I Dream in Pixels: Mario Kart is for lovers

“I will see you hanged!” I shouted in a fit of laughter as she ran me off the road.

Let me set the scene for you. The weather is gorgeous—or at least what we can see of it from my dorm room. We are sitting close on a worn out couch, each clutching our controller of choice: hers a Wii remote fashioned into a faux steering wheel, mine a beloved Gamecube controller that has survived since my 13th birthday. We are staring intensely at the TV, hurling insults back and forth like a game of expletive hot potato.

“Mario Kart” might be on the screen, but the real game is taking place between us, arising like a dust cloud as we fill the air with obscenities yet find ourselves moving closer. The tension increases with each shell thrown and banana peel missed until we finally abandon the game entirely and move to find each other.

Few would likely peg “Mario Kart” as romantic. Little about the colorful, chaotic racer falls in line with our image of date nights made up of candlelit dinners, soft jazz and whispered affection. And yet, I find it hard to deny the way the game seems to inevitably bring about a suggestive competitiveness.

It’s a game riddled with casual frustration and exasperation, tailor-made for risqué teasing and the accidental brushing of elbows. One moment you are shouting at Yoshi for cutting you off, the next you are turning your controller (motion controls or not) and finding yourself falling into one another.

It is worth noting that whether or not “Mario Kart” is romantic or platonic has much to do with whether you are racing one-on-one or have gotten a full four-person group together. Just as it would seem awkward to attempt to seduce someone in a group (or, heaven forbid, a band of three), full games of “Mario Kart” shed any suggestive overtones and become raucous and aggressive.

The intimacy that comes with a two-person game, however, changes that dynamic. It is not you against the other racers, but against one another, and, depending on the relationship, perhaps you will opt out of throwing that blue shell this time.

Video games are often discredited as romantic activities the way movies and TV are, but the interplay that takes place between people when you pit them against each other is powerfully intimate in a way other mediums can’t match.

Few games manage to blur the line between friendly competition and sexual tension as deftly as “Mario Kart.” This is an almost hilarious statement until you try it yourself and find that suddenly more is at stake than first place, assuming you finish the race before getting distracted by other means of entertaining each other.

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