Tracking Shells: Our Mario Kart Memories

3… 2… 1… GO!


Our Mario Kart Memories
From Around the Mushroom Kingdom
And Beyond

Mario Kart has touched so many of our lives. In this collab, we explore twenty stories of how racing around the Mushroom Kingdom has made our lives just a little more fun!

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Better with audio!

Mixed with all the frenetic action, Mario Kart mixes in some of the chillest, jazziest jams in all of video games. Hit that play button, and feel free to stay a while and brighten up your day long after you finish reading.

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Each post contains links to the blogs of the incredible authors of their respective pieces. Please support their work by following/bookmarking them. 

WordPress Reader audience, while we designed with you in mind, the nature of the platform removes some of the functionality of the design. Consider enjoying this work in its pure form on the site.

We recommend you start from the beginning, but you can click each link to jump to your favorite locations if you prefer. The order is meant to mimic the flow of a Mario Kart game. It is thematic, not a representation of quality. In short, they’re all great and worthy of your time!



Mushroom Cup

Yoshi Falls | Matt from Normal Happenings
Toad’s Turnpike | Nikki from Normal Happenings
Waluigi Stadium | Alex aka The Purple Prose Mage
Rainbow Road | Sally from Geeky Hippie

Banana Cup

DK’s Jungle Parkway | Teri Mae from Sheikah Plate
Moo Moo Meadows | Kathy from Krysanthe
Choco Island | Ruubin from My Life as a Quest
Pac-Man Stadium | Victor from The Modern Gafa

Flower Cup

Daisy Cruiser | Matt from 3PStart
Koopa Troopa Beach | Andrew aka The Ink-Stained Mage
Wario Stadium | Justin from TWOTALL4YOUFOOL
Maple Treeway | KT from Wintendo64

Star Cup

Sunshine Airport | Winst0lf aka The Bizzaro Mage
Baby Park | Luna from GamersUnitedGG
Koopa Cape | Shauna from HideNGoShauna
Rainbow Road | Amanda May from Imaginating Life

Shell Cup

Grumble Volcano | Skylar-Mei from gamergal.exe
Dino Dino Jungle | Imtiaz from Power Bomb Attack
Bowser’s Castle | Thomas aka The Off-Centred Earth Mage
Rainbow Road | Alyssa from Nerd Side of Life

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Mushroom Cup

Yoshi Falls

Tracking Shells 13

Mario Kart DS
Matt | Normal Happenings

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Dear 16-year-old Matt,

We need to talk.

I’m fortunate I get to speak to you like this — most are not so lucky to be able to deliver a letter to their past self. Knowing you well, I honestly think the only person you’re going to be able to hear this from is yourself. So here I am for you; a man, a decade removed from you. And I need to tell you something.

You’re the most uptight 16-year-old in all of human history.
I’m not even sure that’s an exaggeration.

When you walked out of that classroom on your final day of eighth grade and your English teacher of all people told you that you were too uptight — a word apparently not in your vocabulary, I recall — something should have registered.


So Matt, I’ve decided I’m writing you a letter today for one reason only: you need to understand the concept of fun. I bet that word is also not in your vocabulary, but you would do well to learn it right now, rather than intermittently down the road. You see, the ability to have actual fun would have saved you a lot of pain over the next few years. As it stands, without a remote grasp of enjoyment or amusement, you’re setting yourself up for some very lonely years ahead. You’ll be attempting to rebuild your childhood rather than living in the moment — the ultimate irony because the only thing you ever wanted to be was older.

And, you know, I get it. You weren’t given the tools you needed, so I’ll be the one to help in whatever way I can. Because, you see Matt, I really like who I am now. I enjoy the Matthew of 2019. The words I compose, my vendetta against cynicism, my drive to find optimism even in the least ideal scenarios, my capability of making friends, the quirky social interactions people seem to enjoy — you have that somewhere deep inside of you!

Matt, I love you, but right now you are so hard to help. I struggle finding even a frame of reference. To teach you to see the genuine fun in life, to not squander your early years while those around you enjoy those crazy times without regret, I’ve had to really dig deep to see what you’ll understand. I need some way to knock you off-course and into a parallel reality where you’re not the person who haunts the edges of my mind as I’m falling asleep. And, I think I’ve finally figured it out… there is one fun thing you seem to enjoy. Mario Kart.

Stop right there! Don’t reach for that Nintendo DS your best friend accidentally broke and then replaced with his own money quite yet! I know you want to, but you can’t take this as an excuse to hole yourself up and play video games all day. That’s only going to hurt you in the long run, as instead of making memories of staying up all night talking with friends over the campfire, you’ll only have memories of staying up all night learning the lore of some obscure video game. Matt, that’s only practical in limited quantities, and you can have that if tempered with a genuine concern for the relationships of others. It shouldn’t take a graduate education in communications to get it through your thick INTJ skull to be kind and considerate to others. Don’t be a know-it-all — just have fun with them and let your natural leadership abilities speak subtly through you.

Fun. What is it? How can I properly describe a concept so alien to you? I guess the best way to describe it is like when you’re pulling those g-forces going around and around Yoshi Falls — a course that even now makes you yearn for simpler times. The sun-bathed beachside villa is so short. It only lasts two minutes at most, but while you’re racing you feel like it could last forever. Without realizing it you’re laughing and enjoying yourself, trying everything you know to get across that finish line despite everything thrown your way.

So, here’s what I want you to do, Matt: go find that friend of yours that you’re losing touch with. Give him a run for his money at Yoshi Falls. Save that friendship before you regret all the time you could squander. Then do something else for me. I’ve put together 19 of my favorite friends — I guess you say your friends from the future — to reminisce on our Mario Kart fun. You are welcome to join us, and maybe, just maybe, you’ll learn the meaning of fun along the way.

Oh, and, you’re going to meet this beautiful, amazing girl sometime in the next few months. Take my advice. Don’t play Mario Kart with her…

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Toad’s Turnpike


Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
Nikki | Normal Happenings

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Tracking Shells 15

Mario Kart. Where do I begin?

We all do things that we hate to make our loved ones happy. Seeing a film that you have no interest in, or shopping for long hours with your significant other both qualify as things that we all do to appease certain people that mean the world to us. But what if I told you there was something worse than standing in line with your wife to buy that shirt that she doesn’t really need? Or worse than that boring movie about aliens that your husband loves?

Since I met my husband about 12 years ago, I have noticed that we love doing things together. We never really get tired of doing things, and this includes the two activities I mentioned above. Then one day Matt broke out a game that involved racing with characters that are very popular in pop culture today. I recognized Peach, Mario, and Yoshi all in their little race cars, and I thought to myself that this would be a cute game. I was so wrong about this assumption.

This violent game full of cheap tricks makes me erupt with a rage that I cannot control. I watch my smug husband as he races past me in every match that we play. I start to fuel my races with rage-filled attempts at victory, but each game ends with me tossing the controller across the room and calling it a night. Fun fact: we only really do TV-related activities at night.

Whenever he asks me to play it starts out innocently enough. And, often the races will begin with me obtaining a sustainable lead. Then the blue shells start flying, and the red shells come roaring in, and I’m at my wit’s end dodging bananas and explosives from all sides. I can just envision me racing as Peach and almost making it to the finish line, and then I hear the pesky laugh of Toad behind me and he passes me while yelling out his incomprehensible noises. Then I get caught in a fight between Donkey Kong and Yoshi and suddenly I find myself in last place covered in ink. 


Each time it ends with Matt being gleeful and me being mad. I’ve had it up to here with Mario Kart, and I hope his stupid Yoshi falls off a cliff on Toad’s Turnpike. It probably doesn’t matter anyway — he’d just come back and win at the last possible second.

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Waluigi Stadium

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Mario Kart Double Dash!!
Alex | The Purple Prose Mage

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Tracking Shells 2

Hmm. Well… I suppose it started when I began playing Mario Kart: Super Circuit on my Game Boy Advance. I still haven’t played any of the main Super Mario Bros. games, but the Mario Kart spin-off series has always been my way into that franchise. I like racing games, if my weekly column on the Well-Red Mage, Racing Game of the Week, is any indication. But it’s not like it matters – who isn’t at least familiar with the Mario universe, anyway? The Mario Kart concept clearly worked, because it’s the single reason that I can even say I’ve ever played a Mario game. The lesson here: if any developers out there are wondering why I still haven’t played their series yet, it’s because it doesn’t have a karting-based tie-in.


So there I was, playing Mario Kart: Super Circuit on my Game Boy Advance. I was staying in Pickering, in a static caravan. It was not a coincidence that the rally was in town. Now… England is rainy. England is very rainy. England is very, very rainy. So a lot of time was spent in that caravan. I can still remember it quite well, even the site. The gravel and the grass, the beige seats and the way they smelled, my small bedroom. When you spend an extended period of time in that environment with your immediate family, it’s a great bonding experience. That may have been because this was before smart devices and Wi-Fi were commonplace, but I like to think not. You learn how to entertain yourselves with just each other, and I appreciate having grown up being encouraged to do that. That’s probably one of the reasons I ended up pursuing writing as a primary interest. I used to get a lot of writing done when living away from home. Finding pen and paper was always a priority for me, so I could write down what we did. I just didn’t want the memories to fade, though of course they inevitably have. Yet, I’m still surprised how much I can recall now in spite of that.

One of the ways of passing the time was playing Mario Kart: Super Circuit on multiplayer mode, using the Game Boy Advance link cable. I still have it in my room as I write this and just got it out to look at it. It was covered in dust and hair (eww) so I put it back. I don’t expect to ever need it again, anyway. But if you were in a caravan on a rainy day with your gamer sibling, and you both had Game Boy Advances, linking-them up was pretty much the most interesting thing you could do. And if one of those games was Mario Kart: Super Circuit, why wouldn’t you? That link cable came to represent our entire relationship. When you spend so much time looking at a handheld games console screen and interacting with it, eventually your entire world comes to be represented in it. Everything else fades away from your conscious awareness, and the abyss you’ve spent so long staring into eventually becomes you. So after enough time, a handheld games console will absolutely become an extension of yourself, if not something which you personally serve. All of a sudden, you, the player, are the plaything, your places switched, a physical body which the unit uses to understand itself. So when you’re released from that, a caravan seems quite a large place by comparison.

For those of us who grew up in such a way, gaming has encompassed us. We’ve spent so much time looking at them up close, letting them into us, that gaming never really leaves us. It’s an entire plane of the imagination, whirling around our heads, following us like a balloon or cartoon thought bubble tethered to us, forever, for better and for worse. Something we carry with us. It’s called being an introvert, but it makes our lives so much more interesting than anybody else’s. That’s the special thing about being a gamer. The problem is, not a lot of people can understand it. As a result, there’s an entire generation of introverts who’ve grown up with the link cable as their way into other people. It’s a great metaphor of how gaming can bring people together by physically doing it, literally creating a connection between one paracosm and another. Whole worlds held in the palm of our hands, suddenly being shared. It’s not really much, but for some, it’s sharing your whole self in a very intimate way. I think that it happens because, not only do you discover that you have something in common, but you see each other acting in the same way, so you’re reflected in them. When you’re in the same place doing the same thing, the walls between you come down. Some of us need a video game to do that. We wouldn’t be doing this event otherwise.

I always remember that time in my life fondly. As a writer, I’ve always been a fan of life’s inherent contradictions; how a handheld game can feel like the whole world, and how playing one with someone else can appear to be a purely asocial action by not involving words, yet is in fact the complete opposite of that. It is a very interpersonal experience, in which both participants transcend themselves to a shared third space that only they can access. It is unique to them. And in it, as their characters interact on two screens together, their spirits dance with each other in the air, playing, like free flames. It’s an out-of-body experience that requires no words at all. A form of communication between two people who have the kind of relationship that means some things don’t need to be said aloud.

This is something that I was reminded of this last Christmas. The previous year, I didn’t really have much time to enjoy Christmas because of how much coursework I had, though it was worth it in the end because my dissertation received the highest overall grade of the course. Having graduated in November, I decided to finally take a long-deserved and well-earned break. I indulged myself to the max, playing video games, watching movies, eating chocolate and pretty much having some extreme me time, to the protest of no one, who could all see where I was coming from.

So. We get to Christmas time. My sibling, who had since moved out, comes home for the holidays. I’d also rediscovered my old Game Boy Advance, from all those years ago, in its case. You remember those, right? They had those zippers on the front? Anyway, in its zipper were all my old Game Boy Advance cartridges, including Mario Kart: Super Circuit. I’d been playing it in the days leading up to this, as research and a reminder for a review I’m doing. When I can get round to it, that is. Er, anyway, so I’d been getting a bit sentimental. Remembering the good old days, which apparently I do a lot.

Remember The Games That Define Us? In my piece for that, I wrote about why Warcraft III means so much to me, and how I’d written that post shortly before the announcement of a remastered edition. I questioned whether there was any deeper connection between those two events beyond mere significance, and a similar thing happened in this case. Soon after playing Mario Kart: Super Circuit for the first time in years, I found myself playing Mario Kart again to the same effect. But this time, I linked in two different directions. Both events I’ve already recapped in comments on posts at the Well-Red Mage, but they were only brief and focused on the technical aspects of the games.


The first, which I recapped in Blue Williams’ post 15 Years of Mario Kart: Double Dash!!, was when I was informed by homecoming sibling that a guest had brought his GameCube round. Now, I’d never played a GameCube before, but I give anything a go. And that’s how I ended up playing Mario Kart: Double Dash!!. At the same time, I was figuring out the GameCube controller and the the gameplay, the way that passenger and driver can be switched-out, swapping power-ups. I still don’t completely have a perfect grasp of it, but what mattered is, I was having fun. And I was playing with the guest, who I was already acquainted with, but didn’t really know much. But the same thing happened. We were playing multiplayer, and it connected us in the same way as a puppy would. Somehow, Mario Kart games just bring out the best in people because they represent pure joy, like Mario himself – always upbeat in the face of the greatest challenge. Christmas Eve wasn’t exactly a good time for me for certain reasons, but this positive experience is the one that stayed with me from that season. Even if our relationship never develops anymore than that, it’s something we’ll always have. Perhaps I’ll never play Mario Kart: Double Dash!! ever again, but the tracks from it – I remember many of them well – will remain in my mind as a piece of that day, and that is a status which can never be erased.

The second, which I mentioned in the Well-Red Mage’s post Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (2017), occurred toward the New Year. Sibling had gone out shopping and had come home with a Switch. The game that came with it was Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. I have an even worse grasp of the Joycons’ controls because they’re so small, but I enjoyed it in the same way. But the difference is, because of our own personal history, it was very much a metaphor of our lives. We’d played a smaller version of the game growing up with primitive wired technology, and were now playing a modern, evolved version on the game wirelessly.

