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Mario Kart Month: What Mario Kart Means To Me

Posted by Dave Letcavage

Dave Letcavage shares his experiences with the series

In this personal reminiscence, Nintendo Life contributor Dave Letcavage explains how important the Mario Kart franchise — and gaming in a broader sense — are to him, recounting events of his life in which they've been invaluable sources of entertainment, fun and escape.


You don’t need me to tell you that videogames are possibly the most powerful and potent form of entertainment in existence. What elevates playing a game above other pastimes like watching movies, reading books, and listening to music, is the unrivalled amount of interaction that ensures you’re not just peering into an imaginative fantasy world, you’re actually existing in that space. That kind of immersion and stimulation is especially great when it can cause you to feel as if you’ve hopped into a space shuttle and ventured far away from the confines of the real, and sometimes harsh, world that surrounds you. With the mind and body distracted in unison, so wholesomely, anything you need to escape from can be temporarily erased from existence.

Anyone that has dabbled in videogames should be able to admit to at least a single dance with this sensation – or a similar one – at some point in their life. While it was something that I experienced at a young age, it wasn’t until recently that I was fully aware of the vast potential of its therapeutic powers. So with that, let me tell you a personal story about how the unique abilities of my favourite digital activity have kept me sane over the past couple years. This is a story that, conveniently, revolves around Mario Kart.

It all started in a Sears department store back in 1991. I remember being there with my parents and being utterly bored as they shopped for housewares. Then, when we took the escalator to the second floor, I laid my eyes upon the grey brick of beauty…the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES / Super Famicom). It wasn’t just a boxed unit, either; it was a demo station complete with a copy of Super Mario World, ready to be played. That was the first time that I visited Dinosaur Land and it totally blew my 7-year-old mind. Those lively, striking colours, the fluid cartoon-like animations, and the most-refined controls I’d ever handled made it a super experience, indeed. On the way out, I stared down the boxes on the shelf and dreamt about having a Super Nintendo hooked up to the television in our basement. Unfortunately, that day didn’t come for nearly another year or so.

After months of discussing the pros and cons of Genesis and Super Nintendo with my dad, it was actually Sega’s console that I decided would be most-fitting for my family – the allure of something very different than the NES being what convinced me. I remember giving my dad an assured answer at dinner one day, and it was settled: we would soon be getting a Genesis. Then a few weeks later, without any notice, my dad surprised my sister and I with something unexpected. Because we owned NES and my dad had grown to trust and love the Nintendo brand, he ignored my wishes and passed on the Genesis. Bundled with Super Mario World, we now owned a Super Nintendo, and the excitement of finally upgrading to next-gen was so overwhelming that I didn’t even mind my dad’s last minute switcheroo.

But by that time, because I had already played Super Mario World so much at friend’s houses after school, the game wasn’t particularly exciting anymore – even though the novelty of being able play in my own home was nice. Good thing my parents had the foresight to purchase a copy of Super Mario Kart to accompany our new system. Where my sister and I had played many NES games in the past by taking turns or passing a controller back and forth, this was one of the first memories that I have of truly competitive simultaneous multiplayer. We played for hours upon hours on end, racing and battling, so happy to be participating that who won or lost was never really a concern. It was electrifying, and became something of an obsession.

One night not long after the acquisition – it might have been during Christmas vacation – a good friend of mine was dropped off for a sleepover. The first thing that we did, and almost the only thing we did all night, was engage in Super Mario Kart. I recall us stuffing our faces with popcorn and participating in heated balloon battles, completely invested but laughing all the while. After a few hours had gone by, we decided we’d take a break to watch Gremlins, and the whole time I couldn’t stop thinking about playing more Mario Kart. Well, about halfway through the movie I started experiencing stomach pains unlike anything I had ever felt before, and as they progressively got worse, my folks decided a trip to the ER might be a smart move.

I hated hospitals. I still do, in fact. The sterile, hard-floor-and-barren-walls lack of décor, accompanied by the thought of extremely ill folks crowding each room, instils the most hollow and depressing feeling in my gut that is hard to digest. That night, I recall being terrified as I rested in my hospital bed, unsure of what was coming. While I was slightly distracted from my anxiety by Spaceballs airing on the television, it was actually Mario Kart that got me through my stay. Even in such a dire situation I couldn’t stop thinking about playing more Kart. I told myself that once I got through this hospital visit, I’d be right back at home racing and enjoying, what was then, my favourite game. All of a sudden, it wasn’t so hard anymore; the hospital wasn’t all that scary.

Super Mario Kart was such an immensely enjoyable escape that I didn’t even need to be playing or viewing it for it to pick me up and elevate me above the fears that were trying to drag me down. Even if you haven’t been in a situation that mirrors mine exactly, I’m sure you can relate. Think of a long work day that loses its minute-to-minute sting because of the anticipation to get home and play whatever enticing game is waiting for you…It’s kind of like that. When the proverbial walls melt away, so can dating troubles, money issues, sicknesses, or any other “headaches” that life commonly serves up. Luckily, in this instance, the headache or stomach-ache that life dealt me turned out to be nothing more than a negative reaction to all that popcorn I had been carelessly ingesting.

