A screenshot showing Refugee Mario
A screenshot of the end of a satirical video that uses the "Super Mario Bros." game to show the journey that Syrians have made throughout Europe and the Middle East. Online Production

For anybody who has ever played "Super Mario Bros.," the theme tune will likely conjure memories of taking Mario and his brother Luigi on a journey through the perilous Mushroom Kingdom to save Princess Toadstool from bad guy Bowser. Now, a 2015 satirical YouTube video based on the game’s two-dimensional levels is being used to explain the journey 4 million Syrian refugees are currently making throughout the Middle East and Europe.

While there is no place for Luigi or Princess, the main character known as “refugee Mario” encounters smugglers on his dangerous trip across the Mediterranean Sea and has to avoid Hungarian border guards, but gets caught and spends time in prison. At various points in the two-minute video Mario dies, replicating the deaths of many Syrians who have made the trip from the Middle East.

The video was made by 29-year-old Syrian Samir Al-Mufti from his home in Istanbul, Turkey. He compared Mario’s journey in the original 1985 game to that of his friends, some of whom have managed to make it to Europe and others who have died trying.

"Five months ago my best friend drowned in the sea while traveling from Izmir [in Turkey] to Greece. The engine on the boat exploded. That's when I got the idea for the video," Mufti told the BBC. "It needed to be a simple and clear idea which would work irrespective of language. I used 'Super Mario' because it's famous all over the world. It's like music -- a universal language.”

The video has been watched by nearly 60,000 people on YouTube since being uploaded by the company Online for Media Production, which makes satirical political content about Syria. The video has generated a great deal of discussion online among people who see the obvious parallels. "That surprised me," said Mufti. It's not just Syrian people watching this. People all over the world are talking about it."

Mufti also makes animated political videos about Syrian President Bashar Assad, whom he has criticized heavily since fleeing Syria with his family in 2011. "My voice is very similar to Assad. It's a gift that I can mock Assad's voice," he said. "I discovered this gift before the revolution started and I knew deep inside that I would take advantage of it at some point in the future."