Entertainment technology, when applied to long-running franchises, becomes a marker for growing up – the cosmetics change and it becomes more sophisticated but the core remains the same. In that moment, as we played together, it was as if no time had passed at all. As if everything in between had just been a mere dream. We’d finally returned to the game, where we were always meant to be. A place that feels more real because it’s where we can truly be ourselves, in the form of big, broadstroke characters and ecstatic, exaggerated worlds. It’s an emotional muscle memory.

As we’d become older, we’d become able to drop the link cable in place of a new, upgraded version. Now, the link cable is made from memories, and, by transcending space, time and physical form, they do the same thing: connect us with each other.

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Rainbow Road

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Mario Kart Wii
Sally | Geeky Hippie

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Tracking Shells 5

It seems a little extreme to say that a video game, Mario Kart, is a huge part of my life. But it really is and more so than any other video game. It was especially important to me in my early teenage years. From the first Mario Kart game I ever played, on my brother’s Nintendo DS, to getting my very own Nintendo Wii and learning Mario Kart Wii off by heart, to now playing it on my 3DS with my partner, it’s always been by my side. A loyal friend.

I love the silliness and the potential for disaster. I love that it involves a lot of luck and not just skill so it’s always varied. I also love that you nearly always have a chance, that rocket is always there to help you out. Mario Kart is just pure joy that can instantly turn to ashes. There’s many a time I yelled in fury as a blue shell detonated on my kart seconds from the finishing line with my brother’s kart sailing past. Nothing gets me swearing like Mario Kart does!


My favourite character is King Boo. I’m not even sure why but now it’s tradition to play him. I think it must be his malicious expression that matches my own wicked delight when someone is hit by one of our banana peels or green shells. And as a heavyweight character you can get the big cars with him so you can boot everyone out the way.

Picking a favourite track is a challenge, I love them all in different ways and the different challenges they pose. If I had to pick I’d go for Koopa Cape (so much fun with the underwater tunnel and the rushing water) and Rainbow Road.

Alongside the many reasons I love Mario Kart Wii, the dominating reason is that I am really good at it. Ok, I’m not brilliant, I’ve played it online a couple of times and that really did knock my ego down several pegs. But I’m good enough at it that my brother and I were fairly matched. You never could predict at the beginning of a race who was going to win, which made it a thrill and a challenge. So it became the game that we played together all the time. It was a game I also played with my best friend, I’d lug my Wii over to her house every time I saw her. I’m good enough that I always beat my family, my friends and I beat my partner more often than not (which says a lot, he’s the best video gamer I know AND he won a Mario Kart tournament).

I expect for many people reading this (the gamers among you anyway) being pretty good at a video game isn’t all that remarkable. But it is for me.

I was born with dyspraxia, a condition that affects physical coordination and mental processing. It’s not serious enough to be truly debilitating and I’m very lucky it doesn’t affect me as much as it could. In fact it is very difficult to distinguish the difference between ‘me’ and the dyspraxia. The most obvious thing is how clumsy and messy I am. It makes me bad at video games (and many things in life) because I have awful hand eye coordination, spatial awareness and perception. All my life I have felt like there was some invisible barrier holding me back, something that kept me just behind everyone else in everything I do.

I am capable of being good at things, like for anyone, a lot of it is down to practice. But I have to practice so much more and work so much harder than most people to just to be at a similar level to them. Even everyday chores can be a challenge. It took me a long time to learn to walk, to tie my shoelaces, to learn how to tell the time and to learn how to ride a bike. All common signs for kids with dyspraxia.

At school, I’d work on an essay for 4 or 5 hours in the evening, I’d get an A but so would the kids that only spent an hour on it. I’m a natural at horse riding but I’ve been doing that for 20 years since I was 7. I’m very slow at doing everything. It’s like my brain runs at a slower speed. Sometimes I struggle to communicate what I’m thinking verbally (one reason why I love writing!). It doesn’t affect intelligence but by the time I’ve caught up, everyone else is onto the next thing.

Mostly I’m at peace with being bad at nearly everything. But sometimes being bad at something you love doing can be soul destroying. I love board games but I nearly always lose which becomes disheartening after a while. I get seriously stuck in nearly every video game I play which is agonisingly frustrating. I can’t do puzzles. Walkthroughs are my best friend. I’ve given up playing most video games now, settling on things like Fantasy Life, Stardew Valley and The Sims which let me play at my own pace and allow you to play the story without the need to become more skilled.

Mario Kart Wii is one of those few things that I did so much that I actually managed to tip the balance and become good at it. I simply enjoyed playing it so much that it never mattered that I was awful at it. Then one day I wasn’t bad anymore.

I raced through Wario’s Gold Mine dodging carts and bats without falling off the wooden tracks. I sped round the crushing cars in Moonview Highway. I laid my banana traps with precision and shot red shells at the vital moment. I mastered the corners in Bowser’s Castle 3. I laughed in the face of walls, tight corners and sheer drops.

It was a thrill to find a video game I was good at, and actually better at than a lot of people. I could be competitive and cocky. When I’m playing, I feel equal to everyone else for a change. It’s a safe place where I don’t feel like a failure.

It’s also living evidence that I can do things if I try hard enough. When I finally finished Rainbow Road without falling off and later won it on Wii it was the best feeling. I had beaten the boss I could never normally beat. I had mastered and even enjoyed the most difficult race. The race my friends begged me not to choose because they couldn’t do it.

So for me Mario Kart Wii isn’t just another video game I enjoy playing. It’s THE game I can play. It’s the game that, even for a moment, makes me feel like I can fly. Well, at least until I hit a banana peel.

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Banana Cup

DK’s Jungle Parkway

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Mario Kart 64
Teri Mae | Sheikah Plate

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I have some seriously fond memories of Mario Kart, but particularly Mario Kart 64. I grew up playing it, grew up challenging my family to hours of Mario Kart races, and spent days in time trials trying to figure out the fastest routes through different levels. But my favorite memories came from college.

I was a freshman, starting my first year of university, and I had just met the boys next door. I was smitten, obviously, with the dark-haired, gorgeous skater boy studying film. And what did my nerdy self think was a good way to woo said stunner? With Mario Kart tournaments, of course. And lucky for me that freshman boy thought my gaming ways weren’t silly or stupid or too geeky or too weird. He thought they were cool. He and his roommate and I would spend hours playing Mario Kart, the roommate and I usually teaming up with each other to make sure that freshman boy wouldn’t win. There was even one particularly close game where we may have, maybe, broken the futon from our apartment. You see, we were all standing up, everyone neck and neck, playing on who knows which map, and when the race was over (pretty sure I won) we all collapsed back down onto the futon. The combined weight of everyone definitely broke one of the bars on the bottom, something we immediately made a pact to never tell my roommates. So what happened between that freshman boy and the girl with the crazy crush on him?  Yeah, we got married. I think I’m pretty lucky a video game helped bring together my better half and me.


Now, let’s get on to the recipe, since that’s the real reason you’re here! I really couldn’t decide which track to do. Yoshi Valley, which was my absolute favorite? Or maybe Rainbow Road, the most frustrating?  Or how about Sherbet land, where I have some magical power that allows me to never hit a penguin? Nah. Instead of choosing one I loved the most I settled on the one I hated most – DK’s Jungle Parkway. Man, I hated it. The coconuts throwing you off course, the super tight turns, and that narrow choke-point bridge. But the older I get the more fun it is – the more of a challenge it is. So in honor of a challenge, here’s DK’s Dark Chocolate Frozen Bananas (which, incidentally, aren’t challenging at all).

bananas on skewers

It’s pretty basic, actually. Just slice the bananas in half and add a skewer through the length of them. Freeze for at least 2 hours. Right before you melt the chocolate add the shredded coconut and coconut sugar to a plate. Then we temper the chocolate.

Over a double broiler (a simmering pot of water with a bowl on top) melt the chocolate. Use a candy thermometer to heat the chocolate to 115F. Take it off the heat and add the remaining chocolate. Stir until it all melts.

Take the bananas out of the freezer and coat each one, one by one, in chocolate, then roll it in the sugar and coconut. Continue with each one and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Store in the freezer and enjoy!

chocolate banana

DK's Dark Chocolate Frozen Bananas

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Frozen bananas coated in dark chocolate and rolled in coconut and coconut sugar


  • 3 Bananas
  • 8 ounces dark chocolate, divided, with 6 oz in one bowl, 2 oz in another
  • 1/4 cup shredded coconut
  • 2 tablespoons coconut sugar


  1. Slice the bananas in two. Place a skewer through the center of each banana.
  2. Freeze the bananas for at least 2 hours.
  3. Temper the chocolate over a double broiler. Heat the chocolate to 115F. Remove from the heat and add the remaining chocolate. Stir until it melts.
  4. Coat one banana piece in the chocolate using a spoon or spatula. Immediately roll in the coconut and coconut sugar.
  5. Continue for each piece of banana.
  6. Wrap in plastic wrap and keep frozen until you serve!

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Moo Moo Meadows

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Mario Kart Wii
Kathy | Krysanthe

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Tracking Shells 14

I’ll be honest, I bought Mario Kart Wii on a whim.

At the time, the family was loving all things Wii. OMG, we loved the Wii. It was the perfect gaming system for families with young children because even the smallest of tykes could manage the controllers to some extent.

So, when I saw there was a game with the lovable Mario characters AND that game had “real” wheels, I bought the game, got some extra wheels, and our Mario Kart adventure began.

Everyone loved Mario Kart Wii. Even my son, who was around 3, loved the colorful tracks and would play happily with us. Sometimes we’d all race. Sometimes we’d watch as someone played solo. We would even connect to the web and play against people across the world. There was so much fun and laughter when we got behind the wheels.

I, of course, always won. BUT that didn’t matter. The kids were glad I was good at the game. They even made it my job to unlock all the characters. A job that I didn’t take lightly. I even spent time when the kids weren’t around to unlock whoever it was they coveted.

They would come back to find they could play as King Boo, Baby Luigi, or their very own Mii… heck eventually they could play as anything they wanted. To them, I was THE Mario Kart Mom.


To this day, our love affair with Mario Kart Wii lasted longer than any other game we’ve played as a family.

Of course in the world of video gaming new consoles come out, new games are released, and interests change. So, after several years we stopped playing Mario Kart Wii.

That is until Mario Kart 8 Deluxe came out for the Switch. You know we HAD to buy it. We sat down to play, and it was just like old times…the fun, the laughter, the giggles. There was one MAJOR change though…my kids were good!

They could beat their old Mario Kart Mom, and it was divine! Now we had true friendly competition.

They were both shocked and thrilled that they could beat me. I didn’t care though, I loved it. As the Mario Kart Mom, I just loved the quality time we could spend together racing around the colorful tracks littered with all the lovable Mario characters.

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Choco Island

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Super Mario Kart
Ruubin | My Life as a Quest

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Tracking Shells 7

Ready Second Player – The Battle of Siblings

My brother is 11 months older than I am but young enough that my mom was convinced we acted like twins. We went everywhere together – from attending the same classes in school to playing video games together.

The Christmas we turned 6 and 7 was the year we received our first gaming system; the Super Nintendo. If ever there was a moment that was to set my destiny and lead me down my future path it was the moment we turned on our Super Nintendo to play.

With the console, we received four games. Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong’s Double Trouble (1996), Super Mario Kart (1992), Super Mario World (1990), and Star Fox (1993). As much as I loved the Super Nintendo, the one thing I hated was that for most SN games, the second player was in many ways just an alternate. For some games (like DKC3), playing meant that I spent the majority of my play time playing follow the leader (player one). And for other games (like Super Mario World) playing meant waiting my turn entirely. The struggle for Player 2 was real.

However, there was one game we had that allowed me to ditch my player status and rise to the top; Super Mario Kart. While my brother could beat me in just about any video game, I was the reigning champion when it came to Super Mario Kart. I knew the exact moment to drift off trail but still avoiding Deep Water, in Koopa Beach, and the best places to place a banana peel on Rainbow Road that would give me an additional 10-15 second lead. But even with all these tricks up my sleeve, they were nothing compared to all my favorite course Coco Island. I was a master at avoiding the chocolate mud but was equally skilled at pushing my opponent into them.


However, that reign was short-lived. Many years later as our consoles evolved, my interest in video games changed from consoles to PC games. My primary play time included building elegant homes in Sims and World of Warcraft. It wasn’t until I met my husband that I started playing console games again which mostly consisted of first-person shooter games like Borderlands or adventure games like Diablo and Skyrim.

It was years since I’d gotten in a kart to race and just when I thought I’d never had the opportunity to compete against my brother, the moment dropped right into my lap. It was my nephew’s fifth birthday, and my family got together at Dave and Buster’s where my brother and I were once again presented with the opportunity to race. As I got in the seat of the Mario Kart Arcade DX, I was immediately filled with adrenaline from the many years of being the reigning champion.

Pushing my competitiveness aside, we began the race. We slipped on banana peels, ran off cliffs, and bumped into walls as if it were the first time we’d ever played the game. Okay, so mostly that was me since his son was helping by pushing all the buttons (my brother’s a good dad!). But regardless, we had the time of our lives and even though I lost – as in I got dead last – it was still a fresh reminder of the joy I had playing video games with my brother.

To this day, my favorite Mario Kart remains to be the Super Nintendo Mario Kart because the memories it brings of falling in love with video games.

❤ Ruubin

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Pac-Man Stadium

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Mario Kart GP DX
Victor | The Modern Gafa

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Tracking Shells 18

Growing up, I was never really a Nintendo kid. I had every version of the Gameboy and the first DS, but they were mostly used for JRPGs. I never really got into the extended Mushroom Kingdom. Except for Mario Tennis on the GBC, but that was way more a JRPG about a boarding school and had very little to do with Mario.

I’ve dabbled in a few Nintendo staples here and there, but none of them really stuck with me. I once actually bought a Mario game because it looked interesting, only to discover that I already had it.

Then, on August 15 2015, I walked into Victory Pointe in Pittsburgh and discovered Mario Kart GP DX. You can’t play this on your TV at home or on a handheld of any kind. This is the arcade version we’re talking about here.


It’s not a great game, it’s not even that good, but it’s the game I have the most fun with at Victory Pointe. While it lacks a lot of what makes the console and handheld versions amazing, the arcade Mario Kart is a spectacle that can’t be beat. The announcer alone is worth it, and nothing beats having your foot on a pedal and your hands on the wheel.

And it’s one of the few games Katrina, my wife, will play with me. Not only on a random day hanging out at the arcade, but also on the most special day of of our lives.

You most people had a First Dance at their wedding. Me? We had a first Mario Kart race. And yes, I won.

As I sit here writing this, Katrina is playing through her first adventure through the bizarrely bizarre Kingdom Hearts. But it was a long road — a Mario Kart track if you will — to get her to this point. When we met, she wouldn’t be caught dead new a video game.

