I’m not sure if you’re familiar with the Mario series of games, and all the spin offs that came with it. Originally just a platform game, it developed as a franchise into faux-Tetris (Dr Mario), team play (mario bros 3), multiplayer madness (Mario Party) along with many other variations such as my personal favourite, the racing game (Mario Kart).
As a big fan of the Mario Kart series, for me there has never been an addition to the canon of Mario racing games that has topped the wonderment and sheer ecstasy of Mario Kart 64.
I was nine years old when it was released. It was 1996, and I was already giddy from a summer that gave us a UK based international football competition (Euro ’96). My friend Josh was the first to get an N64, so me and my friends would often spend hours at a time at his house sat in front of the screen, racing and re-racing different cups until we reached a point of Mario burnout. I would go to sleep at night after a day of Kart and dream-race each course, again and again, until I would wake from a nightmare screaming “noooooo, not the blue shell!”
See, Mario Kart unlocked a part of my character I’ve not been able to suppress since; the hungry competitor. Dressing up the opportunity for cunning deceit and foul play in a cuddly, hi-res rainbow of child-like curiosity, it was easy, nay encouraged to destroy and undermine your friend’s ambitions of glory. Hiding behind the cutesy design of the characters and the bright palette of primary colours, you were able to unlock the demons of your inner warrior, your comic book villain, and pretend to yourself that outside of this realm you were still a decent human. The question is, if life gave you the power of lightning, temporary invincibility or the tools to slow a rival, would you really be so decent after all?
These questions stayed with me throughout my teens as I grew into myself, the bass line in a evolving mentality of teenage angst, youthful rebellion and my first forays into the world of politics.
I didn’t play Mario Kart again for about ten years. It was when I was at university that a friend of mine told me about a Japanese N64 he had with Mario Kart. He fed me lines about a secret turbo chip that would make the game work up through the gears as you got better, until eventually you were racing some cheating demon that was near impossible to beat. The speed and frame rate would be super charged, fast even for a machine that by that point was flirting with obsolescence. We would play for hours at a time, revisiting this arena of childhood dreams, but dressed in the cape of adulthood. That familiar demon returned, and I felt genuine rushes of adrenaline and got off my nut on endorphins. This, combined with the late nights we were playing through, left me again able to talk you through each step of each track, knowing each turn and where to drift. I knew the best racing lines, the best place to use different weapons and the best short cuts to take at which times.
Mario Kart had become my accidental craft; the hobby within which I had invested so much time and energy, repeating and repeating actions, that my synapses were firing at incredible rates as they churned through track and fact recall to make me a better competitor.
With all this time and energy spent on such an otherwise pointless exercise, it seems only natural that my adult brain would search for some deeper meaning within the context of this, and so that’s what brings me here today (or, perhaps, its a poorly concealed ploy to try and justify the hours I ‘wasted’ playing through a veritable Groundhog Day of Mario tracks and races).
So, with these deeper meanings in mind, here are some key observations Mario Kart taught me about politics…
The World Needs Bad Guys
Without bad guys, we wouldn’t have common enemies that highlight how we want our world to be (the opposite of the bad guys, right?)
Sometimes, you need to know how bad it can get before you can realise how good it was, and how good it should be. Things that can be taken for granted will only then be remembered.
Anyone else thinking of how nice it was to be in the UK around 2000-2010? Look, I’m not here to preach about voting Labour, but I do think it’s important to gain some perspective here. 5 years of Tories is enough to make anyone hark for what they had before. Perhaps it would work as some form of new age marriage counselling; like wife swap. You exchange your partner for a few weeks and instead live with Cameron, and pretty soon I am almost certain that anyone would be crying out to return to their significant other!
Let’s get one thing straight here though; exercising your diplomatic right to vote is the most important thing. If the nation of the UK is inherently a conservative country, and therefore that representation spills into government and, vis a vie, come May 8th we have a conservative government then, well, I guess I will applaud that. Ultimately, what the people want en masse is what really matters.
Bigger isn’t always better
Wario and Bowser, the two largest characters in Mario Kart, are frequently seen rushing towards the front three places. They are hard to keep back as they have a good top speed, and they are evil enough that they don’t care about who they step on to get to the top. And yet for all their power, they lack flexibility. They are hard to control as they are big, bulky monsters, and their isolation and villainy makes them targets for everyone.
Conservatives are a big party, but are they better? I can’t help but think that such a large and established institution like the conservatives must be out of touch with the people. Their whole upper crust are members of a political elite I will never exist in, and yet these are the people who are supposed to be looking out for my best interests. Do I feel they are capable of this? I have to be honest and say that, no, I don’t think they are. Do I think there are any political parties that can see past their own agendas and into the heads of the electorate? Wow, not sure even Mario Kart can answer that…
For sure, the one thing we must consider is this: in a world of financial uncertainty and slow economic recovery, do you think the great, lumbering Tory machine has the capacity to adapt quickly, fairly and decisively to bring the country back to a period of stability and recovery? I don’t, and here you can find a rather compelling compilation of evidence by political blogger Benjamin Studebaker as to why. Cameron, like Bowser, is driving this great, lumbering tank forward, but one small blip and we’ll be playing catch up again.
Good doesn’t always mean ‘good’
I have a friend obsessed with racing as Peach. Her character is a princess, the apple of Mario’s eye. She’s the lady who is always getting herself kidnapped in these awfully patriarchal story-lines that accompany many a Mario game. She stands for being sweet, delicate, feminine, pretty and just generally good. Somehow, my friend has managed to destroy this image for me forever. See, he has used her to mete out some horrendously brutal victories on me and some other friends in various Mario games and this cult of Peach has developed to such an extent, I can only ever see her as a bad guy now. I mean, my friend is the villain, and he relishes that role. But by projecting that on to, arguably, the sweetest character in the Mario universe, he has managed to corrupt the values she represents and create this phenomena; the paradox of Peach.
