Mario Kart’s Rubber-Banding is Like a Soviet Five-Year Plan

Once again, Nintendo and its creations eerily mirror the Soviet Union in a number of ways, this time with Mario Kart.

Mario Kart is a game designed for the whole family, pitting popular characters from the Mario and greater Nintendo universe against each other in a go-kart race to the finish line with speed boosts, sky-soaring jumps, and infuriating special abilities.

One of the ways that Nintendo have made the Mario Kart franchise universally accessible is through a number of balancing mechanics that keep every player continually challenged in a fun way and makes sure that, even if you’re lagging behind, you’re afforded opportunities that keep the race equally competitive. And I can’t help but see parallels between these mechanics and a Soviet five-year plan, so let’s look into this some more.

 

Rubber-Banding

When playing Mario Kart with AI, a patented mechanic is implemented: rubber-banding. Introduced in Mario Kart 64, the game will either give CPU racers who lag too far behind you an abnormal speed boost as an opportunity to catch up with you, or will hinder the performance of your vehicle for the same effect. While this may initially seem unfairly-punishing to players who put the extra work in to make it to first place, in reality it keeps the experience consistently challenging, and makes sure you’re always on your toes.

This mirrors the Soviet Union’s five-year plans, wherein every facet of economic development including agriculture, transportation, health and education, was carefully monitored and controlled to maintain an equal level of growth.

 

The Blue Shell

The Blue Shell is perhaps the most infamous of Mario Kart’s item roster, introduced in the 1996/97 release Mario Kart 64. It’s similar in function to the Red Shell, firing off and homing in on the player ahead of them to stall them for a few seconds and giving you an advantage. Only, the Blue Shell specifically targets the player in first place. It, and other powerful items, become more likely pick-ups the further you are from first place, as a means of giving players performing more poorly a chance to get back into the fray.

This aspect of Mario Kart also ties into the five-year plan system. During each five-year period, while every aspect of the economy was maintained at roughly the same level, special focus would be given to a specific industry throughout the plan in order to bolster it depending on the needs of the state.

 

Intention vs. Reception

Mario Kart’s balancing in these two aspects were always intended to make races an even playing field regardless of skill, experience and accessibility, because at the end of the day, Nintendo wanted to make something that anyone can enjoy: that sells. But, varying from iteration to iteration of the franchise, it’s always been ragged on by some who feel that it makes the game boring, and that it doesn’t reward players who put a lot of effort into being really good at beating their counterparts.

Similarly, many Capitalist thinkers who praise the free market as a bastion of diversity in options and that rewards the hard worker over what they’d call the “freeloader,” don’t understand that unregulated economy breeds systematic inequality, and harms the little guy who might not have the resources or opportunities afforded to those better-off, and thus will suffer under such a system.

 

What do you all think? I suspect, especially given Nintendo’s track record of being comparable to the Soviet Union, that this is pretty conclusive evidence of the Soviet Union inspiring a lot of what the Japanese company did and how they behaved, especially back in the day.

[DISCLAIMER: ANY NONSENSICAL CONNECTIONS MADE BETWEEN VIDEO GAMES AND COMMUNIST THEMES, ZEALOUS AND SELF-RIGHTEOUS DICTATOR-ESQUE BEHAVIORS, AND PERCEIVED SUPPORT AND/OR APOLOGISM OF OPPRESSIVE REGIMES LIKE THE SOVIET UNION ARE PURELY INSTANCES OF SELF-SATIRE AS A MEANS OF COMICAL INTROSPECTION, AND IN SOME CASES HAVE NO BASIS IN TRUTH OR PERSONAL BELIEF.]

Complex Narratives, the Rise of Fascism, and Wolfenstein II

Wolfenstein is no longer appealing to the target demographic that the series has historically adored it, and there are two main reasons why.