When we got our Nintendo Switch, there was only one game we wanted – Mario Kart. Also The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, but that’s a given. Now we play at home together, but we still love to head on down to Victory Pointe to put our feet on the pedals and our hands on the wheels.

We game together. She games by herself. Mario Kart did that for us. From just another date night to our wedding day, Mario Kart brought us a little closer together.

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Flower Cup

Daisy Cruiser

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Mario Kart Double Dash!!
Matt | 3PStart

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Tracking Shells 10

I talk about a lot of game series that have followed me around for a while in my many years of gaming. As an only child growing up, there are a lot of single-player games that are story-driven and kept me busy through my school years and in recent years that I focus on. It’s weird to me now that I haven’t talked more about some of the multiplayer games that I’ve clung to over time, though. For instance, Mario Kart has been a part of my life since the first days of its life on the Super Nintendo- and it’s not like I’ve slouched on playing more recent iterations!

I have a virtual trophy cabinet of fond memories from the series. I bonded with my cousin over rounds of Super Mario Kart when we got together. Same with my best friends in grade school (and there were some intense Battle Mode throwdowns in those days, let me tell you). Mario Kart 64 was a marvel that kept me glued to my TV for hours on end. Even the more recent games have been great for me to spend some quality time with various younger relatives over. Absolutely nothing will beat my time with Mario Kart: Double Dash, though.

See, when I went to college, I was worried that I wouldn’t fit in. I barely fit in during high school and arriving on my first day in the dorms with a box of game systems in my arms was a statement: whether I fit it or not, I was going to be myself. Gaming was a big part of that identity. I also moved in early due to scheduling with family so I had a few days to stress and agonize over how well this new “college” thing would go. Thankfully, when my roommate finally arrived, the first box he hefted in had a Nintendo sitting on top of it. At the very least, I knew I’d survive.

The next year, my roommate and I moved into a suite with a few of our good friends we had made. The six of us were all gamers, and we regularly had nights that we lost to Super Smash Bros. Melee, Dance Dance Revolution, and one of our favorites, Mario Kart: Double Dash. Like most gaming groups, our four-way battle royales became proving grounds. They were all in good fun, of course, but they were ruthless. You found the tracks you excelled at and strategies that would get you to the front of the pack for all of the bragging rights you could gather.


One of “my” tracks, of course, wound up being the beautiful Daisy Cruiser. Not only have I been a fan of the energetic princess since the days of the Super Mario Land comics, making her my prime choice of racer, but the track itself was fun and unpredictable when my friends and I would play on it. When it came time for each of us to choose our track of personal prowess, there was always someone who would pick Rainbow Road, someone who would choose the “whatever I don’t care” option- and the cruise liner was my go-to for a near-guaranteed first place. During those games, those tracks were your identity in a way.

My fondest memories of college are still back in that dorm suite, learning to bank green shells off of corners to take my friends by surprise and watching as temporary alliances were made to send one of us to the bottom of the rankings. The Mario Kart series has always been an unsung hero for my bonding with gamer friends, despite always being just off in the periphery. Whatever bells and whistles the series ends up with, it will always be the good clean fun that has brought my friends and family together. Whenever I line myself up to race around the decks of the Cruise Liner Daisy just off of the shores of Peach Beach, though, I’ll remember those hours of bonding that got me through some of the most unfamiliar waters I’ve swam through in my young adult life.

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Koopa Troopa Beach

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Mario Kart 64
Andrew | The Ink-Stained Mage

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Tracking Shells 19

Long before I played Mario Kart 64 for the first time, I was a gamer. I loved my NES, I loved my Genesis, life was grand and video games were amazing. But if there was ever a moment that I could look at that said, “This is when I got the bug,” it was with Mario Kart 64. Specifically, with Koopa Troopa Beach.


Koopa Troopa Beach is the third level of the Mushroom Cup from Mario Kart 64. It’s marked by a series of ramps, palm tree obstacles, a very unique shortcut, and a rising tide that slightly alters how the course plays every lap. Now, a lot of Mario Kart levels have similar or even identical features. A lot of them are prettier, more unique, and more well known in the Mario Kart canon. But this particular track was one that my best friend and I raced over and over again. It was where I learned to read a track, and to critically assess ideal routes. It was where I learned precision. It was where I was beaten like a Nascar racer in a Radio Flyer for the better part of a year and birthed my love of studying and learning from games.

God it sucked for awhile before it got better.

See the thing about Koopa Troopa Beach isn’t that it’s particularly difficult. In fact it’s probably one of the easiest tracks in the game. There’s comparatively few hazards, the water leaves ample room even when the tide is at its highest, and other than a bunch of ramps and one grove of palm trees not much on the course even presents a static obstacle for you to smack yourself against.

But your opponents, that can make all the difference. My best friend raced circles around me. Repeatedly. To great excess. And so I learned to race like him. I learned the basics of racing. I studied how to get better. I learned the curves and the fastest paths and how to hold an item as a shield. And I learned about the shortcut. There’s a certain ramp that leads to a tunnel carved through the rocky hills that cuts off a significant portion of the course. The ramp is the thinnest on the track. And in my head it was always the key to victory.

Oh…oh sweet summer me.

In the end, it turned out that hitting that shortcut was pretty low percentage, especially since I wasn’t the best driver as a kid. You miss and you end up against a wall and waaaaaay off the optimal path. I learned in the end that the faster and more likely path toward victory, heck toward being more competitive with my best friend at all, was to take the smartest route. Even if I only won once in a very great while, each race was more thrilling, more dramatic, closer. We both had more fun.

And I started studying other games. In RPGs I put in research on different types of character builds. In Smash Bros. I practiced with Fox until I learned how to take on three level nines. To this day learning about the different strategies and ways to play a game, the trial and error, the failures you see until little by little you succeed, those are just as fun to me as playing the game. Those early sessions playing MarioKart 64 made me the gamer I am today. And it was Koopa Troopa Beach that put me on that path.

Because here’s the other thing I learned on that track. Sometimes, just for the fun of it, you can nail that shortcut. And it’s just as thrilling to hit it, as it is to fail and work your way back to the front.

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Wario Stadium

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Mario Kart 64
Justin | TWOTALL4UFOOL’s Gaming and More

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Blogging live to you and yours! It’s your boy TWOTALL4UFOOL! The Mario Kart series has been a part of my video game life since the original one that came out in 1992. I’ve had fun with that one so much that I’ve gone on to play every single Mario Kart game that came out since then. It was even one of the deciding factors that made me go ahead and purchase a Game Boy Advance just so I could play Mario Kart: Super Circuit. There have been great Mario Kart games over the years including the most recent Mario Kart 8 Deluxe which is the latest one in the great series. But the most memorable fun times I had playing any Mario Kart game has to be Mario Kart 64 for the Nintendo 64. I feel weird saying this because the N64 isn’t even one of my favorite consoles (worst controller ever by the way).

Now I don’t think that Mario Kart 64 is the best one in series at all. I think just about every other Mario Kart game that has come out after this one has been better in some form or another. But this game I feel was such an upgrade over the SNES game that it really just blew that game out of the water. If I would ever go back to play my SNES I would never play Super Mario Kart. But I feel that each and every track is well designed and it was a step into the future of what this series has become today. The fact that you could play four at a time was huge too. I think many people forget that Nintendo was one of the first to make the jump from two to four players. That would make things even crazier. As I played this game it I built so many memories among friends and family members.

My younger brother and I would go at it for hours. We would do grand prix and battle mode for the most part. The we would go at it doing battle mode. Match race we hardly ever did unless we had some of our friends over but we also did do time trials as well. This is the game I had the most fun doing time trials on. Trying to beat them ghosts was something else. When we would play the game with four us it would usually be at my uncle’s place. He also got an N64 for himself and my cousins and it would be nothing but hours of fun mischief. Those match races were something else. We would also do time trial competitions. Banshee Boardwalk was one of my favorite places to do time trials. See what time you can get at that place using Wario.

Some of my favorite courses in that game was DK’s Jungle Parkway, Bowser’s Castle, Royal Raceway, Kalimari Desert, Toad’s Turnpike, and Wario Stadium. Royal Raceway I feel was a very well designed course that was an adventure. Plus the Mushroom Castle makes an appearance if you know how to find it. You can never go wrong with Bower’s Castle. That course if full of surprises. DK’s Jungle Parkway is fun course with that boat. If you go off the track rocks are thrown at you and you can’t save your ghost doing time trials. Kalimari Desert be careful not to run into the train. And if you ever did Toad’s Turnpike in mirror mode on grand prix. LOL! So much fun yet so hard. But my favorite course in the game has to be Wario Stadium. I like how huge it is and the fact that it is go karts riding on terrain that dirt bikes should riding on is a bit of a different experience. And if you put your weapons at the right place you could end up dropping back to a place in the course you were already at. I know they’ve had many courses similar over the years but for Mario Kart 9 they need to bring that course back. I don’t think it’s appeared in any of the retro courses in recent games.

When I play any Mario Kart game I tend to always go with the heavyweights. The lightweights I didn’t really mind too much but I like more of challenge. So my main go to racers were mainly Donkey Kong and Wario. I would drive as Bowser every now and then and once in a while I would go between Mario and Luigi. Peach, Toad, and Yoshi I would usually stay away from. But regardless of what character you want to race as in my opinion Mario Kart in general is an easy game to learn whether you are an experienced gamer or a beginner. I feel the key to winning is 50/50. 50% skill and 50% luck. Now when it comes to the case of Mario Kart 64 I really want Nintendo to hurry up and put out this N64 mini. I playing and racing online is cool but it doesn’t match up to the mischief and fun you can have if you are playing locally. I feel that is true with any game however.

Looking back I feel the Mario Kart games of today wouldn’t be great without the success of Mario Kart 64. Definitely not the best but I feel it has had the most impact on the series. If any of you guys out there hasn’t played Mario Kart 64 I definitely recommend you guys do so however you can. And think of your boy 2TALL when you are playing. Blogging live to you and yours. It’s your boy TWOTALL4UFOOL! Remember that TOGETHER EVERYONE ACHIEVES MORE! Thanks for reading and thanks again Matt and Normal Happenings for including me in this fabulous collab!

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Maple Treeway

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Mario Kart Wii
KT | Wintendo 64

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Tracking Shells 20

Growing up in a strict Nintendo platform only household, I found myself playing Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros. constantly. I have 4 siblings and we all had a competitive and passionate side to gaming, those games could cause literal wars between us. They’ve more or less grown out of their gamer sides now. But when everyone was home for Christmas break we reunited around Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Smash Bros Ultimate for some good old fashioned Nintendo style smack downs.


Sure, growing up our races through Rainbow Road would get ugly and personal. We’d spend nights staying up to unlock every map and character and beating every time trial. There were insults hurled as we tossed every item attempting to pop each other’s balloons. And there were times we didn’t even care about the race and spent hours just exploring maps and all the different places we could get to. All these moments really did bring us closer.

But my favorite Mario Kart memory didn’t happen in front of a TV; it happened a couple years ago on a family vacation. We had a tradition of going go karting on our vacations, it was my younger brother’s highlight of the trip. But this year, about a year after I started cosplaying, I somehow managed to get all my siblings to dress up as Mario characters.

While browsing thrift stores after Halloween, we were able to pick up several of the costumes for cheap. There were a few pieces we had to make but thankfully nothing too difficult. Some pieces we had to actually make the night before because after months of planning and preparation, my older brother managed to forget his Mario costume. I’ll never let him off the hook for that even though we all laugh about it now.

Cosplaying while go karting was such an amazing and surreal experience. Some of us got way to into it and almost got removed because we were “too aggressive” with our driving, but it was so much fun and totally worth it. It’s not like we were actually throwing turtle shells and banana peels, right?

Looking back, I love this moment not only because of the fun we had. But because my siblings supported my crazy hobby enough to actually participate. They didn’t complain or tell me it was stupid, they went along with it and got enthusiastic about it. At the time I was 14 or 15 and so self conscious about cosplaying in public, but with other people, it was a lot less scary. I got my brothers to wear fake mustaches and everything, and my sisters dressed up as Peach and Diddy Kong, it was beyond amazing and I don’t think back then I appreciated it enough. But as the years go by and I revisit that moment, I realize the amazing support group I’ve had growing up.

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Star Cup

Sunshine Airport

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Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
Winst0lf | The Bizarro Mage

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Ah, Mario, what hasn’t he done?

He’s been a plumber (supposedly), a doctor, a tennis ace, a golfer, he rescues princesses on a regular basis from a giant tortoise monster, he’s teamed up with a sentient hat that allows him to possess things and he even takes part in the occasional really weird party or fighting tournament, he’s even taken part in the Olympics with his old nemesis Sonic!

Imagine seeing this in the ‘90s…

But of all the intense side hobbies Mario has had, one sticks out head and shoulders above the competition, like one of those big Goomba stacks. I speak, of course, of the almighty Mario Kart series, which has been going since the days of the SNES and has seen entries on almost every Nintendo console since.

Now I must confess that I never been that much of a Nintendo fan, I had a SNES and Game Boy as a kid but they never got much attention due to the fact that the Mega Drive had more games and was easier to buy games for locally. I was too enamoured with the PlayStation and PS2 to bother with the N64 and GameCube and I was never really a fan of the Wii and Wii U.

So it was that I skipped most entries in the Mario Kart series, the SNES debut being the one I played the most until very recently (Koopa Troopa for President). For, after hearing all about just how great the Switch was from all of my fellow contributors over at The Well Red Mage, I simply had to get my hands on one. Which game came bundled with it?


Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.

So I got my Switch home, set it up, popped the little cartridge into the console and off I went. As I got to the main menu, my fiancee had a sudden thought: can’t we play Mario Kart multiplayer?

“But my dear,” I said, “we need two pads for…” and then it hit me, joycons!

And so we sat before the TV, teeny tiny controllers balanced like baby birds in our hands, and off we went.

Now it’s important to mention, at this point, that my partner isn’t really much of a gamer. She is generally happy plugging away at mobile games or playing on The Sims, we don’t really do multiplayer gaming. Mario Kart 8 was the first title we had ever really played together, aside from a few games of Worms on the Dreamcast. We quickly smashed out a few Grands Prix, discovering our favourite characters (I like my Mii, my partner likes Toadette), karts (give me the classic car looking one any day) and circuits (that Sunshine Airport, oh my!)

I hope they got clearance to enter that airspace…

At first I was a little put off by the fact that every racer is unlocked from the get go. I’ve always got a real rush from unlocking things in games like this, especially characters (I used to love games like Tekken for just this reason.) Yet over time I have come to appreciate this full, wholesome roster for what it truly is! You want to be Waluigi? Go for it! What about King Boo or Dry Bowser? Yeah there they are! You can even be Mario!