Throughout my entire life games have been there to get me through any bad days, especially lately. Without divulging too many details, I’ve been dealing with health complications that have, well, complicated my life to say the least. Some days I can mostly operate as a normal human being, but other days leaving the couch or bed is an adventure I don’t possess the means of embarking on. As you can imagine, it’s not easy to live in those moments, and any rare thing that can cause me to forget and/or look past my current circumstances is priceless. When physical pain plays a part, which is common, rising above it takes a special kind of interference.

That’s where videogames have offered me more than any other form of entertainment ever could. When I have a great game in front of me, the physical pain and the realities of my situation are numbed, and in my mind I’m no longer strapped to a couch in my living room, but I’m out golfing in the Mushroom Kingdom (Mario Golf: World Tour) or taking in the breathtaking views of Autumn Heights (DKC: Tropical Freeze). Videogames have become my go-to medicine, always effective and always capable of being the distraction that I need. And it all started with Super Mario Kart getting me through that hospital visit all those years ago. I’ve been "playing with power" ever since my family adopted the NES back in the mid ‘80s, but it was with Super Mario Kart in 1992, when I learned the ultimate potential of that power and what it can do for someone having a not-so-good day.

So as you may have guessed, I’m ecstatic for the release of Mario Kart 8, and I have no doubt that it’ll be able to provide me with an invaluable amount of relief from the bologna I’m currently dealing with. Simply reflecting on the memories I've made with the series has been comforting to me in recent weeks, and I'm eager to create all new ones with my wife and friends soon enough. From Super to 7, Mario Kart has played a big role throughout my life as a gamer, and for that it means a whole heck of a lot to me. And on that note, I think I'll power up my 3DS and practice my power-sliding while I wait for the new entry. There's a certain chunky gorilla that has been gunning for me for years, and I need to be prepared to dodge his road-hoggin' butt if I want to win any gold trophies.

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User Comments (21)

PvtOttobot

#1

PvtOttobot said:

Going soon, so I can't read this yet, but I might as well add that matio kart means a lot to me as it's the only video game my family have ever all played together, and it was a huge part of my childhood playing online splitscreen with my bro.

Einherjar

#2

Einherjar said:

I have so many fon memories of me and my childhood friends playing Mario Kart on dthe SNES and later, the N64.
I cant even count the hours we spend with the N64 battlemode alone, let alone just playing races over and over.

Mario Kart may not offer the same amount of content its rivals did (Story modes like in Crash or Diddy, unlockables and level systems in Sonic) but its pick up and play nature meant, that basicly everyone could jump in and enjoy it.
Never was it easier to just bring more and more friends along to join in. Everyone new and loved Mario Kart for the simple reason, that it was so easy to enjoy it :)

Link506

#3

Link506 said:

We all have some memory like that. I never knew what a Nintendo system was until I was 6. We were at some sort of festival and there was a big green and white tent and under that tent was something my little 6 year old mind could not comprehend, a Wii and a Wii balance board. That with the Wii remote made me awestruck. About a year later we went over the details and were stuck between a GameCube and a Wii. At the time I desperately wanted a Wii since it was already 2007 and the GameCube was dieing, and the Wii had backwards compatibility. It was a week later when we got our Wii. I fell in love with it, playing Wii sports, Super Mario Galaxy 2, twilight and skyward sword. But If I looked up how many times I played online, Mario Kart Wii would be the winner. If not for the Wii, I probability would not have these memories.

Dezzy

#4

Dezzy said:

As someone who's also had quite severe health problems in recent years (luckily not life-threatening), I agree that the ability of games to act as escapism is something they do better than any other media.

Magrane

#5

Magrane said:

Great story, and even though I can't relate to the hospital part, I can relate to the countless, countless hours of Super Mario Kart and playing with friends with Battle Mode in 1992. Especially when one of those friends' dads owned a pizza restaurant, and we'd order pizza every night that summer. I even remember the first time I saw that game at the Summer CES and realizing how much potential the game system had (also saw a very big preview of Mega Man X, before it was even called that.....). The game was always so much fun; there was just nothing else like it that came beforehand.

So much fun that in fact when the N64 sequel came out many moons later, and I remember how PATIENT I was those 5-6 years, waiting for AT LEAST a rumored "Super Mario Kart Champion/Gold Edition" on the SNES, it was a big graphical jump and I had to get used to the 3D effects that were super new at the time. Never really played Mario Kart Super Circuit on the GBA that much, however.

Of course, MK: Double Dash!! was the beginning of my eternal Super Mario Kart summer nostalgia :)

Einherjar

#6

Einherjar said:

@Link506 The most interesting thing about storys like this is, that i never heard anyone tell such a tale about any other system than a nintendo one (or Sega, up the the Genesis / Mega Drive).

