The Ballad Of Mark Discordia

Considering an infamous target of trolling in the early online era. Did the middle-aged Nintendo fan really deserve it?

By Ernie Smith

Today in Tedium: Game culture has never been a high-minded affair, and if anything has been willing to bury itself in norms that align with other 12-year-old interests during the 1980s, including wrestling, PG-13 movies, and Saturday morning cartoons. Something tells me that the Venn diagram of people who like vintage video games and fart jokes might have a significant overlap. But gamer culture has evolved into something the whole family can get into, not just the teens. I wasn’t particularly surprised to learn, for example, that the mother of Blue Scuti, the Tetris-crashing 13-year-old, was also a gamer who spoke of “crushing” a classroom of kids at Rock Band. But we had to work our way up to that sort of general acceptance. And with that in mind, I want to talk about a meme from the past, a guy who had a bad brush with the internet, and didn’t handle it well. Today’s Tedium reconsiders the tale of Mark Discordia, the middle-aged Mario fan who became the subject of digital ridicule. — Ernie @ Tedium

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Mark Discordia

Real-life plumber Mark Discordia, with his infamous handmade Mario shirt.

Mark Discordia made his own Mario shirt, only to be made a source of mockery a decade later

When I was in the fourth grade, I came up with a truly innovative idea. I was in the Cub Scouts at the time, and we were getting ready for the Pinewood Derby race. We had these wooden blocks that needed to roll down the ramp at maximum speed.

I perhaps knew that I would never win the race for Pinewood Derby dominance, but I had a realistic shot at having the coolest vehicle in the race.

My bright idea: There was a bunch of carbon paper lying around the house, which was once a common tool for making duplicates of forms. I realized it was possible to take these vehicles we sanded down from solid bricks and add our own branding to them by tracing images of our video game characters of choice from magazines, then using a wood-burning toolkit to imprint the design. And being the person I was, I chose Mario—a painted yellow vehicle based directly on the box of Super Mario Bros. 3.

My vehicle didn’t do well, because it wasn’t particularly aerodynamic. But if I remember right, it still won a prize for having one of the best-looking vehicles. Ripping off the styling of the third-best-selling video game for the NES—and doing so before the release of Super Mario Kart?—stroke of genius. That day, I saw into the future.

I was 10 years old when I decided to do this—and later I remember wearing a DIY-crafted Detroit Pistons shirt. So yeah, my mad skillz were showing themselves.

I bring this up as a frame of reference: Mark Discordia was not alone in making knock-off Mario shirts to show his affinity for this groundbreaking video game series. He was doing so as an adult, sure, but he was also doing so during the peak of an era where knockoff Bart Simpson T-shirts were flooding popular culture.

Mark Discordia Nintendo Power

Mark Discordia, as seen in Nintendo Power in 1989.

His letter to Nintendo Power, published in the September/October 1989 issue, was that of a video game fanatic having fun with something he truly liked. Here’s the text of the letter, in full:

I am one of your older Power Players (I’m 32), and I have some accomplishments to share. I have beaten many of your harder games, such as Deadly Towers, Bionic Commando, The Legend of Zelda: The Adventure of Link, Double Dragon, Milon’s Secret Castle, and Blaster Master (using only one man). I also finished Super Mario Bros. 2 in 28 minutes. Some of my top scores are:

  • Double Dragon: 129,310
  • Hudson’s Adventure Island: 132,760
  • 3-D WorldRunner: 316,550

My friends call me Mario because Mario and I have some things in common: we’re both Italian, and we’re both plumbers! I enjoy being called Mario because I take my gaming so seriously.

A lot of people call me for tips. I tell them, “don’t give up, you can do it if you really want!” I also tell kids to stay away from drugs, because you need all your senses when you go up against video game foes. My other hobbies are drawing cartoon characters and playing in a band; I am currently working on music for a game.

Mark Discordia

East Lyme, CT

A cheesy letter, sure. But one that Nintendo felt earned a spot in the Video Spotlight.

Unfortunately for Mark, his mere existence ran head-first into a cultural writing trend that was just picking up in the early 2000s—“Fratire.”


The number of people who signed up for a $15 charter subscription to Nintendo Power in 1989, according to RetroMags, with the list built on the back of the Nintendo Fun Club mailing list. By the end of 1990, the magazine had more than 6 million readers. It is an excellent example of content marketing, and it didn’t accept outside advertising—unusual for a magazine of this nature. But on the other hand, one could argue the whole thing was a giant ad for Nintendo.

Screenshot from 2024 02 02 20 47 01

How Seanbaby portrayed Mark Discordia on his website two decades ago.

When Mark Discordia met his digital nemesis, Seanbaby

Sean Patrick Reiley, a.k.a. Seanbaby, was a paragon of politically incorrect pop-culture blogging at the start of the 2000s—which meant he fit in nicely with the broader trend of Fratire.