As October creeps ever-closer, so does the release of Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, MachineGames’ sequel to the 2014 revival of the iconic nazi-killing action series. Wolfenstein has been a mainstay of video games since the third title in the series, Wolfenstein 3D, revolutionized the first-person perspective by introducing simplistic, fast-paced gun combat into the series’ anti-fascist formula, and practically inventing the FPS genre back in 1992.

And once again, it’s bringing a revolution to the industry: or, more accurately, to an alternate version of 1960’s America where Germany won the Second World War. Nazi flags fly in the streets in place of the star-spangled banner, Klansmen talk with SS officers about catching up on their German lessons, and game shows like “German… Or Else!” are broadcast to every television set in the United States. And we, dear old B.J. Blazkowicz, fight alongside a unified resistance movement to try and bring freedom back to the land of the free.

And that’s all well and good, you’d rightly assume. If you asked someone to list things that they could kill in a video game, Nazis will almost always be one of their first three responses. Their historical hatred and acts of genocide has cemented their ideology as one of society’s generally-agreed true evils.

But in the past decade, far-right mentality–not limited to Fascism and white supremacy–has experienced somewhat of a mainstream resurgence. It’s always been there, creeping in the shadows and manifesting with subtlety in power structures across the globe, but until recently it hasn’t been worryingly-common to see them marching in the streets brandishing swastika flags. The normalization of such bigotry can no doubt be attributed to a fast-growing movement spawned by the likes of the National Policy Institute and 4chan: the Alt-Right.

The loosely-defined group of extreme right-wing thinkers purposefully evade any definitive goal or official organization, allowing them to dodge critique and paint the left as paranoid and reactionary. But in observing the beliefs of many who claim ownership of the term, much of the Alt-Right stands for one thing: the advocacy of a socially-conservative white ethno-state. They’ve always walked the fine line between what is considered socially risqué in a liberal-centrist society and outright Nazism, aiming to present a less-threatening image, tidying up their language; opting for dog whistle terminology like “identitarianism,” and “preserving Western values.” But in doing so, they’ve shifted the global political spectrum far right enough that bona fide fascism is beginning to be seen as simply a “differing political opinion,” and as such, more and more have begun to openly espouse the rhetoric of groups like the National Socialist Party of America.

Now, how does this all relate to Wolfenstein II? Well, Wolfenstein as a series and the countless first-person shooters that have spawned from its legacy have always marketed to a stereotype target audience: the young, hyper-masculine “dude-bro” archetype. This demographic is seen to have an undying love for fast-paced, action-packed, gun-running violence, and for a significant portion of the genre’s history, this was almost always directed at video games’ favourite villain, the Nazi.

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And for a while, this was absolutely fine. But, as with many things, we can apply a Venn diagram, and there’s a large intersection between the target demographic of the FPS, and the target demographic of Alt-Right recruitment: insidious propaganda campaigns designed to appeal to both the impoverished white working class and the middle-upper class yearning for a sense of purpose, making promises like “reclaiming the honor of your ancestors.”

Of course, nothing definitive or factual can be said of the circumstances without conducting studies and surveys, but we can at least theorize that a chunk of the typical first-person shooter demographic may have fallen victim to the temptations of the Alt-Right. This in turn may introduce these same people to other flavours of pie in the far-right pie shop, so to speak, possibly explaining fraternal groups like the Proud Boys.

And with the FPS genre focusing more on the modern day and futuristic landscapes in recent times, it makes sense that we haven’t seen this politically-incidental backlash until recently. Only now that video games are really returning to Nazis as the central villain in their worlds are we feeling the heat from Alt-Right gamers. The comment sections of The New Colossus’s trailers, the replies to tweets from the Bethesda and Wolfenstein Twitter accounts, and threads on forum sites like Reddit and NeoGAF are worryingly filled with comments decrying the game for encouraging the murder of ‘people with different political beliefs.’

But killing Nazis isn’t the only part of Wolfenstein II that’s fueling far-right outrage. Many are also critical of the diversity present in the resistance, and accompanying the defense of Fascism are accusations that Bethesda are pandering to ‘political correctness’ and ‘social justice warriors.’