Now whilst I’ve not really played a massive amount of Mario Kart over the years, I have played enough to be at least half decent in most races (I’m certainly a beast in the lower difficulty 50cc mode). My partner, however, was struggling initially to even stay on track. Yet once again Nintendo had us covered, for MK8 Deluxe features a steering and speed assist mode for less experienced players. Noticeable by a flashing yellow aerial on the back of the player’s kart, this feature helped to keep my living room based nemesis up at the sharp end of the grid, allowing her to directly challenge me (and destroy me with red shells) on many occasions, even winning a good few along the way.

Lock ‘n’ Load!

I guess that what I am truly getting at here, past all of this superfluous window dressing and hyperbole, is that playing Mario Kart 8 Deluxe has created a new field of friendly battle on which my fiancee and I can duke it out, wheel to wheel, shell to shell, and it doesn’t spill out into real life! If we intend to go to war then it’s on with the Switch, out with the joycons and off we go!

Loser does the dishes!

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Baby Park

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Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
Luna | GamersUnitedGG

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Growing up my brother and I would have friends over often to play video games and compete to see who was the best. Mario Kart entered into our rotation of games when Mario Kart 64 was released for the Nintendo 64. The best part was that we had 4 controllers to plug in and play at once. We would take turns with the Grand Prix where 4 players would race. If we had more than 4 players, the winner would stay on the controller and the losers would pass the controllers. Let’s take a journey down some of my favorite Mario Kart memories.

Mario Kart Battles

One of my fondest memories is playing battle mode on Mario Kart 64 with my brother. I would always select Yoshi and Kenny would choose Toad. During the battle mode one day, we had a roast session on each other’s characters from me calling Toad a fungus to my brother telling me Yoshi’s going to get abducted by Bowser. Each battle was more intense and funnier than the next and that memory still stands vividly in my mind today.

Wario Stadium Mayhem!

One of my favorite stages of all time is Wario Stadium. This huge dirt bike track caused some of the funniest moments and fondest memories when playing with friends and family. There’s a specific hump on the track that when hit at the right angle, would allow a player to hop their kart over the wall and gain advantage in the race (you know which one I’m talking about lol). I know what you’re thinking, what a cheater…. But I like to refer to this move as a way to use my resources lol.

Wario Stadium was always a madhouse and the map served as more of a battleground than a race to the finish line. Strategic planning of the red shells and lightning bolts would not only take out your opponent, but cause them to curse your name the rest of the race. What do I mean by this, you say? There’s one iconic jump that’s propels your kart over a bottom portion of the map. If you don’t clear the jump, you can easily fall to the bottom of the track and have to traverse that ENTIRE section AGAIN! It’s great! If you’re in last place, I don’t know a better way to get yourself back into the race. Use that lightning bolt when most of the competitors are about to take the jump and secure yourself some extra time to catch up. Just like the character who’s name the track adorns, Wario Stadium allows players to use underhanded tricks to stay in the race!

Baby Park Madness!


One of my more recent memories takes place on Mario Kart 8 Deluxe for the Nintendo Switch. At Christmas, my boyfriend bought me a Switch and I was ready to jump into gaming with my friends and co-workers. One of the first games purchased was Mario Kart 8 Deluxe because… I mean it’s Mario Kart! At this time I hadn’t played a Mario Kart game in a few years and getting used to the backwards controls of the Switch proved a challenge at first race.

** Sidenote: Does anyone else wonder why King Boo, a ghost, is considered a heavy character and has the same disadvantages of a character like Bowser or Donkey Kong? I’m pretty sure if you weigh King Boo and Bowser, they are going to be hundreds of pounds apart. Anyway… I digress lol. **

Going into a match with my friends was sure to be a great time, until unbeknownst to me and my bestie Stephanie, the 4 guys in the group had other plans. If you’re not familiar with Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, when you create a private room to play with your friends, everyone in the room votes for a map and the system randomly selects it. ALL OF THE GUYS VOTED FOR BABY PARK!!!!! For 2 hours straight Steph and I were subjected to the same map because somehow, our choices were never picked. The complaints were real as we continued playing this map with hopes and prayers that one of ours would be chosen. Then, the unthinkable happened…. Steph betrayed me simply stating “Well if you can’t beat them….” and all of her selections were now turned to Baby Park. I was the lone ranger with a different map to play, but solace would not come. That entire night I played Baby Park until it was ingrained in my soul lol.

New Memories

As a part of my research for this piece, my friends and I played Mario Kart recently together in the same room and it was super fun. The joy of Mario Kart is how the personalities of your friends change based on the events happening in the game. For example, we were playing Donkey Kong Jungle and on the final lap top 3 were my friend Cassie, the Computer Iggy and myself dashing towards the last half of the map. Iggy hit Cass with a red shell right at the finish line and I was able to boost over to take 1st leaving her in 2nd. SHE BLAMED ME!!! The rest of the night Cass was cutting side looks at me as if I messed up her 1st place. Watching my friend Emily turn her controller in the same direction that her character is turning was priceless and debating the King Boo as a heavy character proved to be a fun night. No matter how stressful the day, coming together with friends to unwind and have. You can’t ask for a better night!

Mario Kart games will always hold a special place in my heart. Some of my favorite maps are Wario Stadium, Bowser’s Castle, Koopa Troopa Beach and Moo Moo Farms! As a gamer we continue to build and associate games with lighter times in life and Mario Kart has been there from the beginning and hopefully will stay until the end. Just another testament to the power behind video games and the video game community. What are your favorite memories? Who are your favorite Mario Kart characters? Which stages do you love? What’s your favorite Mario Kart game? Let’s talk Mario Kart!

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Koopa Cape

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Mario Kart Wii
Shauna | HideNGoShauna

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Tracking Shells 17

Mario Kart, in any and all of its forms, is an excellent game for building (or breaking) strong friendships. The fervor and intensity with which it is played inspires insane smack talk on levels that surpass even Mario Party mini games. Playing Mario Kart is a surefire way to see the truth inside a person- whether it’s a first date, a new acquaintance, a reluctant family member, or a lifelong friend- all sense of propriety and restraint fly sky high and disintegrate when you’re targeted by a blue shell or suddenly flattened by a star-powered Donkey Kong.

As I’ve mentioned in our past collaboration, I grew up as a total Sega kid. I did, however, have friends with Nintendo consoles, and as such I had opportunity to play some of the earlier Mario Kart games. My cousin even gave me his old N64 with some classic titles, including MK64. Still, it wasn’t until the Wii came out that I played a Mario Kart game with any real regularity or competition.

I would hang out in my friends’ basements, stuffing chips and mini eggs into my mouth absentmindedly between bouts- as the lights flashed the beginning of the race I’d grip the Wiimote with desperate resolve and take off, eager to leave my friends in the dust.

It didn’t happen though. I’m going to be totally honest here- I enjoy racing games, and sometimes I even have a good winning streak, but for the most part I’d be zipping around behind my friends, nipping at their heels. The confidence I’d won beating my sister at Sonic R so many times (sorry Chy) was dashed time and time again in Mario’s courses, where even when I got a good start my best friends gained on me and mercilessly took me out again and again. Sometimes they didn’t even have to bother- I’d fly off the edge of any unrailed corner and do the work for them (I’m looking at you, Rainbow Road…).

There was one course, though, in which I stood a fighting chance.


Koopa Cape is an unassuming course- it isn’t overly flashy or particularly memorable compared to some of the other courses. It’s simple and short, with a few ramps, a current of rushing water, and an underground water tunnel.

The thing that really worked for me, though, was the multitude of sharp corners and turns. My style of play relied heavily on drifting around corners- sometimes it didn’t work to my favour, but in this course the number of swift drifting spots gave me an edge.

Once I realized my affinity for Koopa Cape, it became my course of choice- not in aesthetics, but purely for its layout. I even developed a little chant, “KOOPA CAPE, KOOPA CAPE, KOOPA KOOPA KOOPA CAPE!”

In the end though, who cares if you’re winning or losing? Mario Kart is all about the memories, the nostalgia, the release of letting out your tension in a fierce competition where anything goes. Here’s to many more Mario Kart memories yet to come!

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Rainbow Road

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Mario Kart 64
Amanda May | Imaginating Life

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Tracking Shells 11

We all have that one friend who we can be completely goofy with, without judgment. And after knowing this one friend for years, there are still certain moments that are forever memorialized in our brains, to be recalled with warmth and wistful nostalgia. The following is one such memory. This is a tale of two oddball besties… and an evening of tipsy Mario Kart rivalry.

Although my accomplice… I mean friend now lives a few states away, we used to have quite a lot of fun when hanging out. Most Friday nights, instead of going out to bars or other questionable locations, we’d instead take turns hosting pajama parties at each other’s houses. “Girls’ Night In” as we called it. Dinner, wine, and an array of movies, games and random topics of discussion to pass the time into the wee hours of Saturday morning.

One such night, after binge-watching about 10 or 12 episodes of 30-second Bunny Theatre, we decided to move over to gaming. It was my turn to host our self-titled “Girls’ Night In,” and my available console was a limited edition black Wii. (Complete with matching retro controllers and nunchucks, I might add!) What followed was total hilarity…

We had decided to play Mario Kart 64, one of the Virtual Console games I’d purchased (among others, including Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Mario Bros.). Both of us, having younger siblings who we had totally annihilated in other racing games “way back when,” were completely confident in our wine-influenced gaming skills.

Though we were tipsy enough to have fun, we never got drunk enough to forget the fun we were having. A point we both, as responsible adults, made sure to follow. Drink – and game – responsibly, my friends!

As our friendly competition continued, so did our wine consumption… and our increasing lack of fine motor skills. Eventually, instead of trying to race each other properly, following the track as laid out, we started trying to see what shenanigans we could get into. This included deliberately running the track backwards while laughing at the “No-no Cloud Guy” (totally official name) telling us to turn around, purposefully driving out into water or off cliffs, and collecting as many projectiles as possible to shoot at each other just to see what they all did.

Then came the infamous Rainbow Road track. By this time we were so deliriously giddy, moreso with said shenanigans than the wine, that we spent probably the next 30-45 minutes on just this track alone. The pretty colors were just so engaging, just like those psychedelic lava lamps you just can’t look away from. Banana peel after banana peel, I was repeatedly spinning out of control and falling off the road into the black abyss, sometimes intentionally. I didn’t care though, I was having fun!

Me being me, my crazy weirdo brain decided that was the time to break out into song. Which song, you ask? Why, only the bestest 80s synth pop song about spinning that anyone actually (maybe, possibly) knows – “You Spin Me Round” by Dead or Alive (side note: this song had been a sort of inside joke we shared, but I’ll keep that memory for now). My mouth followed my brain’s lead and started blurting out the lyrics (barely intelligible through all the giggles and guffaws).

My friend, having the same crazy weirdo brain mechanics as myself, promptly and excitedly paused our game, switched over to the YouTube Wii channel, and began searching up the video. In case you weren’t already aware, yes, there is an equally cringe-worthy, if not oddly-hilarious video for this song. This video is so classically 80s cheeserrificness you just can’t help but watch the whole thing! Go ahead, look it up. You’re welcome.

I think we must have watched the video at least 3 or 4 times back-to-back just laughing our hearts out. We never made it back to the game, as watching -and drunkenly singing along to – that song brought up many fun memories. Memories we talked about into the wee hours of Saturday morning. Just two oddball besties having a laugh and sharing good times together. As it should be.

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Shell Cup

Grumble Volcano

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Mario Kart Wii
Skylar Mei | gamergal.exe

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I’ve always viewed Mario Kart as a game that’s got a way of bringing people together whether it be family, friends, children, adults or a mixture of them all. Of course you can also play by yourself with bots or online (with the newer games), but there’s something particularly special when multiple people gather in the same room and get stuck into a full on tournament! That being said, it can also be viewed as a friendship tester. I’m sure we’ve all been there at least once.

Although I first started out on the DS version of Mario Kart, my fondest memories are of the Wii version. My parents bought a Wii as a family Christmas gift one year which was a complete surprise! It was also slightly odd as my parents weren’t fans of gaming, yet they’d decided to buy us the most popular console of the year without us even asking!

Unfortunately, I never really got into the Wii and it became more like my younger brother’s console. I was into the PS2 at the time, but he enjoyed all the party and sports games the Wii had to offer. It wasn’t until we got Mario Kart that I really started to take an interest. There came a time when my parents also started to play with us. My dad had played a few games with us in the past, but I had never even seen my mum with a controller in her hand. She was terrible at first, but it was so wonderful that she wanted to try so hard to be involved, thoroughly enjoying herself along the way.

I remember playing through all the racing difficulties, the mirror levels and unlocking all the bonus characters. I guess you could say I got pretty decent at playing, however, I didn’t play it half as much as my brother did. He practised religiously and began to experiment by finding faster ways to complete laps and ended up finding a variety of shortcuts and tricks for each course. He soon became impossible to beat which kind of sucked the fun out of it, but I began to sneakily pick up all the secrets he had found to use for my own advantage… depending on my opponents.

One of the most memorable moments I have is of one of these ‘cheat’ shortcuts. There were quite a few maps where some major route changes / skips could be achieved, but these were nothing compared to a particular trick on a specific map. Have you ever beaten a race in less than 50 seconds? Welcome to Grumble Volcano!


One night, shortly after I’d signed up this project, I mentioned I’d be writing about Mario Kart over a family meal so I asked my parents and my brother if they could recall anything in particular. My dad instantly replied with “That stupid track that had the small rock right next to the starting line”. I remembered the exact moment he was referring to…

The countdown started for the race to begin. My dad made the perfect boost start and set off into the lead, however, my brother was at a standstill. My dad started to laugh thinking he’d messed up his start somehow, so proceeded to drive with a smile on his face. This could be his first chance to beat the Mario Kart Master of the household. Taking a glance at my brother’s half of the screen, my dad was completely baffled to see him driving in the opposite direction before plummeting straight into the lava. My brother was a bit of a sore loser when he was younger, so my dad thought he was angry for messing up his start and decided to throw the game.

How wrong he was. I’d seen this trick before so I knew exactly what was up his sleeve, but my dad hadn’t the faintest idea, therefore he continued to mock him. Shortly after, my dad then noticed the placement marker flick from 1st to 2nd place. Completely confused, as he was miles ahead, he began to pay more attention to what my brother was actually doing.


My brother had managed to boost himself onto the small rock to the left side of the starting line and was now driving anti-clockwise around the very tight edge. After a couple more rotations around the rock, the race was over. My dad hadn’t even finished a lap. Unfortunately, the trick doesn’t work on the Nintendo Switch version of the game, but you can still see the rock to the left of the starting line (with the enlarged item block) as shown in the screenshot above.

