The Mario Kart Principle: How Nintendo's Racing Game May Help Combat Poverty

Photo Courtesy: [Nintendo]

Picture this: You’re participating in an important race — and losing — when suddenly an outside force changes the momentum so that you have a chance to come out on top. Now, picture nearly winning a race when an outside force knocks you out of place and you finish in a different position. This, by and large, summarizes the gameplay experience of one of Nintendo’s most popular video game franchises, Mario Kart.

One more scenario to visualize: Picture yourself nearly winning a race. No outside force hurts your standing on the course, and outside forces, if anything, help you finish before everyone else. The gap between first and last is so large that the audience exits before the person in last place crosses the finish line. This, while oversimplified, is how economies function in countries and communities all over the globe. And that was before the COVID-19 pandemic stratified things even more.

With economies in unstable flux after a year of quarantining, more experts are looking for different models to inform a new economy that brings equity to more people. Nature, a publication dedicated to studying the environment and researching policies that create a more equitable Earth, recently published findings from Boston University professor Andrew Reid Bell. Bell’s study looked into the ways Mario Kart’s features could actually serve as a model for a better economic future.

What the research also found is that we need are more blue turtle shells. Red shells, too. And even some lightning bolts. All of these are items in the Mario Kart franchise that confer benefits to players — and, interestingly, they’re items that need to be translated into economic policy in some way or another. Here’s what that means and how it might happen.