Those that Blazkowicz will ally himself with in The New Colossus are quite the varied bunch: people of colour, those experiencing varying degrees of disability, and even a positive portrayal of (genuine) Communists. B.J. himself even fits into this crowd, as a now paraplegic jewish person who only finds himself on his two feet and slaying Wehrmacht thanks to a futuristic exo-suit. And in reality, these are groups of people that would and do in fact lead the charge against Fascism wherever they see it.

The representation in Wolfenstein II is an example of how far video games have come in their ability to convey rich and complex narratives. In Wolfenstein 3D, due to technical limitations and societal perspectives on what video games should be allowed to explore, all you really did was run around a castle and shoot SS soldiers. But now that we have even bigger studios with teams dedicated to storytelling, all existing within a slowly-maturing industry, the stories that we tell in games have a heightened potential to show us more of the intricacies and details that one would find in the real world.

We saw resistance movements resembling that in The New Colossus in Nazi Germany. They were small and often disorganized, but they were certainly there. Red Orchestra, a group of anti-fascists, Communists, and Anarchists, assisted in the production of anti-Nazi propaganda and aided Jewish people and other targeted minority groups in fleeing the country. Not to mention the countless attempts on Hitler’s life throughout the period of the second world war. And it’s this aspect of a Fascist occupation that we can realize in games, with more dedication and time put into them, and it’s exactly what’s being realized in Wolfenstein II.

This no doubt contributes to the greater outrage surrounding the game. But it also has another impact: it’s making it more appealing to the progressive left. Whether intentional or not, MachineGames have, in their fleshed-out depiction of a Nazi United States, given the voiceless and the downtrodden some representation in a fight against Fascism. If it weren’t enough that one could enjoy killing Nazis with giant guns as it is, we can now do so alongside people that we feel stronger connections and a greater degree of empathy with.

Through a mixture of a global political shift, a rise in Fascism, and a greater ability to construct narratives in video games, the target audience of Wolfenstein, be it intentional or not, has shifted. No longer is the demographic the hypermasculine with a penchant for violence. Wolfenstein is now a game for the exploited, the minority, and the unashamed anti-Fascist.

(Special thanks to my editor Wesley Elkins for helping me with what was a very lengthy job.)

 

YOUR FAVE IS COMMUNISTIC – Ep.2: DA:I’s Solas (Ft. Alice Bell)

In this episode of Your Fave is Communistic, I try to convince games journalist Alice Bell that Solas from Dragon Age: Inquisition is a Communist, in what I think is some of my finest work yet.

Alice’s Twitter

[DISCLAIMER: ANY NONSENSICAL CONNECTIONS MADE BETWEEN VIDEO GAMES AND COMMUNIST THEMES, ZEALOUS AND SELF-RIGHTEOUS DICTATOR-ESQUE BEHAVIORS, AND PERCEIVED SUPPORT AND/OR APOLOGISM OF OPPRESSIVE REGIMES LIKE THE SOVIET UNION ARE PURELY INSTANCES OF SELF-SATIRE AS A MEANS OF COMICAL INTROSPECTION, AND IN SOME CASES HAVE NO BASIS IN TRUTH OR PERSONAL BELIEF.]

Review – AdVenture Communist

AdVenture Communist is merely a tool of Capitalization masquerading poorly as “the world’s greatest communism simulator!” and it makes my red blood boil.

AdVenture Communist is the sequel to Hyper Hippo Games’ AdVenture Capitalist, which I made my thoughts about very clear in my feature on Capitalist propaganda video games.

And while on its surface, this sequel might seem to be more my sort of thing (and initially piqued my interest) I’m here to tell you otherwise: AdVenture Communist makes me angry. Why? Because its thin veneer of Communist themes is nothing but a sham. Allow me to explain.