I will never forget the look of bewilderment on my dad’s face. I don’t think he ever allowed my brother to chose Grumble Volcano again from that moment onwards (for obvious reasons). Despite this being unfair, it’s a strong memory I have of gaming with my close family. Considering it wasn’t just me that remembered this specific race speaks volumes as we hardly ever played video games as a family. Mario Kart somehow filled a space that I don’t think could have been filled by any other game.

Although there have certainly been arguments caused during my time playing Mario Kart, I’m sure I’m not the only one who has experienced plenty of pleasant memories across a variety of consoles with a vast range of differing audiences. I only recently bought Mario Kart 8 Deluxe on Switch, but this addition makes Mario Kart the first series of games I own across 3 different consoles! I’m sure there will be many more tournaments and memorable moments to follow.

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Dino Dino Jungle

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Mario Kart 7
Imtiaz | Power Bomb Attack

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Tracking Shells 8

It’s funny I’m writing here, only because despite being pretty much a world wide phenomenon, Mario Kart has been a franchise that I’ve chosen to pass most of the time throughout all the Nintendo consoles. I have nothing against the franchise, it’s just I’ve never had the right combination of people to really enjoy the game with. Yet somehow, Mario Kart still manages to cement itself as part of one of my most enjoyable, and hilarious gaming memories.

Around the time the 3DS came out, I was in a bit of a gaming lul. I had not kept up with gaming nearly as much as I did around when the Wii came out. Hell, I didn’t even know the Wii U and 3DS came out until I stumbled onto one of the odd TV commercials. For me not to know Nintendo released new hardware was an odd thing indeed. This didn’t stop me from owning both systems. Infact, a friend making a trip down to Toronto after a long time helped convince me that I needed to get a 3DS… like now. I quickly whipped up an order of a blue 3DS and some select games.

How does this all relate to Mario Kart? Well, because I was in my so called gaming hiatus, I can’t help but feel that experience Mario Kart 7 on the 3DS with my friends helped remind me how great gaming was. The 3DS has something special I was not aware of, and really experienced in a magical way, for lack of less cheesier words. As I got together with my friends one night, the 3 of us took to a nice 3DS session of Mario Kart following our outing of bubble tea that night. The download play feature was such a nice surprise, as it allowed my friend to effectively share his copy of Mario Kart 7 to my 3DS. This lead to such a fun and hilarious night of passing the 3DS’s around for several 1 on 1 bouts of the good old kart racing game. You know what they say, there’s nothing like local multiplayer gaming with everyone in the same room. Having a couple people huddled around the tiny 3DS screens, with the spectator hopping back and forth between each player was a sight on its own.


Mario Kart 7 showed me how far the game came since I last played it. The stages were so elaborate. The driving mechanics felt tighter than ever, allowing me to do some serious pro driving. Soaring through the skies past all the dinosaurs in stages like Dino Dino Jungle was such a delight. The night was off to a great start.

The spontaneousness of this really lead to some, well, spontaneous moments. Like my visiting friend deciding he was now going to be our Mario Kart announcer, a feature never yet seen in the series. As we zipped by each other, throwing shells, slipping on banana peels, my visiting friend would exclaim things like “Oh my god! Imtiaz takes the lead with an ultra precise shot with the green shell! I can’t believe it!”. And other things like “Imtiaz, the veteran of Mario Kart, is really honing into his experience to take advantage of the race!”. Meanwhile, the rest of us are trying our damn hardest to concentrate and telling him to shut up several times.

I have to tell you, my stomach was hurting from laughter, my eyes were tearing up, and the 3DS screens were covered in spots of dry spit from all of this. It’s quite amazing that I managed to play as well as I did that night. So well in fact, that by the end of it, my friends weren’t having any more of it. You see, I’ve always been a Nintendo guy, very different from all my friends. They claimed my experience with Nintendo consoles, games and Mario Kart was unfair and because it gave me the upper hand, they decided to make things even more interesting.

If having an announcer wasn’t unique enough, they decided to take the default Shy Guy character I was dealt as part of the download play, and setup him up so he wasn’t so optimal. They spent a good chunk of time picking the karts and wheels so that I’d have the toughest time in the race. They truly did indeed give me a setup that felt clunky, slow and very unfamiliar.

Despite my hardest efforts, I sadly fell in defeat. The race was still close, but I couldn’t overcome the odds by the end of the night. My friends found much amusement that they finally beat me. I still felt good about my performance overall. More importantly, I felt even better that it was such a fun night.

You see, there’s truly something magical about how Mario Kart, and other games like it for that matter really bring people together in the same physical space, and help shape some of your wildest gaming memories. There’s nothing quite like having these games bring out the fun competitive nature of you and your friends for some good sportsman-like Mario Kart races.

This night was a nice reminder why really getting back into gaming was important for me. It’s always been part of my life up to that point. Even though I had stepped away from the idea of gaming for a bit, all it took was a funny night of Mario Kart to really draw me back in. I will always be grateful to Mario Kart for reminding me of this.

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Bowser’s Castle

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Mario Kart DS
Thomas | The Off-Centred Earth Mage

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Tracking Shells 9

To start off, I’m going to give you all a little background to my experience with Mario Kart. Let me start by saying I know that Mario Kart began its journey into that special place in our hearts and memories all the way back on the SNES, but that’s not where my own special journey began. (I’ve since gone back and played every version of Mario Kart, stop judging me Karen.)


No, my own personal Mario Kart journey began on the Nintendo DS. Here is where Bowser’s Castle became one of if not my favourite tracks in any karting game. Not because it was the most graphically stunning track I’d ever seen, because it’s not. Not because it had tonnes of tricks and turns and shortcuts and hidden mechanics — it didn’t (unless my entire childhood was a cruel, cruel joke). None of that. This track I fell completely and utterly in love with because it was something me and my Dad loved playing together. Bowser’s Castle, no matter what platform you find it on, has always and probably will always be famous for its lava mechanics. Not only that, but with each new iteration of this track, there’s always something new to sink your teeth into. But none of that holds a single candle to the memories I have of me and my Dad playing this track.

The odd time where we could actually get the multiplayer on the Nindendo DS working, we would spend every weekend playing this track for what felt like hours but in reality was what was only forty minutes ago. This carried over to the Nintendo Wii, and now finally the Switch.

I guess for me, this track shows more than any other how people can be brought together with games like Mario Kart. My Dad has never been much of a gamer. He was that type of Dad who was always into the next big shooter or the next big action game or with how much gaming has progressed and changed over the years, he always took interest in sitting with me watching how beautiful and realistic graphics have become. Mario Kart however, it brought us together in a way that I can’t quite describe, but something that I will never forget.

What are things like now? In the effort of transparency, the very first game I thought of getting when I got my hands on the Nintendo Switch was Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. Me and Dad are still playing from time to time and our favourite track is still Bowser’s castle. Now though, I play with Alannah, the woman I intend to marry someday. And guess what? One of our favourite tracks to play against each other on is Bowser’s Castle. We’re both particularly fond of that twisty turny bit of the track where the big Bowser statue can quite literally punch you to a little kart shaped pancake. It does me good to watch my girlfriend out of the corner of my eye get ultra-competitive at that part, concentration face in full swing.

I guess what I want to say more than anything is, thank you for the amazing memories. Dad, here’s to the next race.

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Rainbow Road

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Mario Kart Double Dash
Alyssa | Nerd Side of Life

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Tracking Shells 4

I think that no matter who you are, where you’re from, or how old you are the words “Mario Kart” are recognizable. It’s one of those games that can capture you for hours and reel you in until you realize that it’s 1:00 in the morning and you need to be up in 5 more hours. Almost everybody has heard of it in someway and most people have memories and stories to go along with it.

It seems like everyone I talk to can say one thing about Mario Kart, and that is that it brought them together with other people. It made families and friendships closer for the brief time that you played it and my story is no different.

I can’t remember one specific time that Mario Kart made me happy or just one fond memory because in reality I don’t remember them. (The curse of a bad memory is real in my case)

As the only girl among boys in my household, I had to take a liking to video games because my brothers were almost always on the GameCube on our family television in the living room. There were some that I liked to play, and some that I didn’t. The game that stuck out to me the most growing up was none other than Mario Kart, of course.

It was the easiest game for all three of us to agree on to play together. I stunk at Smash, the other game they would play, and I stunk at Mario Kart too. But at least with Mario Kart we would argue less – and even then we still argued a lot. We argued over what track we wanted to use, the boys argued over who got to be Mario and who had to be someone else, we argued when we hit each other with items and most importantly, we argued whenever we lost to each other.


The worst of the arguing happened whenever we played Rainbow Road. Infamous for being one of the most difficult tracks to play, it was probably the track that we played the most on as kids because we liked seeing who would come out on top. We were competitive and did everything we could to be victors at Rainbow Road.

I was never a victor, for I was the victim of being pushed off the track numerous times. I would often come in last place, as I was not very good at the game, with my brothers battling it out for first place. Then there would be more yelling as my older brother kept pushing me off, mom would get mad that we were yelling, controllers were thrown, console was beaten up; it was a nightmare, really.

We played Mario Kart for hours and hours. We played it so much the disc had scratches and we had to get a new disc. The best part was I wasn’t even playing to win or be the best like my brothers were – I was playing because we got so hyper and into the game that it became chaotic. I liked being chaotic and over dramatic because it was fun to me, and sometimes I could get my brothers to play along.

Fast forward to now and I’m just a little more aggressive when it comes to Mario Kart. I am still not good at it literally at all, and I hardly play it, but whenever I’m with friends and we’re bored I ask “Wanna play a game of Mario Kart?” and nine out of ten times, that’s what we’ll end up doing.

But at least now I usually end up in second place instead of dead last, which is a win for me all on its own.

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Wow, that was a trip! Special thanks to these amazing bloggers for the amount of time and effort put into this collaboration. Each and every one of you deserves special recognition for sharing your memories and feelings in such an artistic way. I never cease to be amazed by the amount of dedication you put into your craft. I’m just in awe.

If you liked this collaboration, please be sure to share on social media so others can enjoy! Additionally, it will help each of these bloggers get the recognition they deserve.

As always, we welcome your feedback in the comments. Tell us about your favorite track in Mario Kart, as well as some of the memories you have while racing around the Mushroom Kingdom. And with that, another collaboration comes to a close. Join us on Monday as we finally unveil the 2019 Normal Happenings Blog Awards, where I’m sure we’ll be seeing these fine bloggers again!

Music mix was adapted by YouTuber Commander Jersey based on music across the Mario Kart franchise by Nintendo.
All Mario Kart related images are copyright Nintendo.

If you liked this collaboration, please consider helping us make even better ones down the road! Consider becoming a Patron of Normal Happenings and get early access to our Daily Inklings!


Stardew Valley | The Game That (Re)Defines Me

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The Games That Define Us features carefully chosen music and remixes from the franchise of the game represented. Music is a key component of sharing the emotions one feels about a game, so we hope you will press the play button if you’re in a position to do so. 


We’ve been looking to the past with most of these pieces. Sure, we’ve looked at how these games connect to the present, but with the possible exception of wonderful pieces on modern games like Will’s DayZ rumination or Alyssa’s Sims 4 recollection, most of the pieces for this look to the past for insights on the present. As the sites transitions back to normal Normal Happenings (not a typo), I wanted to look at the one game in my library that I can use to look to the future. It’s a relatively recent game – one with personality, distinction, and insights on life.

It is the one, the only…

Game: Stardew Valley
System: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: February 6, 2016

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What would be the best use of my time?
It was a common refrain in the Valley, until one day something fascinating happened. I started asking myself this question in real life, and it changed everything.


Irrepressible optimism. That’s not the kind of thing I’ve always had to the degree required to fuel my motivation for life. In fact, much of my brooding in the past reflected disenchantment and cynicism. Irrepressible optimism is a learned skill. I’m going to be quite honest, to live life in a consistently positive manner presents a huge number of challenges, especially in a world so seemingly unbalanced in favor of negativity.

What I mean is that the consequences of negative events seem to far outweigh the fleeting effects of sanguine happenings. If there is balance to be found, it is in the possibility that negative events happen far less frequently than positive ones, but it is difficult to convince a person experiencing a mountain of very costly, very adult situations of this notion.

It seems assured, then, that the world is indeed a negative place filled with suffering to some extent or another. And yet, despite appearances, I’m an irrepressible optimist. Seeking this buoyant type of life has lead to more fulfillment than I’ve ever experienced, but I require tools to maintain that optimism. I’ve tried my best to build around me a fortress of positivity — relationships, education, and media all conducive towards making a dark world a little brighter. 

There are plenty of games that resonate with me on an emotional level, from the classic adventures of puff-balling my way across Dreamland in Kirby’s Adventure to the modern cinematic characterization of Aloy in Horizon Zero Dawn. We see fingerprints like this all over this collaboration. There is not a single entry in this collection in which a person actively hated the game that defined them. That’s because sometimes a beautiful symbiosis occurs when you love a game — that title begins to integrate itself into your life as part of your identity.


Stardew Valley is one of those engines for me. It’s no secret I absolutely adore the game, but it means so much more to me than an escapist romp through a farm town. The game has become an integral part of my experience as a human being.

Love in the Hard Times

I think one of the biggest reasons Stardew Valley is so important to me was completely out of the developer’s hands. Timing is everything, and the game landed on the Switch for me at just the right time. They say the first year of marriage is the hardest. However, traditionally this cliche evokes images of two people discovering how frustrating it is to live with each other constantly. Not so with us — Nikki and I had almost a decade of dating experience backing us up, so we were pretty well-prepared for what to expect.

No, what confronted us was far more insidious than simple situational adaptation. The Dark Cloud of mental illness cannot be defeated by swords and shields, and we both carried with us a storm of family, cultural, and religious trauma. I believe mental illness is the true final boss of life, and Stardew Valley arrived deep into our protracted conflict with the Dark Cloud.

As many others have expressed, video games provide an adequate refuge from dealing with the constant pressure of real life. Though in the past I worried that using video games as a form of escapism would lead to addiction, that never happened with me. Instead, I simply began to look forward to my short daily commutes into the Valley. Rain or shine, they awarded me an opportunity to alleviate the challenges of real life and offered a glimpse into a future free from this mess. When struggling in a mental capacity, there can be nothing healthier than a little escapism.

Every Day an Opportunity

In Stardew Valley, you’re offered a choice, even if you’re not making them on a conscious level. The halcyon days go by quickly in the Valley, simulating the perception of time as aging sets in if left uncontrolled. As in real life, there is no way you can get everything you need to done in a day.


It’s raining in the fall, so I can go explore the mines without fear of losing my harvest. It’s sunny in the spring, so I should harvest some salmonberries! Snow has blanked the ground in winter, so I should try to find some artifacts for the museum.


What would be the best use of my time?

