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Occupy Rainbow Road

Chris Mathew | Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Dear Notre Dame campus,

Our obsession with Mario Kart needs to end. The game has been a legitimate phenomenon for years, despite the serious design flaws and faux pas that plague each iteration.

Problem #1: While Mario Kart is lauded as “a fun party game” where “anyone can win,” it remains openly hostile to guests and new players. Dangerous levels lend themselves to memorization, and advanced strategies guarded by the best-educated players render blue collar racers helpless. Some identify the “catch up” power-up handouts as a solution to this issue, but these are band-aid solutions that do not address the crux of the problem.

Problem #2: Mario Kart pits its players against its courses, not each other. It is very easy to forget about your company mid-race due to the punishing, in-your-face antics of the course itself. It becomes a struggle against the system, alienating players from the human element and each other.

Problem #3: There is a poor correlation between expected modes of effort and reward. Game Design 101: if rewards do not meet player expectations, frustration will be quick to set in. And yet, Mario Kart awards the eggheads who practice power slides and inventory management over those who can actually aim a green shell. The dominance of these white-collar skill sets feels unintuitive, artificial and dissonant in the context of something that presents itself as a simple contest of effort.

Problem #4: Players who lag behind will encounter more banana obstacles on each lap than players up front. Excuse the pun, but the bottom rungs of the ladder become quite slippery.

Mario Kart does have two saving graces, though: It starts all players on the same footing and it teaches those of us in the mediocre ranks to accept our place there. Why does the racer in 12th always pummel the one in 11th? He gains more by listening to what the game is trying to teach him: We all drive the same three laps in life, regardless of our station. But once you have had this epiphany, there is simply no reason to play Mario Kart.

Chris Mathew


Stanford Hall

Nov. 9