This caustic, free-wheeling, sometimes-hilarious writing approach, developed by a small group of bloggers, generally with a male-centric POV, became hugely popular in the early aughts, with figures like Maddox and Tucker Max gaining widespread notoriety during this era. Seanbaby’s punk-meets-gaming style was often described as part of this trend, even though it also fit neatly in the same internet-culture bean bag as Something Awful, or perhaps as a low-culture take on the work of Chuck Klosterman. (Or maybe Chuck Klosterman, with his legendary Sex, Drugs & Cocoa Puffs, was doing a highbrow Seanbaby.)

Seanbaby, too, became popular during this period, spending years writing for Electronic Gaming Monthly, where his idiosyncratic approach to games and nerdery helped shape video game culture in the years just before the Angry Video Game Nerd became a thing.

What gave Seanbaby such a big profile? For one thing, he decided to make Discordia the poster child for his feature “Dear Nintendo, My Life Is A Goddamn Mess.” The feature took aim at teenagers who worked around thumb injuries by playing with their feet, or artists who used Nintendo games as a canvas. But his harshest commentary was saved for Discordia.

Seanbaby’s critique of Discordia, dating to 2001 or earlier, essentially amounted to this: Here was this 32-year-old plumber wearing a Mario shirt and talking about his amazing high scores to a magazine. As he wrote:

I don’t understand how lonely you have to be to tell a video game magazine about your personal life. I’m not saying people shouldn’t like video game magazines. They tell you about video games, and those are great. But they’re not your best friend. Look at it like this: Imagine being chained to a wall in a Vietnamese rice patty for 5 years. Now while you’re rotting there, bite open your finger and use your blood to make a list of who you want to contact as soon as Rambo saws you loose with Charlie’s face. Mom, dad, friends … would a Nintendo magazine even get on there before you passed out? No, you’d probably tell the guy at the mall photo booth about your trip to hell before you decided to transcribe it for the letter opener in Nintendo Power’s mail room.

And that’s an exciting war story you desperately need to tell. A story about how you had to eat your dead friends to survive and hide makeshift weapons deep enough in your ass no yellow bastard could find them; this fuckhead is only telling stories about how he plays Double Dragon. That’s not worth a damn stamp.

(There’s also a lot of caustic language in the piece, as Seanbaby was known for—which I’ll mostly leave out of this.)

Discordia did not take this broadside from a random person on the internet—who, it should be noted, was also an adult video game fan—particularly well. There were a couple follow-ups to Seanbaby’s rant in which he attacked Seanbaby for essentially the same reason Seanbaby attacked him—while Seanbaby thought Mark Discordia was a loser, Discordia saw a keyboard jockey, mocking this dude who had a good job as a high-paid plumber and lived a sex, drugs, and rock & roll lifestyle. (So much for the don’t-do-drugs angle of his letter.)

Seanbaby, for his part, saw through the rant, writing: “Mark’s drug habit is him taking drugs, and then sitting down to email someone who calls him names. And here’s the saddest part: he made up the part about the drugs.”

Whether Discordia was making up the drugs, he was clearly outclassed by a strong, profane, very witty writer who could run circles around anything the Connecticut native threw at him. Mark sent cheesy Photoshopped pornographic images to Seanbaby. He talked about the size of his manhood (way too much, I would argue). Undercutting the family-friendly plumber image of the original letter to the editor, Discordia met crass with crass, but the problem is, Seanbaby is both crass and clever, which meant that in this arm-wrestling between humorist and target, guess who won? That’s right, the guy with the following.

Seanbaby gained notoriety from his battle with Mark Discordia, which made him a famous writer in online comedy circles—famous enough that he would sometimes appear on television. After his time with EGM, he spent years writing for Cracked, and now is one element of 1900HOTDOG. In an assessment of his beef from 2020, he wrote this:

I guess I can’t prove he was lying, but he told Nintendo Power about a Mario shirt he made, wasn’t handsome or smart, had a violently short temper, and spent his days unclogging toilets and volunteering as a video game coach for children that weren’t his.

Seanbaby did some things that would be considered bad form today, including sharing Discordia’s email address directly in the article, which people would probably see as doxxing in today’s environment. Despite the exposure, Discordia apparently responded to the trolls, according to Seanbaby. (The email is offline at this time. I’ve heard some ramblings that the emails were fake, but one key factor supports the case that they’re real: The email address is tied to a very specific local ISP.)

Any time Discordia’s story comes up today, it comes across to modern eyes on sites like Reddit as trolling and borderline bullying. But I have to be honest: As amused as I was by the Discordia drama at the time, and as poorly as Discordia handled this incident, I can’t help but think one thing: Gaming culture ended up more like Mark Discordia, specifically the Mark Discordia of that 1989 letter to the editor, than not.


The number of issues of Nintendo Power that ultimately published before Nintendo retired the magazine in 2012, the result of the company choosing not to renew a publishing agreement. The magazine still had a fairly large subscriber base of nearly half a million customers by the time it shut down. The magazine lives on as a podcast, one that hasn’t seen a new episode in nearly a year.