AdVenture Communist is relatively simple in regards to its mechanics: it’s a clicker game with resource management, where you maintain the production of five different state resources: potatoes, land, ore, weapons, and medicine. You do this by clicking, with each click creating one of that resource, and filling up an upgrade bar that you can redeem after a certain value has been reached to increase the multiplier of resources-per-click.

You eventually work your way up to using these resources, as well as another base resource called Comrades, representing the number of general workers that you have available, to purchase specialized workers that obtain those resources automatically without you needing to click. On top of this, you can use Scientists, a sort of currency (we’ll get onto that) that you use to expand the technology that you have available to maximize your clicks: improved base multiplier buttons for your resources, temporary mega-boosts to resources-per-click for a limited time, and even automatic clickers.

This all then feeds into resource expansions, that give you more of the expansion preceding it, which give you more than the expansion preceding it, and so on. For instance, you buy Communes to give you more farmers, Collectives to give you  more Communes, Plantations to give you more Collectives… you get the jist. You also get one mega-expansion that you can claim every six hours real-time to gain a Scientist.

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Notice anything familiar? Understandable: AdVenture Communist  is effectively a restructured re-skin of AdVenture Capitalist. There are a few minor differences, but we largely see the same elements: resources replace investments, expansions replace managers, and so on. And if it wasn’t enough that AdVenture Communist  is a Capitalist propaganda video game wearing a budenovka and a hammer-sickle shirt, the game also comes with its own set of problems.

Many of them are quite small but come at the expense of attempted improvements, like being able to hold down the mouse button to produce resources, but not to produce specialized workers, which seems like quite an RSI-inducing oversight. Others are quite inherent in the game’s mechanics, like alleged bugs poor multiplier balancing late-game. But worst of all?

Like its predecessor, AdVenture Communist has pay-to-win microtransactions.

Remember those Scientists we talked about? The resource that lets you purchase quite significant progression boosters? Well, if you go to the shop in-game, you can buy them. With quantities and prices ranging from sixty Scientists for $1.99, to twenty thousand scientists for $99.99.

This fucking clicker game gives you the option of spending a hundred dollars in one go on upgrades that relieve you of the need to click on things. It was already present and absurd in AdVenture Capitalist, but in a game  that claims to be “the world’s greatest communism simulator,” and the “most glorious game ever,” it becomes an especially evident farce.

AdVenture Communist is nothing but an attempt by the Bourgeoisie Hyper Hippo Games to capitalize off of the glorious aesthetics and themes of Communism, and it does so with such gall and blatancy that I need to listen to Laborwave to calm down from the anger.

[DISCLAIMER: ANY NONSENSICAL CONNECTIONS MADE BETWEEN VIDEO GAMES AND COMMUNIST THEMES, ZEALOUS AND SELF-RIGHTEOUS DICTATOR-ESQUE BEHAVIORS, AND PERCEIVED SUPPORT AND/OR APOLOGISM OF OPPRESSIVE REGIMES LIKE THE SOVIET UNION ARE PURELY INSTANCES OF SELF-SATIRE AS A MEANS OF COMICAL INTROSPECTION, AND IN SOME CASES HAVE NO BASIS IN TRUTH OR PERSONAL BELIEF.]

 

Four Capitalist Propaganda Video Games

The Triple-A games industry is a propaganda machine for the Capitalist ruling class. Here are a few examples of its worst offenders.

The world that we live in today is dominated by a Capitalist society. Money and discrimination are it’s primary tools, with big business corporations relying on the subjugation and slave labour of the lower classes. I believe that the Triple-A video games industry as it stands today is used in part as a propaganda device in order to brainwash the people into believing that any ideology outside of capitalism is evil, and here are some of the worst offenders (in no particular order, because as filthy and Capitalistic as they are, I will not reduce myself to implementing their methods of hierarchy.)

