: “I've been playing Nintendo games since I was a kid, so I'm very passionate about them, and the success of Wednesday's event was something I was personally glad to see.” Gala-Garza also explained that the social aspect of Mario Night was important to him, as he’d rarely had the opportunity to play games with people face-to-face in high school. 

During the first Mario Gaming Night in October, over thirty students gathered in the DSI space for snacks and gaming. Regarding the turnout for the event, Torsch commented, “We all know [that since the pandemic] connection has been missing, but we didn’t realize it would be such a draw.” 

Due to its success, the DSI plans to continue hosting Mario Gaming Night this semester, and has invested in three more Switches as well as other Mario games like Super Smash Brothers. And for students interested in other games, Torsch wants to make sure students know that the DSI has tons of board games, Steam accounts, and VR sets available for student use: “We really want students to come and use [these resources] and we’re trying to be intentional about that.”


Tris laughed after I said to them that when I first heard about Mario Gaming Night, I imagined students circling around a N64 console in the DSI lounge. But at the risk of sounding cheesy, that’s exactly what Mario Gaming Night is about: while the technology might change, the sentiment that playing Mario with your friends brings doesn’t.