It was a common refrain in the Valley, until one day something fascinating happened. I started asking myself this question in real life, and it changed everything. You’ve probably seen this blog transcend from periodic posts to routine (hopefully high-quality) content. It happened in other aspects of my life too, but I credit my time in Stardew Valley for this paradigm shift. I am hoping it can help me conquer my fitness goals heading into 2019.

The Future is Beautiful

While it may seem cursory due to existing as a video game, the choices you make in the Valley uniquely impact the future. Every decision made has a butterfly effect, impacting life in unforeseen ways.


I used to be scared of the future, envisioning scenarios in which catastrophe could spirit us away from the life we’ve dreamed. I used to be terrified of death, but even that doesn’t cause incapacitating dread as it used to. I am here to make the most of my time — to live and love, and to try impact the present and the future for the better. I am, after all, an irrepressible optimist, and the future is full of beautiful choices. Let’s make it all it was meant to be.

This is, umm, not a baby announcement. It’s just a good example of future choices.

If Sonic the Hedgehog 2 defined my childhood, Stardew Valley defines my adulthood. Sonic 2 is the game that defines me. Stardew Valley is the game that redefines me.

Future Collaborations

Many of you have been asking about future collaborations on Normal Happenings.

Going forward, I plan to facilitate four collaborations per year. Big, month-long, epic ones like this are hard (but very enjoyable) work, so I only plan to do two per year. One will be in the summer, the other in the winter. I already have an idea of what the winter collab next year will look like, but as of now summer is completely up in the air.

In the in-between, spring and fall, I will be putting on mini-collaborations, similarly formatted to Hyrule: See the Sights! Hear the Sounds! If you want an idea of what to expect, that’s currently your go-to publication. I call the collaborations “mini,” but they’ll consist of ten to twenty pieces, weaved together into a one-post grand experience.

I intend to revel the identity Spring 2019 collaboration on New Years Day — January 1, 2019. Past contributors will get first dibs, but I definitely intend to reserve at least four or five slots specifically for newcomers.

What Happens Next?

Next, I’m taking a break… just for about a week or so. I just want to unplug and normalize after posting for 35 days straight. Doing so will refuel my creativity in the long run. I’ve got a drafts folder full of great ideas for posts, as I haven’t been able to craft any “normal” pieces for quite some time.

I’ll still be on Twitter, albeit probably a bit less than I have been for the past two months. I’ve got a collection of Daily Inklings scheduled to post as well, so this place will still be plenty active. I intend to be back in action on Monday December 17 with an important update post on Dysontopia and the Normal Happenings Patreon, so stay tuned for that.

And on that hopeful note, we’ve reached the conclusion of the most epic thing I’ve ever had the pleasure of facilitating. I want to thank all of you by name:

Thank you Megan, Ian, GG, Kim, Jan, KT, Moses, Victor, Shauna, Heather, Alyssa, Luke, Justin, Chris, Pix1001, Will, Murr, The Gaming Diaries, Amanda, Alex, Ruubin, Khinjarsi, Matt, Kathy, Mr. Backlog, Michael, Ellen, Ryan, Zerathulu, Imtiaz, Teri Mae, Skylar-Mei, and my beautiful wife Nikki for making this all possible! You all have done more than I ever dreamed.

And of course, thank you, dear reader, for taking the time to read our thoughts. Always remember that you are awesome!

And The Credits Roll…

WordPress Reader viewers, please consider enjoying this post again on the site. While we designed with you in mind, you miss some of the nuances of the piece by not enjoying it in its original form.

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This collaboration took an overwhelming amount of time and dedication from 34 exceptionally creative, incredible makers! Help us with the resources to make more, even better, collaborations in the future! We also have aspirations of developing a podcast called Normal Talks about optimistically appreciating everyday life! Please consider becoming a patron of Normal Happenings and help us try to make the world a better, more positive place!

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World of Warcraft | The Game That Defines Just Geeking By

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Going into this, I had two World of Warcraft mixes that were so good I couldn’t choose between them. Luckily, I also has two posts on the game — experience the incredible atmosphere of Azeroth.

The Games That Define Us features carefully chosen music and remixes from the franchise of the game represented. Music is a key component of sharing the emotions one feels about a game, so we hope you will press the play button if you’re in a position to do so. 


Just a brief summary if this is your first time here: This collaboration is a 34-day long adventure through video games. Each piece is its own unique audiovisual experience, complete with artwork, designs, music, and (most importantly) amazing works of prose by brilliant bloggers around the world. This adventure will take you through nostalgia, joy, ambition, self-discovery, regret, anxiety, frustration, mourning, and every human experience in between. Video games exist as fragments on the timeline of our lives, and each one of us have chosen the adventure we feel most defines us.

It’s time for the grand finale of Warcraft Weekend, even if it’s technically a Monday! Our writer today referred to it as a Warcraft Bank Holiday, and I like that metaphor. Speaking of which, taking us to the finish line is the wonderful Heather from Just Geeking By! One of the most charismatic bloggers of the group, she is part of an incredible amount of blogging communities and is a genuine force for doing good. She’s an incredibly creative individual, so you should be sure to experience Just Geeking By for yourself after reading this piece. It’s hard to know where to start, but I would use her recent Geeking By in October post as a good launching point!

We couldn’t ask for a better final piece to Warcraft Weekend. We know you’ll enjoy the next chapter of The Games That Define Us!

– Matthew, Normal Happenings




Heather @ Just Geeking By

Twitter: @JustGeekingBy

For the button-smashers…

Game: World of Warcraft
System: PC
Release Date: November 23, 2004

1P Start

World of Warcraft has seen me from a nervous early 20-something student through to my mid-30’s, and I would definitely attribute it to some of my personal growth. There were tears shed, arguments had, and there were also skills learned and confidence gained along the way.

There was once a little girl that fell in love with the Sonic the Hedgehog animated TV show. At the same time, video games were just beginning to become a household item, with every little boy (and some girls) begging their parents for a Sega Mega Drive. Her cousin would get one first, and surrounded by a bunch of boys, she would try so so hard to keep up — to learn all the key combinations for the fighter games like Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat that they loved so much. Occasionally she would get to pick her choice, Bomberman, and she would get a chance to feel that incredible delight mixed with frustration as she chased things around on screen trying to win a level.

Inevitably she could never keep up with the boys. She was a button-smasher, she was told. She was not a gamer. She asked her parents for her own Mega Drive and spent a few hours trying to beat the first level of Sonic the Hedgehog. But her confidence was already crippled by then. She wasn’t a gamer. It just wasn’t her thing.

That little girl was me. I spent many years after that convinced that games weren’t for me. I would dabble in a few casual games; we had a fish game that came free with one PC, I could ace the quiz in Encarta and frequently did so, and any little games in DK encyclopaedia CDs I lapped up. When the internet came along and Neopets was created I was a fast fan, becoming a daily player that loved the little games. Those I could play, but I wasn’t a gamer. Not a real one.

I was always acutely aware of this, especially when I started dating a gamer. He tried to get me into games and like many things, he did that wrong. He started me off with his favourite game, Natural Selection. A first person shooter in teams, and while that was something I worked up to in my own time many years later, it was the worst thing to start me on. Deflated, I was ready to give up, and then something happened.






I still get a chill watching that cinematic. Everyone was talking about it. This new game coming out, and little me the non-gamer had no idea at the time how huge this game was or what it would mean for me personally. That game was World of Warcraft, and it is the game that would define me.

The Start of Something Life-Changing

At first, I had hardly any interest in it. What did I care? It was just another game. I’d watch my then boyfriend play a few games like Half Life 2 and, okay, they were interesting, but since I couldn’t play them they weren’t really anything important. He needed to use my PC to play it at first, so I caught glimpses of him playing it and bit-by-bit I was watching more. The first thing that caught my attention was how beautiful it was; the world was incredible, the creatures were fantastic and the characters looked amazing. I fell in love with the elves and the druids instantly. And then I watched him fighting a random mob, just doing an ordinary quest like you do. As I said, my introduction into video games had been somewhat lacking, and at this point I had no idea that there were so many varieties of fighting styles out there. The idea of turn-based combat, for example, was an entirely foreign concept to me. Here I was watching a fight where you could push buttons and there were cooldowns on abilities! You didn’t need to be fast and know all those fancy pants key combinations because the cooldowns physically stopped you from doing that! I still remember that moment so clearly. It was a moment of clarity, a realisation that I could actually play games. All those amazing beautiful worlds and moving stories that I’d seen and heard about – I could be a part of at last.

I had a character on his account for less than a week before I bought my own account and, as they say, the rest is history. That was one week after the game initially launched, and it is coming up to it’s 14-year anniversary of the U.S. launch, and in February it will be the EU launch, marking 14 years of play for me as a World of Warcraft player and a gamer. But the story doesn’t end there….

A Love Story

Fast forward to the summer of 2007. Newly single, I find myself sitting at a table at my cousin’s wedding when I hear a few words which to a casual observer wouldn’t mean a thing; city, auction house, bank, and talking about dancing on the bridge between them. This sounded familiar to me…

I listened for a few minutes to make sure I was on the right track before I politely interrupted; “Excuse me? Are you talking about World of Warcraft?!”

It turned out that they had just started playing. By then I was a several year veteran that had stopped playing and wasn’t planning on going back. It held some bad memories and of course, was tied closely to my ex. In the next ten minutes talking to this brother and sister something magical happened. Their excitement at just discovering Azeroth for the first time rekindled my love for the game. It pushed away all my doubts about whether I could be a gamer, whether the game was too toxic and whether I should go back. There was no one to stop me now — no little voice telling me it was a bad idea, that I couldn’t do it.

Still, I wasn’t certain. It took me a while to convince myself, and once I had I logged on to a welcome back from a friend with an invite to go to an old raid. By this point the second expansion, The Burning Crusade, had been released in January 2007, allowing players to level up to level 70. That meant that players could return to older content and run it with less people, usually for fun and for loot. It is something that we still do now to collect transmog items, pets and mounts. I’d never done one and so I decided to go along. I had no other plans after all, so why not?

When I’d last left the game I’d also left my guild, and in that new members had come along. Several of them were in the group that night when we headed into Molten Core. I hit it off with them straight away and we had a great time. I didn’t really think anything of it, but I do remember the next morning vividly. It was a Sunday morning and I was sitting in Stormwind, in the Trade District by the auction house trying to work out what I was going to do that day. And I suddenly get a whisper from one of the guys in the group last night, a druid called Gerry. He said that I seemed interesting and he wanted to get to know me more. So, we started chatting.

The rest, as they say, is history. Chris and I have been together 11 years as of October 2018. It was difficult to begin with as there was a long-distance aspect to our relationship with me living in London, England and him being in Glasgow, Scotland. Initially he moved down to London for a few years before we both moved to Glasgow and we’ve settled there. We became engaged in 2010, and while we don’t have a set date for our wedding we both know it’s a done deal. We’re practically married already. We hope to one day start a family of our own, and Chris already has plans to turn the kids into little farming minions. For now, it’s just us and our two cats, Milo and George.

Last year we celebrated our ten-year anniversary, and we both decided to do something special to celebrate it. For years I had an idea for a piece of art in my head for this exact occasional, so I sought out the perfect artist to commission for the job. That was Lady Rosse and I worked with her to bring my idea to life. Unbeknownst to me Chris had the same idea. He went to our mutual friend, and my best friend, Haley, and asked her to help him create a gift from both of them for my Christmas present. I had also confided in Haley what I was working on for Chris, and so she knew exactly what we had both done. As you can see; great minds think alike!

My present to Chris:
Our two main World of Warcraft characters with our three cats; Milo, George and Az (the ghost cat sleeping as he sadly passed away).

Chris and Haley’s present to me:
Our two main World of Warcraft characters alongside my favourite alts (alternate) characters which Chris sneakily asked me one day.

The Gift that Keeps on Giving

You would think that giving me the love of my life and the person who has helped me through so much would be enough. However, this game has given me so much more and continues to define me every day. Through World of Warcraft I have met so many amazing people, including my guild Excited State on Aerie Peak EU which is probably the only guild that holds the record for the highest number of PhD’s. The guild name comes from physics because it is literally filled to gills with physicists – listing CERN as your current/former employee on your resume is a norm in our guild. I seriously feel the odd one out at times and I have two degrees and I’m working on a Masters. I actually got congratulated when I started my Masters because I was finally joining the science club 😛 Anyway, if you’ve never spent time with a group of physicists I will let you in on a little secret; they’re completely bonkers! Which leads to some really awesome guild meet ups.

There has been a total of four guild meet ups and we’ve attended three of them. Not only has this game given me the opportunity to visit some beautiful European cities, it’s also given me some great friendships that I treasure. These aren’t just limited to my guild and I count friends among the wider World of Warcraft community too.

As I’ve been a part of this community for so long, World of Warcraft has seen me from a nervous early 20-something student through to my mid-30’s, and I would definitely attribute it to some of my personal growth. There were tears shed, arguments had, and there were also skills learned and confidence gained along the way. My blog, Just Geeking By, for instance started life as a World of Warcraft blog before transforming into a personal blog when I returned to University and then eventually becoming its current incarnation.

The biggest surge in confidence though has to be to my gaming. Gone is that little girl who thought she couldn’t be a gamer. In the past 14 years I have played multiple different games including some that I never thought I could possibly play. The monumental moment for me was when I decided to try Half Life 2, a game I had been told I could never ever play. The day I finished that I was able to let go of a lot of baggage I had been carrying, and since then I can say with confidence:

I am a gamer.
And the game that defined me
is World of Warcraft.


adventure map

WordPress Reader viewers, please consider enjoying this post again on the site. While we designed with you in mind, you miss some of the nuances of the piece by not enjoying it in its original form. 


This collaboration took an overwhelming amount of time and dedication from 34 exceptionally creative, incredible makers! Help us with the resources to make more, even better, collaborations in the future! We also have aspirations of developing a podcast called Normal Talks about optimistically appreciating everyday life! Please consider becoming a patron of Normal Happenings and help us try to make the world a better, more positive place!

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World of Warcraft | The Game That Defines Life of Jan

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This is one of the most relaxing mixes I’ve ever heard. Despite having never played the title, I throughly enjoyed this melodic journey.




The Games That Define Us features carefully chosen music and remixes from the franchise of the game represented. Music is a key component of sharing the emotions one feels about a game, so we hope you will press the play button if you’re in a position to do so. 


Just a brief summary if this is your first time here: This collaboration is a 34-day long adventure through video games. Each piece is its own unique audiovisual experience, complete with artwork, designs, music, and (most importantly) amazing works of prose by brilliant bloggers around the world. This adventure will take you through nostalgia, joy, ambition, self-discovery, regret, anxiety, frustration, mourning, and every human experience in between. Video games exist as fragments on the timeline of our lives, and each one of us have chosen the adventure we feel most defines us.