NES Controller

(William Warby/Unsplash)

The regression at the heart of Seanbaby’s riff on Mark Discordia

I think there’s this strange dichotomy between gaming and adulthood that started in the 1980s and took a decade or two to wear off.

A good comparison point is rock music. In the 1950s, adults saw it as a sign of cultural decay, one that teenagers and young kids were interested in—and they pushed back. But as those kids grew up, they remained discerning music fans as adults. The reason $1,200 box sets exist: people want to relive their 20s in the most premium way possible.

Video games were much the same way—rather than falling out of interest as people grew up, the games adapted to the audience, and the old games remained hugely popular.

The difference, of course, is that Mark Discordia was already in his 30s at the peak of the NES era, when many current gaming fans were only a few years old. (Actually, just being honest, Mark was actually younger back then than those one-time kids are now. The mustache just makes him look older.) Seanbaby’s feature (which, it should be noted, also took aim at kids) was essentially wagging its finger and saying, “This hobby is not for you.”

One problem with that: Our norms have adapted to the kind of person Mark Discordia presented in that letter—someone who was a few years older than the normal person and simply liked video games enough to explain his excitement for them. Nintendo printed it presumably because they wanted to show that their main product was of interest to more people than eight-year-olds. (The company had just released the Game Boy at that time, and included Tetris as the pack-in title to reinforce that exact point.)

Nintendo has generated such fandom that people will have entire walls of cartridges in their house, even today, decades after Nintendo stopped selling big cartridges. Where the company regularly has to incur the wrath of lawyers to get its overly creative fans to stop violating its copyrights and trademarks.

We have a culture of conventions and Twitch streams. People trade video games like they traded baseball cards a generation ago. And there are gamers who have deep knowledge of these things beyond the average person—knowledge that only comes with a lot of research.

Simply put, we have to stop looking at these games as playthings and more as a distinct part of our culture, in the same breath as film, music, or literature. They have archival and historic value. And while I’m sure more than a few people got a laugh out of the dork in the Mario shirt, there are many people who wear Mario shirts even today. (I’m one of them.)

In the years since Seanbaby swiped at Mark Discordia, online subcultures have built up around video games, particularly speedrunning, in which mostly grown men try to beat video games as fast as possible. It became cool for 40-year-old men to wear Mario shirts unironically. (Or at least, that’s what I tell myself.)

Meanwhile, swipes at traditional gaming norms emphasized by Seanbaby’s takedown of Discordia—such as the news anchor who criticized aforementioned Tetris whiz Blue Scuti—have been attacked by gamers, who understandably see their hobby as a healthy pastime, rather than a sign that something is wrong with them.

That Mark Discordia decided to pull this particular hobby out of popular culture at a time when monoculture was shaping our interests, rather than something more age-appropriate, makes him something of a trailblazer. No, really.

(That said, his clapback game could use some work.)

One other point about Mark Discordia’s letter: If anything, the motivation that led someone like Mark Discordia to send a letter to Nintendo Power has only expanded over the last 35 years.

Maybe people aren’t sending letters to Nintendo Power anymore, but they are sharing their experiences as fans of the things they like on other forums, like social media and YouTube videos. In the right lighting, some of those people look a lot like Mark Discordia. (Some of those people spend a lot of money on the right lighting.)

To me, Seanbaby’s critique of Mark Discordia’s letter rings a lot more hollow in 2024 than in 2001. His commentary is, essentially, that people who dare send letters to a magazine are just trying to get attention—and that’s especially true of 32-year-old dudes who have jobs, yet feel compelled to write Nintendo about getting high scores in Adventure Island.

To put it another way: People should only do public-facing things when they have something to say. And if you choose not to follow that standard, there’s obviously something wrong with you.

One look on social media shows this thesis is wrong. Lots of people live in a public world without having to make big statements in the process. We act more like Mark Discordia did—we share our perspectives on the world. And if your perspective is of a hard-working plumber who lets off some steam by throwing some eggs at Birdo, more power to you.

Maybe Mark’s letter wasn’t cool. Maybe Seanbaby was making a joke and found some particularly excellent fodder. (I mean, he has written a lot more things since then, and has a great eye for unusual culture.) Maybe it was the world’s first shout of the phrase “OK Boomer” across the internet. Maybe in the age when two dozen TikTok battles of similar scales hit every day, both the attack and the response feel witheringly small.

But I think Mark Discordia deserved to have his odd little letter die in digital obscurity, maybe sitting in a basement next to his homemade shirt. It hits different today.


Find this one an interesting read? Share it with a pal! And if you’re out there, Mark Discordia, I hope you’re still wearing your custom Mario shirt.


Ernie Smith

Your time was just wasted by Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the editor of Tedium, and an active internet snarker. Between his many internet side projects, he finds time to hang out with his wife Cat, who's funnier than he is.

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