I’ve never been more than a casual lover of video games; at times it’s been an intense love, but always here today, gone tomorrow. With the introduction of Wii’s MarioKrack, I mean, Kart into my life, I crossed over to hard-core territory.
I had played MarioKart on earlier Nintendo systems (SuperNintendo, N64, etc.), and it had always been fun, and at times, mildly addicting; but the Wii platform took this racing game, made it much better visually, more challenging, and hooked it up to an international circuit. This international circuit, where a single race can include people in Mexico, Germany, Japan, Canada, France and Abu Dabai, is one of best uses of the internet; I said it, I’ll stand by it. I can’t always race the international circuit though; the competition is brutal. Many times I just race the solo time trials, keeping to tracks that I know inside & out; breaking lap records on the asphalt Mario Circuits brings a certain, quiet satisfaction. And it marks the day as a success; this rush is even more addicting than a first place finish against a group of Spanish high school kids. (Before sitting down to write this piece, I had intended to run three or four time trials, purely for research; an hour and a half later, I sat down to write).
What’s really great about MarioKart, and why it’s sucked me in so thoroughly, is its contrast of friendly Japanese colors and characters against the difficulty of many tracks, to say nothing of the cutthroat international circuit. The music is cheery, cars poop out various cartoon obstacles, and when you get knocked down your goofy little avatar shakes its fists. If you’ve played other MarioKarts and Mario Brothers games, the cast of characters is familiar, they’re like old friends. There’s just too characters many to list here, but perhaps my favorite are the giant chomps, these angry ballhead & chain guys that jump out and bonk you on the head, spinning you out; they originated in Mario Brothers 3, as much smaller but equally deadly foes.
One last reason I’m cracked out on Mario Kart lately: it’s the safest place to take out any and all driving aggression. You can do to other racers what you dream about doing to people who cut you off in real life: throw stinky banana peels at them, explode bombs on them, cut them off worse than they cut you off. Payback here is swift but not bitter; since everything is played out in bright colors and gleeful cartoon sounds, you never get really mad at the screen, just riled enough to release some tension.
So, how many hours a week do I feed my addiction, you ask? Maybe five, maybe ten, and in some particularly boring weeks, fifteen. Which is a lot of time in front of the TV for me, as it’s the only thing I use the TV for (I don’t get even basic channels, since everything switched to digital). But, unlike wasting ten hours watching television, playing MarioKrack increases hand-eye coordination (thus fighting off Alzheimer’s Disease), and allows me to get my ass kicked by eight-year-olds in Tokyo, a valuable lesson in humility. All in all, it’s a positive addiction.