Warcraft Weekend continues, and this time we’ve been graced by one of my faovrite bloggers on the face of the internet! From The Life of Jan, it’s, well, Jan! This blogger wrote not one, not two, but three lengthy posts for Hyrule: See the Sights, Hear the Sounds. Now she’s back with another doozy, and I’ve been so excited to publish it for the world to read. After you’re done here, be sure to head over to her blog and get to know her with her recent Q&A piece!

The middle part of Warcraft Weekend and the next chapter of The Games That Define Us begins now!

– Matthew, Normal Happenings




Jan @ The Life of Jan

Twitter: @SuperJanGames

For pieces of the heart…

Game: World of Warcraft
System: PC
Release Date: November 23, 2004

1P Start

It was a crazy, expensive, 10-year long rollercoaster of a time that I had with this game, and while I may have ventured away from Azeroth, a piece of my heart will always remain there.

I was just a naive, impressionable 14 year old girl when World of Warcraft was released in the US, in late 2004. At the time, I was a quiet, nerdy band geek, with few friends, and far too many active game files on The Sims 2. Although I owned a handful of GameBoys, as well as my trusty, well-worn N64, and played a handful of various games on a regular basis (The Sims, Zelda, Banjo-Kazooie, Pokemon, and DDR mostly), I hardly considered myself a “gamer” at the time. Most of the friends that I did have were pretty hardcore when it came to both console and PC gaming, and I just didn’t get it. Maybe it had something to do with how they enjoyed torturing me whenever we played together, usually by killing me over and over in Halo 2, or some other shooter game, and it definitely wasn’t fun for me. Aside from a few, select franchises, not many other games had really been able to interest me, or hold my attention, and I couldn’t understand how people could get so consumed by them, and act so competitively.

At the time of World of Warcraft‘s release, I was dating a boy who was definitely what the world would consider a “gamer“. Of course, I mean that in the nicest way possible, because he was a great guy, but he definitely fit a lot of those all-too-familiar stereotypes that come to mind when you say the word “gamer”. In early 2005, when World of Warcraft had been out for a couple of months, my then boyfriend convinced me to make a character on his account (yes, we were ignorant 15 year olds, and hadn’t really paid much attention to the rules in the ToS). I was hesitant at first, because I was the type of person who absolutely abhorred being embarrassed in video games by my friends, and didn’t want this to be a more fantastical version of us playing Halo together. However, my anxiety was eased slightly once I saw all of the customization options, which was always (and still is) something that I loved in the games that I played.

The first character that I ever made was a Night Elf druid, simply because of how beautiful they were. I named her “Deuxfois”. I had no idea what the name meant, just that it was French, and sounded cool, which was all that really mattered to my 15 year old self. I’m pretty sure I used Google translate, or Babelfish, to come up with it. My boyfriend was an Undead Mage, and you better believe that he gave me a hard time about choosing an Alliance character, especially since I had to be on a different server than him, since this was back in the Vanilla WoW days, when you could only play one faction per realm. My first experience in the game was cowering in fear over the idea of killing a very small, very non confrontational boar. I just stood there, totally frozen, and freaking out, while my boyfriend cheered me on to just go up to it and give it a good whack. It took awhile, but that’s exactly what I did. I felt like a total badass. While I would later abandon my little Night Elf, and reroll as a Troll shaman on my boyfriend’s realm, I made many, many other druids later down the road. Little did I know at the time, my small victory over that innocent, passive boar would be the start of an incredible, 10-year long adventure in Azeroth.

High school was hard for me. I struggled with anxiety and depression, had a rough home life, and didn’t have many friends. I experienced trauma, breakups, teenage drama, and all sorts of hardships that would normally have been very difficult for me to get through alone. Only, I wasn’t completely alone. You see, during those four years of high school that I struggled through, I kept playing World of Warcraft. I not only played the game, but I loved it, and I was good at it. I had managed to come out of my shell, and express myself in ways that I hadn’t been able to do before, and it changed me in some pretty obvious ways. My confidence and self-esteem had increased, and I began making friends from all across the country, and beyond. Every night, I was surrounded by these amazing, supportive, like minded people, who I could talk to about anything and everything, while we explored this beautiful, exciting, online world together. For the first time in a long time, I didn’t feel completely alone.

When I was a junior in high school, I met a boy on World of Warcraft. We were in the same guild together, and people often confused us for one another, because our names were so similar. One night, we got to talking about how funny it was that people were always confusing us, which turned into talking about other games we like to play, and then into more personal subject matter. He changed my life entirely. We spent hours and hours a day talking about life, our families, school, the trials and tribulations of being teenagers, bad relationships, trauma, and everything else in our lives. After a short while, we started texting, then talking on the phone for hours on end. I don’t know how it happened, but suddenly, I found myself completely in love with this boy who I had never even met. He encouraged me to embrace life, and be the best version of myself. He made me feel like I was worthy of love, and friendship, and compassion. By the end of my senior year, we were applying for colleges together, which was something that I never saw myself doing. After graduation, I packed up my stuff, said goodbye to my old life, hopped on a plane, and flew to Missouri to stay with him and his family for an entire week, before driving up to Newfoundland, Canada to start school. We had it all planned out, and looked forward to taking on the world together.

Unfortunately, our life together was not all sunshine and rainbows, and I have no one to blame for that by myself. While at college, I continued to play World of Warcraft, while he chose to stop, so he could focus on school. While our relationship was okay for the most part, I spent many days, and many very late nights, playing online. I skipped classes, slept through alarms because I had fallen asleep at 3:00 a.m., and spent a lot of time in my room, instead of going to social functions, getting a job, or making friends. He excelled at all of the things that I found myself failing horribly at. I distanced myself from real life, and I totally immersed myself in this online world, despite the negative impact that it was having on my real life, and how neglectful I was becoming. By the end of the school year, despite being a straight A student in high school, I was nearly failing all of my classes, and my GPA was horrifyingly low. But I kept playing. Because of my grades, and the fact that I was now completely broke, I ended up dropping out of college, moving back to the US, and moving in with a friend, who I had also met online. My boyfriend and I eventually broke up, and I found myself starting over again.

The years kind of blurred together for a while after that. Although I kept playing World of Warcraft after I left school, there were long periods of time where I struggled financially to pay my rent and my bills, which of course meant I couldn’t afford to play the game either. I had to stop logging in for stretches of several months at a time. My real life was an absolute trainwreck, and everything was fall apart around me, and that bled into my escape. Even when I was fortunate enough to be able to afford my monthly subscription, I often felt that logging in had become more of a chore, rather than a way to escape from the struggles of my reality, which was becoming harder and harder to escape from. By this time, so many of my original friends from the game had moved on with their lives, either quitting the game entirely, or moving to different realms to pursuit new ventures. I had a hard time finding a new place that I fit in, and new friends that I could talk to. I bounced around from realm to realm, from guild to guild, switching back and forth between factions, and leveling up character after character. I had a certain pride, as well as a kind of shame, in how many characters I had managed to level up, but it all felt overwhelmingly pointless with no one to enjoy the game with. I raided, I collected, and I farmed, but it was a very lonely way to spend my life. I felt myself growing more and more isolated, both in the online community, and in real life. I dealt with depression, as well as intrusive thoughts, and felt like there was no place I could turn to to escape my demons anymore.

I struggled with this for several years.

Then, in early 2012, I decided that if I couldn’t find somewhere that I belonged, then I would create a place instead. On February 2, 2012, I published my very first episode of the Something Suggestive podcast. Armed with only a borrowed headset, a hand-me-down computer, some free recording and editing software, and a few other World of Warcraft podcasts as inspiration, I began dedicating all of my free time, and most of my energy, to producing podcast content that was informative, entertaining, and witty. Within a few episodes, I was receiving emails, tweets, and whispers from people in the community who appreciated my show, and wanted to talk to me, and for the first time in a long time, I felt a warmth growing inside of me that I thought I had lost for good.

I hosted the Something Suggestive podcast for a little over a year. During that time, I made friends and connections with people who are still in my life today, with whom I can’t imagine my life without. I interviewed prominent people in the World of Warcraft community, guest hosted on several other, popular podcasts, and created a name, and a following, for myself. I was even approached by two, wonderful people, who offered to be segment creators on my podcast, one for mounts and one for achievements, and even still today, they are two of my closest, most trusted friends, who I can’t even imagine my life without.

Unfortunately, the bigger my podcast became, the more attention I got, and it certainly was not always positive. I received a lot of anonymous, harassing emails and messages, as well some pretty nasty reviews on iTunes, and encountered a handful of people whose intentions were not always kind, including a few instances of stalking, and long-term harassment. At the time, I was one of very few female, World of Warcraft podcasters, and the only solo female host that I knew of, in a time where female gamers still weren’t as widely accepted and listened to as they are now. It was hard. At one point, I was invited to join a new, growing guild by someone who I considered to be a friend. Unfortunately, I came to realise after some time that this fellow podcast creator only wanted to use me for publicity and recruitment. Whatever “friendship” we had ended pretty suddenly, publicly, and very messily, and I ended up leaving the guild, if only for the sake of my own wellbeing and sanity. I lost a lot of so-called friends after that, and my name was dragged through the mud for months.

Shortly after the fallout, I was approached by several other people in the podcast community, who told me about a large community of content creators, listeners, and friendly folks that resided together on one realm. I had heard about this community of people, and their founder, and how they used addons to communicate between the numerous sister guilds. It was definitely cool. Without giving it a second thought, I moved all of my characters to the now well-known Earthen Ring realm, and joined one of the many AIE guilds there. It was a fresh start for me, and it was one of the highlights in all of my 10 years playing World of Warcraft. I had all of my friends beside me, an incredible raid team where I was able to really hone my skills, and a support system of people who wanted to help me succeed, both online and off. I fell in love with the game all over again, and even found new things to fall in love with, like putting together awesome transmog sets, and collecting rare vanity pets. I finally felt like myself again.

Unfortunately, like so many other times in my life, all good things had to come to an end. On April 1, 2013, the final episode of Something Suggestive was posted, hosted by a close friend, and fellow content creator, instead of myself. Just days prior, I was forced to step away from my beloved podcast, and the World of Warcraft community once more, when my ex-boyfriend and I broke up, after four years together. I was given no choice, and had to leave most of my belongings behind, including my computer, one of my cats. I lost my home, and four years of my life. With the loss of my relationship, came the loss of what few real life friends I had made over the previous four years, and I once again was finding myself feeling completely isolated and alone. I had moved so far away from everything familiar and comfortable to be with this man, and now it was all gone. For nearly two years, I lived without a phone or internet. I felt cut off from my online friends, my new fans, my community, and everything that I knew and loved, while living in an unfamiliar town, filled with painful memories. I felt lower than I had felt in a long time, and it was a very scary time for me. I had a lot of dark thoughts, and felt like I had very little to live for. A few weeks after moving into my own apartment, when I was just starting to feel like I could actually get a grip on my life, and try to move forward, I lost my job. And that nearly killed me.

But then, things got better, and my story was given a happy ending. After my breakup, and the loss of my job, I met a wonderful man, who treated me better than I ever thought that I deserved. Even his family welcomed me with open arms. I found a new job, that I absolutely loved, and made new friends. During my two years away from the internet and gaming, I got engaged, got pregnant, moved to a new town with the love of my life, and had a beautiful, little boy. After my son’s birth, I returned to World of Warcraft, where I received an exuberant welcome from my friends and AIE guildmates on Earthen Ring. I played casually, usually while my son napped, or late at night, and spent a lot of time farming for my guild, helping to supply the amazing raid team that I was no longer geared enough to raid with. I’ll admit, that stung a bit, but I wanted to support them. However, despite my warm reception, and the support of my friends, I never could quite get back into the game. I tried to reignite my love for pet collecting, and transmog sets, but it just didn’t click. Too much time had passed, and too much had changed in my life. So, I stepped away from World of Warcraft, one last time, on my own terms.

It has now been three years since I last logged into World of Warcraft, but I often find myself reading up on the new expansions, and all the drama and craziness that comes with them. I watch my friends tweet and post about new mounts, storylines, gear sets, and everything else. I roll my eyes at the politics of the game, and cringe at how much a video game can divide so many people, who are all just trying to escape reality, and have a little fun. I get wrapped up in the hype of BlizzCon every year, and gush over all the photos my friends post, even though I know I will never get to go myself. I retweet all the new podcast episodes, YouTube videos, and blog posts, trying to show love and support to my friends and their endeavors, the way they supported me in mine. It was a crazy, expensive, 10-year long rollercoaster of a time that I had with this game, and while I may have ventured away from Azeroth, a piece of my heart will always remain there.

adventure map

WordPress Reader viewers, please consider enjoying this post again on the site. While we designed with you in mind, you miss some of the nuances of the piece by not enjoying it in its original form. 


This collaboration took an overwhelming amount of time and dedication from 34 exceptionally creative, incredible makers! Help us with the resources to make more, even better, collaborations in the future! We also have aspirations of developing a podcast called Normal Talks about optimistically appreciating everyday life! Please consider becoming a patron of Normal Happenings and help us try to make the world a better, more positive place!

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Warcraft III | The Game That Defines The Purple Prose Mage

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Warcraft III has a pretty chill and ambient soundtrack to begin with, so let’s take it from the top. 


The Games That Define Us features carefully chosen music and remixes from the franchise of the game represented. Music is a key component of sharing the emotions one feels about a game, so we hope you will press the play button if you’re in a position to do so. 


Welcome to Warcraft Weekend: a collection of three posts all related to this defining franchise.

Just a brief summary if this is your first time here: This collaboration is a 34-day long adventure through video games. Each piece is its own unique audiovisual experience, complete with artwork, designs, music, and (most importantly) amazing works of prose by brilliant bloggers around the world. This adventure will take you through nostalgia, joy, ambition, self-discovery, regret, anxiety, frustration, mourning, and every human experience in between. Video games exist as fragments on the timeline of our lives, and each one of us have chosen the adventure we feel most defines us.

Upcoming, we have both Jan from Life of Jan and Heather from Just Geeking By recounting their life-long adventures with World of Warcraft. But today, we have the amazing and wonderfully supportive Alex, aka The Purple Prose Mage. This blogger puts out some great stuff, both on his own blog and for The Well-Red Mage! He’s also incredibly supportive of Normal Happenings both on Twitter and his own blog — we are very thankful for this mage’s constant encouragement. Here are a small collection of posts you should check out after reading:

Let’s start Warcraft Weekend, and this next chapter of The Games That Define Us!

– Matthew, Normal Happenings




Alex @ The Purple Prose Mage

Twitter: @AlexSigsworth

For the humans!

Game: Warcraft III
System: PC
Release Date: July 3, 2002

1P Start

I wrote this entry with the theme of nostalgia, to be forever reaching out to that idealised time long ago of things which seem better because they’re gone; Like Gatsby, wanting to repeat his heroic past but without the complicated problems that made it very unheroic.

