Originally posted in 2006.
Disclaimer: I am a HUGE dork. This is an in depth analysis of Mario Kart 64.
Very few times in our short lives are we able to bear witness to an event that changes the course of history. An event so spectacularly meaningful, that we as human beings are forced to question the very meaning of our existence. In 1997, developers at the video game mogul, Nintendo, put forth quite possibly the most meaningful and diabolically brilliant piece of philosophy encased in a plastic cartridge that needed to be blown into, periodically, in order to function properly. Mario Kart 64 was that game. While most may scoff at the notion that a children’s racing game could possibly hold several clues to the most important aspects of life, I can assure you that this game is a masterpiece in epistemological thinking. Before Mario Kart 64, I was on the brink of utter madness, confronted with uncertainty about life, love and laughter.
An earlier attempt to expulse this philosophy was embodied in the crude and unrefined original Mario Kart for Super Nintendo. Then the heavens opened and sent down a gift that all of mankind were to use and benefit from, Mario Kart 64. After the success of Mario Kart 64, and other equally fun games (Gretzky Hockey, NFL Quarterback Club, NBA Hangtime, and James Bond’s Golden Eye, to name a few) developers at Nintendo, undoubtedly forced by investors to capitalize on such a success, put out the atrocious and juvenile perversion of the earlier masterpiece, Mario Kart: Double Dash. A more egregious slap in the face to gamers had never occurred before and optimistically, never will again. Double Dash was an abortion of values and judgments and reduced a once great title to a commercial pincushion.
Mario Kart 64 features eight characters, all representing different aspects of the human psyche. Bowser represents man at his worst. A grotesque beast of burden, whose evil is represented in his countenance. He has no feeling of remorse or sorrow; rather he feeds on the cries of the innocent, namely that little wiener, Toad. Donkey Kong embodies primal man. His quest for bananas is similar to man’s quest for answers. Why are we here? Where do we fit into the plan of a greater cosmic being? Why the hell is my name Donkey when I am clearly a gorilla?
The lighter characters are Toad, Princess, and Yoshi. What the lighter characters lack in size and stature they make up for in speed and sweet expressions when they hit other characters with stuff (i.e. “Yahoo”, “Letsa Go!” and “Wha-eww”) Toad, the lightest, is symbolic of the coward in us all. Toad’s mantra is that there is a thin line between courage and stupidity. Yet his over thinking and lack of action lead him into a state of spiritual atrophy. Toad is the most androgynous character in Nintendo’s history. Is he male, female, she-male or he-male (double negative)? Only the Doctor who gives Toad his yearly physical examination could say.
Yoshi, the dinosaur, is undoubtedly the games most pathetic and pitiful character. Doomed to a life of unquestioning and gleeful servitude to his caring master, Mario, Yoshi is a commentary on man’s reliance on the belief of a god. He is condemned to a life of smiling labor with no rewards in sight. Plus, he has to carry that fat plummer around on his back in most of the other Nintendo games.
Princess Peach represents the naïve side of all men/women, expecting the best in their fellow beings. Her trusting demeanor is her greatest flaw. For if a man possesses an unquestioning trust in his fellow humans, then he has not ever raced with the dastardly Wario.
The name alone sends shivers down my spine. Such a worth adversary within the confines of the game, Wario represents the Id in Frued’s explanation of the human psyche. A being who sees no consequence in his actions and will obtain his desires at any cost. To put it bluntly, he’s a real bastard.
Luigi, represents the calculating and morally responsibly Super Ego. Luigi has often been shadowed by his brother Mario. Apparently, Mario just got his hands on Drew Rosenhouse, the agent of several great sports stars, earlier than Luigi. Consequentially, he made Mario into the premier player, only to leave Luigi in the dust of the Kalamari Desert.
The mediator of Luigi and Wario is the Ego, the game’s title character, Mario. Mario is the heroic do-gooder. An idealist, Mario strives for a world where-by ordinary folks will be able to live without constant Koopa-Troopa attacks, Goomba invasions and constant public flashings by Shy-Guy (who incidentally is not that shy). Mario’s only shortcoming is that he has never sealed the deal with Princess Peach. I mean, he’s saved her life like what 300 times. I’d say that entitles him to some digital hanky-panky, don’t you? Now that I think about it Mario sure does hang around Toad quite a bit. Regardless, you may tell a great deal about a person simply from which character they choose to race with.
Throughout the races (i.e. life) a number of items can be obtained. However, one does not just receive these boxes. On must strive to run through the patches of boxes and hopefully, obtain an item (weapon) devastating enough to either hold your opponents at bay, or slow them down so that you may catch up with them. This shows that the games developers do not wish to create a welfare state. If you want a box, you must obtain it through your own planning and cognition. However, the items within the boxes also have a certain socialist qualities. But where Marx failed, Mario Kart thrives. If one is in the unfortunate position of fourth place, all one needs to do is seek out a box and they will be rewarded accordingly. Third and fourth place racers attain the most powerful weapons in the game (lightning, star, spiked shells) as opposed to the more fortunate, elite class of racers in the first and second positions. These racers are still rewarded, but in a manner that makes the race fair. This is an imaginative and adroit critique of both the tenants of capitalism and communism in one theory. The weak point of capitalism is that it creates classes where some people regardless of talent, intellect or merit, have no chance to fairly compete with the elite. To balance this, each racer is given an item according to his need rather than his merit.
The main critique of communism is that it rewards the poor and encourages reliance on others. Consequentially, laziness becomes a means to wealth rather than productivity (I mean how lazy and bored did the Communist youth of Russia have to be to come up with a game like Russian Roulette? Although I guess it makes sense for them. Everybody wins! The winner lives and the loser doesn’t have to wipe his butt with sandpaper every time he goes to the bathroom anymore) The programmers remedy this problem by forcing the player to work for a box. If the player obtains a box (representative of employment perhaps?) one will be rewarded with items that allow the player in last place to catch up.
The developer of Mario Kart has shown us the true light. He comments on all of man’s vices, problems and quandaries. When life gives you a banana (some may say lemons), you must make the most out of it by placing it in a spot that will cause racers who are at your heels to slip and falter. If you have access to a ghost, wait for a less fortunate racer to happen upon a box and promptly steal the contents. These may seem like somewhat Machiavellian tactics to employ. Nintendo has its roots grounded in ancient Chinese philosophy, namely Sun Tzu, author of The Art of War. “Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder, and crush him,” claims the exceptional author. Yet, while Sun Tzu’s book comments on tactics about war, very few of his anecdotes can be translated into real life. Mario Kart 64 is a game for those searching for answers. The message may be require some digging on the part of the gamer, but the reward for such efforts is a greater level of cosmic clarity and spiritual vigor. Heed the words that I write; do not begrudge or discriminate the Mario Kart 64 player, for he or she has a better grasp on the world than any scientist or career philosopher could ever hope to have. Rather, engage them in dialogue and transcribe the ideas and thoughts that emanate from their being. You will be a better person for it. If you feel like I’m being to obsessive or insightful into this topic, then I suggest you go kill yourself ‘cause you probably just suck at Mario Kart and bash people for playing it instead of talking to girls.