Dear Mario Kart,
You were the love child of Shigeru Miyamoto and his team in Japan in 1992. Miyamoto, who also created several other popular games, works for Nintendo, which is regarded as one of the absolute best gaming companies in the world, and whose net worth is 32.8 billion dollars. Essentially, you were born of greatness.
You feature characters previously seen in various other Nintendo games – Mario, Luigi, Yoshi, Bowser, and the like. You give us a fun, child-friendly venue to go-kart race, collect coins, use power ups, beat the clock, and beat our friends.
In total, there are nine versions of you for almost every Nintendo gaming console – the Super NES, the Nintendo 64, the Wii, the Wii U, the Gameboy Advance, the GameCube, the Nintendo DS, the Nintendo 3DS, and, most recently, the Nintendo Switch. Each new game includes new characters, courses, gameplay, and power ups. You are popular, to say the least. You are so popular, that you have sold 90.50 million total copies. The most recent game, Mario Kart 8, sold half a million copies stateside on launch day alone, and 100 million copies worldwide. Mario Kart, you were born of greatness, born into greatness, and you have been great. For 25 years, you have been a best-selling game that has made its way into the hearts, minds, and wallets of users.
But, I see you, Mario Kart, for exactly what you are. You appear to be a fun, childlike video game, but no, your intentions are sinister. You are not what you appear to be on the surface — oh no. You are deeper than that, as we all are. You are, in fact, probably the most important, avant-garde analysis of the American Dream.
To explain: when someone is in last place, no matter how many helpful item boxes they get, they will rarely advance to first. And when someone is in first place, no matter how many blue shells are thrown, rarely will they decline in position to last, or even to the bottom five players. Upward mobility is hard in your game. Advantages for last place are virtually useless, unless the player is in the very back of the pack, and even those advantages will not put them anywhere near winning. And, in first place, the most common power up is coins, which helps keep one ahead. This is clearly your way of critiquing the American dream! You equate last place with being disadvantaged, or a minority. Minorities may get assistance, like affirmative action, extra scholarships, and the like, but this does not always put them on an equal playing field. And those who are ahead may not receive the same power ups, or advantages, but will receive tax breaks and other help that makes them stay at the top. Upward mobility in economics, and in Mario Kart, is difficult, if not impossible to achieve.
You are not forgiving, or merciful, or kind. You are hard, Mario Kart. You use so many of the same tactics our own economy does. For example, if I were to play you, and be one of the first racers across the finish line, I would be like top 20% of wealthy people in the United States who hold 84% of the total wealth. If I were the first place racer, you could consider me to be like the Walton family, who has more wealth than 42% of Americans combined. However, if I were one of the last racers to cross the finish line, like 40% of Americans, my wealth may be only 0.3% of the United States’ total wealth.
You act as the ever present reminder that only one can win; and reinforce the idea that only one SHOULD win – especially since ties are virtually impossible in Mario Kart, as finishing times are calculated to a thousandth of a second. According to a World Values Survey, Americans value winning more than any other industrialized nation on earth, even though enjoyment of a thing decreases as competition increases. Americans often live within a binary – winners and losers – and we feel a deep need to categorize people on their wins and losses. Moreover, so many wealthy people are considered winners, while poorer people are losing at the game of life, which is a different letter all together. Mario Kart, you display this so clearly – winning is good, and losing is for the unfortunate. You remind us why we strive, and that it is possible we might not make it. But strive, we do, with the hopes of first place.
I suppose, in one big race, we are all on the same Rainbow Road, dodging the same green shells, and revving our own car engines with the hope that something, anything, will propel us forward.
References for Further Reading
History of Mario Kart’s characters & creator:
Nintendo’s Net Worth:
Nintendo as the best gaming company in the world:
List of Mario Kart games:
List of Nintendo Consoles with Mario Kart games:
Popularity of Mario Kart Games:
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe sales:
Item boxes & power ups based on current position:
Minority opportunities may not create equality:
Tax breaks for wealthy Americans:
Financial upward mobility:
Wealth of the middle class & rich:
Walton family wealth:
Ties in Mario Kart:
Winning & losing:
Happiness and winning:
Kate is from Mammoth Lakes, California, and currently resides in Salt Lake City, Utah where they are working towards a BA in English and an MA in teaching at Westminster College. Kate is a Virgo and lesbian who loves swing sets, their dog, and their girlfriend. Their work has previously been published or is forthcoming by Pressure Gauge Press, Write About Now, Rising Phoenix Press, and Rag Queen Periodical, among others. They are currently a poetry editor for “ellipsis… Literature and Art”. You can send Kate photos of the ocean on Twitter at @pasta_slut.