This makes me think of the countless times I’ve seen people use history to undermine their current political choices. In elections gone by people would say that voting for Labour would definitely lead to a repeat of the Winter of Discontent. It’s so easy for reputations to become skewed. Record numbers of UK people are facing unemployment, poverty, and are earning below the living wage, and I can’t help but think ‘how are we, as normal people, even considering voting for the Conservatives?’ Somehow, the conservatives have been pitched as these financial wizards who hold some potion that can magically cure the economy, but only if they are given another five years to do it. Whoever you vote for, do it because of what they are talking about now measured against what they promised last time around. Don’t worry about the Gladstone v Disraeli days, or um and ah over the finer points of whether Labour is a socialist party or not. If these parties claiming to represent you haven’t given you what you voted for them to give you, it’s time to reconsider your options. I’m looking at you, Cleggy…
Take motivation where you can get it
You’ve monstered ahead on Frappe Snowland, pulling off some tidy racing lines and propelling yourself into a wonderful lead. Feeling comfortable, you start to ponder the finer things in life when bam, you’ve slipped off and are stuck in the icy water. As you watch yourself being pulled back to the track, you see every other racer zip past you. Finally, your engine revs up and you begin your quest to get back to the front from 8th position… each corner gives you a fresh item to give you a better chance of catching up, and as your rise through the rankings you get more and more reward from the computer as it gives you better and better items to use to get back to the front…
It’s easy to become disenfranchised with politics. We’ve all had those times when it has felt a little too absurd to have to even try and fathom how one party could be different from the other when on a day to day vibe the country feels like it is in perpetual decline. In these times, it is important to remember that even though you may feel like politics doesn’t even represent you, it should! Without day to day, grass roots politics, how can a community survive? If everyone decides to no longer vote, the politicians will be laughing! It’s giving them exactly what they want (if you believe they are really self interested Westminster cronies). The way to fight the power is to force them to listen by voting for the fringe parties that represent you better. There is always something for everyone in politics, you just have to look for it. Take motivation from what you can and run with it. Like Chuck D said:
Not all bonuses are benefits
One of the secret items you can get on Mario is the fake item box. It is a trap, designed to be deployed and trick the less experienced racer into thinking they are heading for a bonus, when in actual fact it is going to explode!
This, I can’t help but think, is somehow related to the banking crisis. When I hear facts and figures being tossed around about average UK workers being financially worse of now than they were five years ago (a trend that is continuing) and that millionaires are now on average around £100,000 a year better off due to tax changes, I can’t help but think that these bonus boxes were dressed up to lead us to the logical conclusion that the country was going to benefit, and yet they have blown up in our face as we, in effect, watch our own money dwindle and magically appear in the pockets of the privileged.
Wealth, by and large, is not a right. But utilising corporate, transnational, and quasi-democratic institutions to manipulate, coerce and strong-arm a nation is, to be honest, the actions of bullies and the weak. Competition drives progress, right? The Conservatives, as the flag bearers for Capitalism, say they encourage this competition as it is what generates money for the economy. Yet those at the top, with influence, power and wealth, seem hell bent on stopping anyone else being able to catch them. Whether it’s true or not, it feels like little of this wealth trickles back to the people who help to create it with their work and by spending their hard earned cash, and so I wonder how much longer it can sustain itself this way…
Ultimately, it’s all about timing… So Stay Calm
Coming up to the final lap on Wario Stadium, I know that if I hit the lightning item at just the right time, everyone except me will be struck, turn small, and not make the big jump across a massive gorge that sits just before the finish line. If they miss this, they will have to repeat the lap, and I can whizz past to claim first place. This is the ultimate trick of this level, and the computer knows it. Only those who truly deserve the lightning will be granted it, for if you act like this is your plan the computer will not reward you. You need to try to win normally, and if this fails then the computer rewards you.
Abstaining from voting is avoiding responsibility, and that is the worst thing you can do. Any vote is better than no vote. You almost remove yourself from the chance to complain later if you see tax hikes that affect you, as you chose not to try to fight against it. If you research each party thoroughly and decide that nothing works for you, then ok, you have clearly made an educated decision and it must be respected that you took the time to do so. But turning around and saying “they’re all the bloody same” and then doing nothing is not democracy in action, it’s darn lazy and disrespectful to the freedom you have as a citizen of a country with elections. Normal people only gained the rights after much campaigning, so that their voices could be heard in the corridors of power. They wanted the chance to influence things with the men at the top, and imagine their horror now as the country, in desperate need of a revamp, has citizens so disenfranchised, that they can’t even bring themselves to vote for a single party? It’s madness.
If you’re truly stuck, and not sure who you should vote for, here are some links to help.
The Telegraph‘s interactive test matches your choices to questions with the relevant party.
The Independent has their own version too.
Chronicle Live has a brief explanation of each parties key points on the hot topics.
You are the people, and the people are the power. Keep your red shells out, aim for the front, and keep a green shell behind you to protect you from those catching up. In the immortal words of Mario:
“Wahoo, I’m-a gonna win”.
Now let’s go out and vote.
All Mario images are representations of games and images owned by Nintendo, and not by ItchyQuill.com
Special thanks to Ambro, cooldesign, iosphere, pakorn and stockimages @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.
© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2015