Legendary video game character Mario is more than just a form of entertainment. Twenty-five years after the debut of the game Super Mario Bros, its creator says the little Italian plumber also plays an important role as a cultural ambassador.
Mario and his brother Luigi in their instantly recognisable red and green overalls may be Italian, but creator Shigeru Miyamoto said they have given many people their first taste of Japanese culture.
"I feel very honoured by Mario's success," Miyamoto said through a translator during an interview in New York.
"There are a lot of unconscious Japanese references, for example from Manga," he noted. "Many children came in contact with it for the first time through my games. It wasn't intentional, but it still makes me happy."
Miyamoto, who turns 58 this month, also points to other cultural influences in the games, for example the castles which could be seen as a nod to Germany.
"Mario is Italian, I am Japanese, but there are also a lot of German influences in this and other Nintendo games. It is naturally part of the architecture. And not only that the castle in the games looks a bit like those in Germany," he says.
The Mario character was originally created for the game Donkey Kong. He later got his own arcade game to be followed by his debut on a home video game console in Super Mario Bros 25 years ago. It subsequently became the bestselling video game for decades, replaced only by Nintendo's Wii.
Mario remains one of the most recognised characters of all time and has appeared in a slew of spin-off games and even a television programme and a film.
Miyamoto says he would not change a thing if he were to create Mario again.
"He is a simple figure that everyone can recognize immediately and that you can somehow identify with. He can also be put into all kinds of gaming situations," he said.
Inventing a video game character is not exactly easy, he notes. "Creating video game characters is very difficult because they must be both comic heroes and actors."
"I am often called the 'father of Mario', but I gave birth to him so I'm really more of a mother," he says.