BadWolf09

#7

BadWolf09 said:

Great story! I have definitely survived a sick day (or many) thanks to gaming, I have also had a "sick day" (or many) due to video games :p

Andremario

#9

Andremario said:

Playing video games has always been a great way to escape. Hell i lived outta my car for awhile and it didn't feel so bad because at the time i had a gameboy adavance sp and i would just escape the pain of no money and no job.I was even limited to the amount of games i could play but the few that i did were like dave said my go to medicine. I of course had been gaming since the nes days! I'm a golden age gamer. As far as mario kart goes that has always been more of a masochistic thing for me...I'd get my butt whipped and i was coming back for more! It's one of those games that don't make you content on just giving up. Mario 64 is where i had the fondest of memories! Me and 3 other neighborhood kids would veg out for hours playing 4player grand prixs! I always came in second but boy was it fun! Goodtimes!

Nintenjoe64

#10

Nintenjoe64 said:

Played MK8 for about 15hrs yesterday. Very happy so far. I can see why it's a 9 and not a 10 but I really can't understand the hate for the battle mode. It's infinity times better than the one on MK Wii.

I sometimes wonder whether reviewers make their own opinions of games or just look at each other's.

Shambo

#11

Shambo said:

I'm still working on my 16 player Double Dash multiplayer game room, but I'm nearly there. And then, I'm throwing a Mario Kart Party! Every month or so. Gamecube was the first home console I ever owned, since I was barely allowed to play on my Game Boy, and we had no TV back then. It still is my favourite one, due to social, fun memories; and incredible games like -but definitely not limited to- Double Dash. Will we ever see that concept of two characters per kart return?

Nintenjoe64

#12

Nintenjoe64 said:

My main MK memories are hating the cheating AI in SMK, unlocking and beating the ghosts before anyone else I knew on MK64 and MK Wii becoming my most played game of all time. MK8 has potential to surpass MKW though!

Action51

#13

Action51 said:

@Nintenjoe64 - I hear you on the battle mode.

Basically it's the internet... it's the knee jerk way everything is viewed. You'll even have the very same people, in the very same article or post say things like "it doesn't do enough new things" and "why did they change the battle mode".

Eventually, once the initial desire to complain and second guess everything dies down, most people will "get" that the change up for battle mode isn't necessarily better or worse, but different and pretty fun.

Chubblings

#14

Chubblings said:

Well just a few weeks ago, I had another MK moment. It was about 40 students including myself, on a long trip to France from UK. My friend and I were the only people who had played video games on our bus (our bus ride was also 12 hours). Everyone else were people who had either never played video games, or part of your standard COD, Fifa casual market. So my friend and I had each brought our Mario Kart DS cartridges, and we played against each other in races. It didn't take long for time to pass. But soon after we started playing, everyone started paying attention to our races, and everyone asked if they could play Mario Kart each. Everyone on the bus 'took turns' for playing Mario Kart, and those 12 hours went by fast.

Chubblings

#16

Chubblings said:

@Andremario They couldn't believe their eyes. It was the first time that they had seen so many vivid colors, so much "kiddiness", so much fun...and they liked it. BTW, I'm not insulting anyone who likes COD, I'm referencing the "hardcores" who play only COD, think it's the best, and everything else sucks.

Andremario

#17

Andremario said:

@Chubblings: Sorry i just had to do a little venting to the cod fans who only think cod is best. I don't knock anybody who likes it. I like them too but i don't think that's the Alpha and omega of gaming either. I'm glad they were able to experience the whimsical delight of nintendo games such as mario kart. I think half the problem with those hardcore or bro gamers is that they are so busy trying to look cool that they forget that the main purpose of playing a video game is to have FUN and it sounds like you guys on the bus sure had a lot of that! Kudos!

danimal_boy

#18

danimal_boy said:

Mario Kart is the defining game of my childhood. I bought this system a few months ago in anticipation for this single game, and I'm so, so disappointed. I popped the game in last night and played the Circuit races and was so excited - the characters, graphics, new weapons! Then, I turned my attention to Battle Mode - where most of the longevity and love of the game came from. What a disaster! I've heard other reviewers say this - but after a few tries, I'll never play Battle Mode again. It's boring. And, repetitive. And, such an incredible disappointment. To those who prefer to race instead of battle, maybe you won't understand. But, it's similar to removing tracks for races and putting you in an arena. Makes no sense, right? Then, why would the opposite make sense? The shame! Nintendo, why??

UltraMii

#20

UltraMii said:

@Link506 Big N has always delivered quality titles (SSBB, NSMB, Skyward Sword, etc.) but Mario Kart is a standout in my opinion. I'm glad Nintendo knows what us fans want and they delivered it with Mario Kart 8.

UltraMii

#21

UltraMii said:

@Chubblings That is called ignorance. I used to play CoD and I still do though not as much. Hardcore gamers should give Nintendo games a chance, they'll experience true gaming.

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