 

  • The Sims

The Sims is a simulation game in which you create a character, place them in a home, and attempt to make their life successful and satisfy their needs. It’s also a blatant and shameless advocate of Capitalism and Consumerism. You force your Sim(s) into jobs where they waste away their lives for measly pay checks, and what can their needs be almost entirely satisfied by? That’s right, buying things.

the-sims-capitalism

By becoming mindless consumers and contributing to the Capitalist regime, The Sims tells us that they will be truly happy. This is false consciousness! By teaching players of The Sims that their Sims will “fail” if they do not become upper-class bourgeoisie, they indoctrinate them into the mentality of submitting to their corporate overlords in order to attain true success and joy.

 

  • Any Tycoon Game

You know the culprits: RollerCoaster Tycoon, Zoo Tycoon, Airport Tycoon, Golf Tycoon, Moon Tycoon… an endless ocean of games in which the sole goal is to make as much money as possible. Of course, the aesthetic design of each Tycoon game will differ, a poor attempt to dress up it’s filthy Capitalist ways with log flumes and fluffy animals.

roller coaster tycoon world image.jpg

Take RollerCoaster Tycoon Worlds, for example. It’s evil, capitalistic indoctrination is even more insulting considering its objectively poor design and quality, a symptom of a Capitalist regime juggling the project between three different development studios to date.

 

  • AdVenture Capitalist

AdVenture Capitalist is fucking disgusting. It’s a Cookie Clicker style game in which you squeeze lemons, deliver newspapers, and run hockey teams, all to make as much money as possible. And you can even reach the stage of exploiting the working class to do your work for you! Abhorrent!

But the icing on the bourgeoisie cake is the illusion the game imposes of how easy it is to be successful in a Capitalist society; that all it takes is a few clicks and you’ll be rich, which is definitely not the case. It’s also got the word ‘Capitalist’ in it.

 

  • The Capitalism Series

And here’s the cream of the crop: Capitalism, a business simulation game series, whose first release came in 1995. The ultimate goal of the game is to become the most successful corporation in the world, while competing with other businesses in all kinds of different markets.

Two words: monopoly simulator. Y’know what monopolies are? Really, really bad for the consumer, and peak Capitalism, which deeply upsets me. And it doesn’t even try to dress up it’s name in a silly pun! It’s just Capitalism! Uninspired, and unashamed of it’s decadence.

 

So there you have it, comrades. But a handful of the filthiest, Capitalist-iest video games there are. Horrible, aren’t they? And what I consider to be excellent proof of the Triple-A’s attempts to indoctrinate the working class.

[DISCLAIMER: ANY NONSENSICAL CONNECTIONS MADE BETWEEN VIDEO GAMES AND COMMUNIST THEMES, ZEALOUS AND SELF-RIGHTEOUS DICTATOR-ESQUE BEHAVIORS, AND PERCEIVED SUPPORT AND/OR APOLOGISM OF OPPRESSIVE REGIMES LIKE THE SOVIET UNION ARE PURELY INSTANCES OF SELF-SATIRE AS A MEANS OF COMICAL INTROSPECTION, AND IN SOME CASES HAVE NO BASIS IN TRUTH OR PERSONAL BELIEF.]

Retrospective: Red Faction Guerrilla’s Positive Portrayal of Violent Revolution

Red Faction: Guerrilla is a mediocre game with above-average destructible environment physics and a surprisingly positive portrayal of the more morally-grey aspects of a violent revolution.

I have a complicated relationship with Volition’s 2009 third-person shooter, Red Faction: Guerrilla. It’s a definitively mediocre game about a people’s revolution on a colonized Mars that’s disappointing in its execution, in a setting with so much potential that wasn’t explored. The destructible environment system made possible with Geomod 2.0 is quite spectacular, and despite its limited scope compared to the first iteration of the engine, it goes a long way to drag its score slightly above a 5 out of 10.

Something that really interested me when recently replaying the game is Red Faction‘s portrayal of the more morally-grey aspects of violent revolutions.

