Saturday May 18, 2024

Mario Kart: more stress than fun?

Mario Kart is a kart-racing sub-series of the Mario franchise

By Aimen Siddiqui
April 21, 2024
This representational image shows the character of Mario game. — AFP/File
This representational image shows the character of Mario game. — AFP/File

KARACHI: Mario Kart is the most stressful video game to play, according to the study ‘Most Stressful Video Games to Play’, published by gaming site in late 2023.

Basing the study on average heart rate increases throughout the course of a 30-minute gaming session, BonusFinder selected 14 active gamers -- who stated they were highly engaged in videogames and played for at least 15 hours per week -- to play 16 different games. Mario Kart topped the list of Top 5 Most Stressful [Video] Games.

Mario Kart raised the average resting heart from 64 BPM (beats per minute) to 85 BPM, a 32.81 per cent increase. According to BonusFinder, “We measured resting heart rates for a baseline comparison and recorded heart rates at 10 second intervals for each gamer.” FIFA Football (31.25 per cent), Call of Duty (29.69 per cent), Dark Souls (28.13 per cent), and Fortnite (26.56 per cent) were the remaining games on the list.

Given the nature of the video game -- the likeable Italian guy racing with his equally charming buddies -- gamers around the globe seem surprised by the ranking. So, what do Pakistani gamers and the gaming community have to say about this?

In her comment to The News, tech enthusiast Anusha Sachwani, who works as a team lead at Savyour [Pakistan’s first cashback platform and pay-per-sale affiliate marketing network], says that most video games increase gamers’ stress levels because they “trigger your anxiety to complete tasks.” On Mario Kart, she shares that she played the game for a short while and that “the game is fun and addictive overall but then the stress of coming first in every round, unlocking game maps, more races and, of course, equipping yourself to become the best is no joke.”

“It is like you keep at it, going on and on and on in order to win and unlock the next thing. I still remember how it was all I could play because I wanted to unlock a map and it started to happen for every map -- took me a while to prioritize sleep and other tasks before the game.”

Ali Ihsan, the CEO of game studio FRAG Games, is not satisfied with the study and sees it as “highly flawed”. He says, “Mario Kart is an intense and fun competitive experience. It is very unpredictable and requires skill.” But he maintains that he “would not call it more stressful than the average competitive game.” On the study’s sample size of just 14 gamers, he questions: “Are 14 people even a representative sample?”

Founder of gaming agency GenITeam Khurram Samad is also wary of the study. He says that he is trying to understand “how this increase in heart rate can be linked to stress.” He explains that there are a few games – ASMR games – that are soothing, while some games are inherently designed to “increase your heart rate” -- games where some shooting/killing involved or there is competition. In the case of “Mario Kart, for example, any racer who is behind the main player can use a booster (throwing items at each other) to go ahead.”

He says that multiple studies show that when there is the element of competition and when there is a fear of losing out, it causes increased heart rate. But this cannot be defined as “stressful”. Ali Ihsan shares this point view and is sceptical of using average BPM as a measure of stress. “Isn’t heart rate variability (HRV) the experimentally accepted measure? “BPM rises with exercise too, is that stress?”

Mario Kart is a kart-racing sub-series of the Mario franchise. It was first published in 1992 and has sold over 182 million copies, generating the revenue of $9.6 billion. Anusha adds, “it is such a nostalgic trigger for most of us 90s kids, and because our love for Mario is a whole other level, it feeds on our addiction.”

The full list of the 16 games is: Mario Kart, FIFA 20, Call of Duty (Modern Warfare), Dark Souls III, Fortnite, DOOM, Fall Guys, Battlefield V, Street Fighter, Among Us, Grand Theft Auto, UNO!, The Sims, Animal Crossing, Minecraft, and Skyrim.