The Mario franchise is the best-selling video game franchise in history. The main Mario series games alone have sold nearly 250 million copies, and that doesn’t include Mario Kart, Mario Tennis, Mario Party, and many other titles. Have you ever wondered why the hell Japanese game designers decide to make the main character an Italian plumber?

The game was designed by Shigeru Miyamoto, who is the Babe Ruth/Michael Jordan/Beethoven of video game design. Miyamoto was working on the original Donkey Kong as a new flagship game for his company. He developed the character that would become Mario as a nameless guy who climbs stairs and platforms dodging barrels thrown by Donkey Kong. Originally, Miyamoto just called him Mr. Video and had used him in several different video game scenarios without finding the right one. Donkey Kong was set on a construction site, so they designed him as a carpenter to fit his surroundings. As a child, Miyamoto was a huge fan of comics, including foreign comics. In sketching out his ideas for Mario, he drew on the memory of some of his favorite characters from Western comics and ended up with a character with a bulbous nose and a large bushy mustache. In the next iteration, what would eventually become Mario Brothers, the designers came up with the idea of ​​a game in which the main characters would travel through pipes. Miyamoto thought that he didn’t make sense to have a carpenter traveling through pipes, so he changed him to a plumber, put him in New York, and made him Italian as a cheeky explanation for the mustache.

However, they were still calling their Italian plumber Mr. Video when they began expanding into North America with the release of Donkey Kong. Donkey Kong would quickly become a sensation as the next true gaming phenomenon after Pac-Man. At one of his stores, owner Mario Segale, a Seattle real estate mogul, got into a heated argument with Miyamoto’s boss. Segale was furious about the unpaid rent, especially since he saw the business take off. The employees eventually calmed down Mario Segale by promising to pay the money owed. When he left, they decided they should name their new version Mr. Video after the hostile owner.

Miyamoto admits that Mr. Video probably never would have gotten off the ground to become the worldwide sensation he is today. Giving him a blue collar job, a name, and an ethnicity made him more relatable as a protagonist and improved the gameplay experience. Through countless games, his image has been refined over the decades (as has his brother Luigi’s). But he still has the same essential character story that he had in Donkey Kong’s original appearance. He’s just a hardworking guy trying to get the girl back from him. Japanese, Italian or American, we can all relate to that.