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There are countless horrific acts committed in periods of revolt, and whether they can be justified as necessary is subjective and dependent on context. But it’s not until recent years that we’ve really seen a mainstream acknowledgement of these acts that recognizes their necessity. Go back a decade, and even films like the 2005 adaptation of V for Vendetta trimmed out a lot of the ethical ambiguity present in the original graphic novel. These portrayals were glorified, and often if they weren’t, then they were condemned.

This makes Red Faction: Guerrilla’s depictions of these darker revolutionary elements quite significant: the game was released eight years ago now, when video games as a medium didn’t explore this concept to any great length. Red Faction by no means contains missions that are outright horrific, but a lot of what you carry out in the shoes of Alec Mason would often be considered acts of terrorism if translated into the real world.

Demolishing bridges, bombing town halls, aiding in the torture of enemy generals; these are all duties you must perform to further the cause of the Red Faction, and are all commonly-accepted acts of terror by major world powers, an aspect also reflected in anti-Red Faction news broadcasts heard throughout the game. But Red Faction: Guerrilla depicts these acts as ultimately necessary in the quest for liberation.

And quite rightly: countless times in world history, we’ve seen violent and disruptive actions carried out by revolutionary groups as a means of furthering their goals, and regardless of the public perceptions of these groups at the times of their operation, it’s generally accepted in an historical context that, often, they were ultimately successful in their intent: militant groups like Umkhonto we Sizwe, a militant anti-apartheid movement led by Nelson Mandela, who bombed South African infrastructure as a means of targeting the government, and the Cuban Revolutionaries, who engaged in guerrilla warfare to bring down the brutal regime of dictator Fulgenico Batista.

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In an age where many non-peaceful, disruptive movements are met with cries and insistences that violence should never be an option and that nothing will be achieved by employing such techniques, it’s important for people to be reminded that sometimes, even as a last resort, acts of violence have brought about massive social change. And a great way to remind us all of that is through such portrayals in the media we consume.

Red Faction: Guerrilla presenting this perspective at the time that it did was a surprisingly bold move for such an otherwise average game. And it’s part of why I have such a fond appreciation for it: that and its soviet propaganda-inspired UI design and the fact that I can destroy an entire tower block with nothing but a bloody hammer.

Violence can be devastating, and I’m not voicing apologism for all brutally violent organisations, nor am I condoning or encouraging crimes like murder. I do feel, however, that it’s important to recognise that in certain contexts, and in specific situations, many acts of violence have formed the basis of a lot of society’s progressions, and will go on to do so, and it’s important to know that sometimes, it might be the only effective option.

[DISCLAIMER: ANY NONSENSICAL CONNECTIONS MADE BETWEEN VIDEO GAMES AND COMMUNIST THEMES, ZEALOUS AND SELF-RIGHTEOUS DICTATOR-ESQUE BEHAVIORS, AND PERCEIVED SUPPORT AND/OR APOLOGISM OF OPPRESSIVE REGIMES LIKE THE SOVIET UNION ARE PURELY INSTANCES OF SELF-SATIRE AS A MEANS OF COMICAL INTROSPECTION, AND IN SOME CASES HAVE NO BASIS IN TRUTH OR PERSONAL BELIEF.]

YOUR FAVE IS COMMUNISTIC – Ep.1: BG&E’s Jade (Ft. LauraKBuzz)

In this first episode of Your Fave is Communistic, I try to convince games journalist Laura Kate Dale that Jade from Beyond Good and Evil is a Communist.

Laura’s Twitter

[DISCLAIMER: ANY NONSENSICAL CONNECTIONS MADE BETWEEN VIDEO GAMES AND COMMUNIST THEMES, ZEALOUS AND SELF-RIGHTEOUS DICTATOR-ESQUE BEHAVIORS, AND PERCEIVED SUPPORT AND/OR APOLOGISM OF OPPRESSIVE REGIMES LIKE THE SOVIET UNION ARE PURELY INSTANCES OF SELF-SATIRE AS A MEANS OF COMICAL INTROSPECTION, AND IN SOME CASES HAVE NO BASIS IN TRUTH OR PERSONAL BELIEF.]