You can tell a lot about a person by how they play Mario Kart. The sweetest person you’ll ever meet can turn into an utter monster, slowing down to let you overtake only to immediately thwack you with the red shell they’ve been saving up. Your shy little sister, upon beating you for the first time, will become the most arrogant and insufferable human being ever to walk the earth. And your closest friendships will be put on hold for several hours as come to terms with being overtaken on the finish line after a crafty piece of drafting. But beyond revealing their inner evil, I firmly believe you can analyse someone’s political and world views based on their reactions to just one controversial item: the blue shell.
The spiny shell, to give it its proper name, is normally given to a driver at the back of the race, and homes in on first place, blasting them up in the air and costing them around five seconds. It’s enough to throw a tight race on its head and allows even the poorest of racers to have an influence on events. Since its introduction in Mario Kart 64, the blue shell has easily caused more debate than anything in the Mario universe. Ask anyone who’s even once picked up a controller and you’ll receive an enthusiastic response one way or the other on the devastating effects of the thorny menace.
There are those who decry the blue shell as unreasonable and unfair that a player at the back of the race can ruin their perfect drive, especially when it doesn’t directly benefit the racer in question. They will say that racing should be all about talent, and not about who gets lucky, or unlucky, with how the items fall. Their typical profile will be that of a self-styled gamer; their diet focused around fizzy juice and Pringles.These people are your rightwing capitalists. They have no interest in a spreading of the wealth or sharing the fun: the talented few must remain at the front, without any pesky challengers coming from behind. Whether you got off to a bad start in life (or on Rainbow Road) is of irrelevance – too bad, you’re just going to have to work hard and grind your way eternally to the top.
Others may take a slightly less hardline stance, and see the shell as an unfortunate but necessary evil: throw the proles a bone in order to keep them enfranchised, but not too many – we can’t let them get any big ideas. Think of the Tories cutting the beer duty by a penny each year in the budget. Aye, nice one mate, cheers.
At the other end of the spectrum, there is a committed group of pro-blue shell activists who see it as the great leveller, the one chance for the little guy to have his day and take down the Mushroom Kingdom fatcats. These radical communists would soon see even more blue shells, perhaps even having one given to the racer who finished last in the previous race before the next one starts. Anarchy would not be far behind.
The worst of the worst, of course, are the drivers who say “Why don’t I get a blue shell in second place? Why do I only get rubbish bananas when I’m miles out in front?” These people, my friends, with their obliviousness to the concept of privilege, are the Mario universe’s answer to meninists.
The blue shell is the Mario Kart driver’s safety net, the Mushroom Kingdom equivalent of the NHS, if you like. On the one hand you have those who have never needed it and are incapable of seeing its worth, who end up angered by its very existence, and on the other are the drivers dealt a tougher hand, whose very livelihood depends on it.
Ultimately, even the best driver has been there at some point: you blew your engine at the start and drove off an edge trying to catch up and, languishing in 11th, your ?-block yields that fabled blue bombshell. And did you hesitate, even for a moment, before launching it viciously in the direction of first place? Of course not.
[Ally Shaw – @radalias]