On an early November afternoon in a suburban living room of Somerset, NJ, a bitter discourse raged between two middle schoolers. “It’s not fair!” screamed one of them, as he hurled his Wii controller at the wall. The winding turns, high speeds and randomly placed banana peels of “Mario Kart” had gotten the best of Daniel Trent. He had been struck by one too many projectile turtle shells. Though there were still two laps remaining, he was already expressing extreme frustration at his impending defeat. “I haven’t lost yet, but if and when I do, it will be only because the game is rigged! You’re cheating!” His chief opponent, seven-year-old Harriet Carson, let out a chuckle and took a casual slurp of her Capri Sun before retorting, “Don’t be a sore loser! I’m beating you because you don’t have what it takes. Face it, you do not have the proper temperament for the challenges of Rainbow Road.”
Without a doubt, Harriet knew exactly how to play the game. She had prepared for this race her whole life. In her formative Karting years, she mastered the GameCube version of the game. She had the layout of each track memorized before she could spell her own name. But this was 2016, an entirely new era with changing strategies and a more hostile atmosphere. She was surprised to be facing a player as unorthodox and unpredictable as “The Daniel,” but she enjoyed the thrill of the race nonetheless. Harriet knew all the rules of the road. She began her race against Daniel with a very calculated and strategic trick, the beginning-of-race speed boost that only pro Mario Karters know. Daniel, on the other hand, started the race with the strategy of declaring that all Mexicans were bad people.
“Daniel, there is nothing ‘rigged’ about ‘Mario Kart,’” said Harriet. “You’re not losing because I systematically altered the game, you’re losing because you drove off the track five times.” Mr. Trent, who was now checking the batteries in his controller, was clearly not in agreement with her, but she continued. “‘Mario Kart’ is a pure and democratic system that has been going on for centuries. The fact that you may not accept the results at the finish line is actually pretty terrifying, because it threatens a long-standing ‘Mario Kart’ tradition known as the peaceful transfer of power.” “Wrong,” interjected Daniel. Harriet continued, “You see, it all started back in 1800, when, in a very close match of ‘Mario Kart 64,’ Thomas Jefferson slayed John Adams with a perfectly timed green shell on the very last lap of Bowser’s Castle. Adams recognized the skill of his competitor, and conceded that old Tommy J. had won fair and square.”
Unfortunately for Harriet, the end of the race would nfot be the end of Daniel’s grievances. She would hear about her alleged cheating for the rest of her days. All of Daniel’s friends in school hated her even more than homework. They were always trying to get her sent to the principal’s office, following her through the halls with chants of “Lock her up! Lock her up!” They blamed all of their inconveniences in school, from difficult quizzes to bad lunches in the cafeteria, on Harriet and her friends. For her, holding the title of Somerset Middle School Mario Kart Champion would be more uncompromising and brutally difficult than Rainbow Road itself, but she was crazy enough to want to do it. She had come too far to let an outsider defeat her at the last second with the lucky throw of a blue shell.
Toward the end of the last lap, we reached out to Harriet and Daniel for final comments on the race. Harriet talked at length about how much prior experience she had in “Mario Kart.” Daniel went off on an incoherent tangent about ISIS before promising to “make ‘Mario Kart’ great again.” At this point, it is not completely certain who will win the race. Because of the crazy, anything-can-happen nature of “Mario Kart,” it could be a photo finish, or there may be a landslide victory. But whoever wins, there is sure to be one very upset racer and many angry friends. One can only hope that the students of Somerset Middle School will be able to find common ground when the dust settles and the banana peels are cleaned up.