The problem with the real world is things often suck. It’s our friends that make it bearable. No one comes into the world predetermined. We’re all blank sheets of paper. The people that we meet, everyone, contributes something to that tract. Most of us aren’t self-defined. How could we be without context? It’s the other people, and what they write on our page that creates our identity. Therefore, our most important responsibility in life is to maximise the people who have only good things to write, and to minimise everyone else. If playing video games with someone is a part of that process, then it’s a fundamentally good thing. That’s why Warcraft III is such an important game to me – because it brought me closer to another person.


Sure, we had already been friends for years but – just as doctors engage in a lifelong education about their field – that kind of relationship requires constant sustenance in order to mean anything. Warcraft III is a game that I’d play with Christopher Lee of short.Parse every Friday. It wasn’t a school night, and we were already together. It was just the easiest way to do it. He has no siblings, so I was always something of the brother he never had. That had been very clear to me as we became friends in nursery. Which meant Friday was our day.

When you meet up in the same form room for five days consecutively, it eventually becomes a bit of a debriefing about what’s on that day’s agenda in the kind of self-serious way that only children could do. On Fridays, whenever there was nothing else of note, what was guaranteed was that both of us would be meeting up at the school gates and then proceeding to walk through the neighbourhood to his house. I can still remember the route as well as I can remember the route back to my own house, as I’m sure most of us can. At that age, our overworld map is like a triangle: my house, school, friend’s house.

Back then, things were simpler. Before we went our separate ways to only be able to travel to each other by train whenever we get the time, which isn’t that often. When we arrived, there was the usual order of business: getting drinks, often a cherry cola or a special brew of his devising, which was basically a cup of tea with some chocolate in it. Then, after gossiping about whatever had happened that day, we’d get to it. Our LAN party. I was in the study, he was in his bedroom. Without headsets, communication between us consisted of talking loudly with the doors open, our voices carried across the landing. Yet we made it work, as you do when you’re committed to something with no convenient alternative.

He’d play as the undead, and I as Human, because that’s what I am – logic which I know sounds rather silly now, because everyone playing it is Human. I was never very good at playing the game, so I’d find ways of compensating. If this were a fighting game, his strategy would’ve been to apply the best moves whereas mine would’ve been to press any buttons and see what happens. That’s why I’d spend most of the time emptying my gold mine as quickly as possible. Any buildings I constructed were selected on a cycle system. I figured that, rather than building whatever was necessary at the time, if I built an equal number of each, I’d never run out. This strategy doesn’t work, and my application of it demonstrates my fundamental misunderstanding of real time strategy games.

Instead of learning to value victory as the positive result of a game well-played, I was more interested in victory as its own result that would indicate a well-played game by its own nature. Therefore, rather than focus on a particular principle of play – like, oh, say, military strength? – I preferred to make as much as I could of everything. Because surely that would make me superior in every way, right? Wrong, because every decision to invest in something was also a decision not to invest in anything else, which meant that, despite having a balanced abundance of all buildings and units, I didn’t have an abundance of the right buildings and units. By giving everything the same value, I’d overestimated my economic plan, making defeat inevitable. Beating me at this game isn’t an achievement, because most gamers could. The fact that my opponent was a skilled strategist was irrelevant, because my own choice to super-inflate my economy had brought defeat upon myself anyway.


Every now and again, I like to rewatch a gaming video we made. It was Halloween 2012, and I was playing as the Orcish Horde for the occasion. Due to our inability to play in the same room, we recorded a commentary post-match style, each with our variation of events. Most of it consists of him explaining where I went wrong, which was even more accurate for that night because I had no idea how the Orcish Horde operated or what their buildings did or what their units were for. That video is not only extremely cringey – because I was 16 years old at the time – but also features outdated cultural references (this was back when the UK No. 1 single was Sweet Nothing by Calvin Harris featuring Florence Weltch, a song that I can’t even remember). That’s why that video is for just me and him, although I showed it to Geekritique, and he thinks that it’s a good video if only for the posterity of seeing how I’ve changed.

I suppose that’s true. As much as we still stay in touch online, we’ll never be able to get back that part of our lives when all that mattered was whether I could get my homework done. There was more time back then. Even if we were able to reunite someday and have another Warcraft III LAN party, it wouldn’t be the same. It’s not just a game, it’s what it represents. We know that. Games aren’t really code and physics engines. That’s just the development stage but it isn’t what makes them. No. Games are made of our memories of playing them. It’s all very well knowing the controls and lore, but that’s all primitive recollection and hand-eye coordination. When we play them and they enter our brain, they’re filed into memory.

Memories create the consistency that gives everything context: what something is and what it means. That’s why Warcraft III isn’t just a game, it signifies the end of the school week. It’s payoff to getting to the end of Friday. It’s the part of my life back then that was actually worth living. We both share the same experience of the same game, which thus has the same unique meaning to each of us. The more unique the experiences you share with someone, the closer you become to them. Azeroth is a virtual place we went together because it was better than reality, and it’s where I left my heart.

But as it turns out, the story isn’t over after all.

Some time after finishing what I thought was the final draft of this piece, Blizzcon revealed Warcraft III Reforged, a remastered rerelease. It is essentially the same game, visually updated for modern video gaming standards, as it should be – adapted to the present without losing a sense of what it fundamentally is. It could not have come at a better time.


I wrote this entry with the theme of nostalgia, to be forever reaching out to that idealised time long ago of things which seem better because they’re gone; Like Gatsby, wanting to repeat his heroic past but without the complicated problems that made it very unheroic. Of course I reflect upon my time playing Warcraft III with a sense of wonder but I wouldn’t actually want to return to that time in my life; the whole point of what Wacraft III means to me is that it was something of a diamond in the rough.

One may tolerate a world of humans for the sake of some Orcs. Of course, none of this occurred to me until I started actively thinking about it. This series has unlocked a lot of complex memories from within, and connecting with them has been like connecting with that past for the first time since I sealed it away. In doing so, did I create Warcraft III Reforged? Did I manifest it into reality with the power of desire? If spelling is to cast a spell, then are my words truly magic? Am I more of a mage than I believed? There is no doubt in my mind that this was meant to be. I thought that I was writing about the end of something. Perhaps it’s actually the beginning; a call to action or lighthouse in the fog, showing me the light, the way back to where I used to be, in the hope that, if I just stretch out my arms further, if I just run faster, and if I, too, can remain adapted to the present while remaining true to who I fundamentally am, then one fine morning, a time and a life that I once lost could be found again.

adventure map

WordPress Reader viewers, please consider enjoying this post again on the site. While we designed with you in mind, you miss some of the nuances of the piece by not enjoying it in its original form. 


This collaboration took an overwhelming amount of time and dedication from 34 exceptionally creative, incredible makers! Help us with the resources to make more, even better, collaborations in the future! We also have aspirations of developing a podcast called Normal Talks about optimistically appreciating everyday life! Please consider becoming a patron of Normal Happenings and help us try to make the world a better, more positive place!

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NiGHTS into Dreams | The Game That Defines HideNGoShauna

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I believe this is one of the most underrated soundtrack in video game history. Stay and listen a while?


The Games That Define Us features carefully chosen music and remixes from the franchise of the game represented. Music is a key component of sharing the emotions one feels about a game, so we hope you will press the play button if you’re in a position to do so. 


Happy Friday, and welcome to Day 9 of The Games That Define Us! 

Just a brief summary if this is your first time here: This collaboration is a 34-day long adventure through video games. Each piece is its own unique audiovisual experience, complete with artwork, designs, music, and (most importantly) amazing works of prose by brilliant bloggers around the world. This adventure will take you through nostalgia, joy, ambition, self-discovery, regret, anxiety, frustration, mourning, and every human experience in between. Video games exist as fragments on the timeline of our lives, and each one of us have chosen the adventure we feel most defines us.

Today we’re graced with Shauna from HideNGoShauna! This brilliant writer has a whimsical spirit and writing style, and her game choice couldn’t be more appropriate. I’d like to spotlight a series she did recently: Japan memories. She spent three weeks there, and chronicled each day. Travel blogs always get my attention, so to see one of my favorite bloggers crafting one so adeptly was a major treat! I recommend you block off an hour of your life, start at Day 1, and work your way forward in time.

That is, after reading today’s amazing piece of course! We hope you enjoy today’s dreamy entry of The Games That Define Us! 

– Matthew, Normal Happenings




Shauna @ HideNGoShauna

Twitter: @HideNGoShauna

For Claris and Elliot

Game: NiGHTS into Dreams
System: Sega Saturn
Release Date: July 5, 1996

1P Start

The unique creatures, lovely soundtrack, and overall magic of the game really made an impression on me. I remember drawing my own renditions of the worlds in my sketchbook. To this day it’s still one of the most uniquely creative games I’ve played.

In my earliest years, I grew up watching my Dad play video games, and eventually playing them with him. We would sit together on the lumpy futon in the den, peering up at the tiny television. Sonic was one of the first games I remember, along with Mortal Kombat, Ghouls & Ghosts, and a few other favorite Genesis titles.

And Altered Beast of course. WIIIISE FWOM YOUR GWAVE!!!

As I grew, Dad stayed by my side as a guide to the exciting world of video games. Dad was firmly a Sega fan; he believed that Nintendo, while fun, was always a step behind Sega as far as technology and graphics were concerned. As such, instead of having a GameBoy like my friends, I had a Game Gear (which Dad reminded me had colour display several years before Nintendo) and instead of N64 we got a Sega Saturn.

One result of the Sega-mania of my upbringing was that, while I occasionally felt like I was missing out on the popular games my friends were playing (Pokémon, Donkey Kong Country, and Super Mario 64, mainly) on the other hand my consoles were a source of wonder to my friends, and I soon came to love that I had my own special set of magical worlds to peruse.

Occasionally friends would come over to play video games with me at my house and wouldn’t want to leave.

Sega Saturn had a really awesome diversity of games. We would visit our local Cash Converters (used goods) store and eventually amassed a good stack of titles. Some of my favorites were Astal, Bug, Clockwork Knight, Shining the Holy Arc, Sonic R, and Tomb Raider.

Dad would play Virtua Fighter 2 with me often; I only learned many years later that he was letting me win on occasion — as such I feel a bit embarrassed now of all the smack-talk I used to give him after delivering a K.O.

I had a teeny crush on Lion…

Playing the Saturn was the first time I really felt like “I’m a gamer. This is my console.” I was old enough to start beating levels on my own (okay, I did ask Dad for help from time to time) and the Saturn was a precious possession to me. Heck, the thing was even my first CD player, and I delighted in changing the pitch, tone, and speed of my AQUA: Aquarium album with the Saturn.

The game that stands out the most from this time though has to be NiGHTS into Dreams.


NiGHTS Into Dreams came bundled with a “3D Control Pad” controller that was innovative for its time.

The fantasy stages and bosses in NiD were so creative and strange. The main character, NiGHTS, is an androgynous, elfish being that can fly in a beautiful, acrobatic way.

The entire mechanics of gameplay felt different than anything I’d controlled before, designed to be used with the 3D Control Pad. You could make NiGHTS fly in any direction, forming giant loops to suck up gems and executing sudden turns as you pleased.

The unique creatures, lovely soundtrack, and overall magic of the game really made an impression on me. I remember drawing my own renditions of NiD-like worlds in my sketchbook. To this day it’s still one of the most uniquely creative games I’ve played.

I enjoyed the landscapes in NiD so much that I would often linger on purpose without hitting the checkpoints, forcing NiGHTS to transform into one of the two human characters whose dreams he inhabits. As such, I had the opportunity to walk and run on the ground and get a better look at some of the interesting designs in the game, but before long the egg-clock, bane of my existence, would begin to chase me with its terrifying searchlight.

I hated that clock with a passion. If it caught you in its bright ray, you would “wake up” and fail the stage. As a child I strongly wished that there was an alternate game mode where I could explore the fascinating worlds at leisure without that cursed clock dogging me.

I’ve always had a penchant for baddies, and Reala, NiGHTS’ rival, intrigued me. He was like the evil twin of NiGHTS.


I was stoked when a new NiD game was announced for Nintendo Wii some years ago, but it really didn’t capture the magic of the original. I’m not particularly fond of the altered version of NiGHTS that was presented; in the original game NiGHTS doesn’t really speak, whereas the posh female voice in the new game really throws me for a loop (a loop, get it? Like how NiGHTS uses loops to collect energy gems? … )

I’ve often thought that NiGHTS would be fun to cosplay, and that I’d like to design the costume someday — I was so excited when I saw a cosplayer at the Edmonton Expo last year wearing her own handmade NiGHTS costume! I should have gotten a picture with her, ah well. She told me that the headpiece was a pain in the butt to craft, and I totally believe that!

NiD, for me, is a reminder of my happy childhood, a special time when I had nowhere important to be, nothing particular to do, and seemingly all the time in the world to play games on my beanbag chair in my tiny, cozy room. It is one of those magical games that can remind us how video games can be an interactive art form, a format for creativity where dreams can become reality.

adventure map

WordPress Reader viewers, please consider enjoying this post again on the site. While we designed with you in mind, you miss some of the nuances of the piece by not enjoying it in its original form. 


This collaboration took an overwhelming amount of time and dedication from 34 exceptionally creative, incredible makers! Help us with the resources to make more, even better, collaborations in the future! We also have aspirations of developing a podcast called Normal Talks about optimistically appreciating everyday life! Please consider becoming a patron of Normal Happenings and help us try to make the world a better, more positive place!

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Breath of Fire II | The Game That Defines The Well-Red Mage

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Come for the great writing, stay for the lovingly orchestrated and animated cover of a slightly obscure SNES RPG. It’s a win-win. 


The Games That Define Us features carefully chosen music and remixes from the franchise of the game represented. Music is a key component of sharing the emotions one feels about a game, so we hope you will press the play button if you’re in a position to do so. 


Just a brief summary if this is your first time here: This collaboration is a 34-day long adventure through video games. Each piece is its own unique audiovisual experience, complete with artwork, designs, music, and (most importantly) amazing works of prose by brilliant bloggers around the world. This adventure will take you through nostalgia, joy, ambition, self-discovery, regret, anxiety, frustration, mourning, and every human experience in between. Video games exist as fragments on the timeline of our lives, and each one of us have chosen the adventure we feel most defines us.

Mild Trigger Warning: this blog delves into topics of faith and spiritual identity. We believe these are important parts of life and identity, but as always, we have no desire to push these beliefs on other people.

The mage. The myth. The legend. You are truly in for a treat today. I must admit, though I try not to play favorites, I have truly been looking forward to publishing today’s piece.

I’m a proud patron of The Well-Red Mage, and for good reason. He leads an army of bloggers to writing critical long-form pieces about video games, and they must be seen to be believed. Each piece he publishes is well-paced and deliberate, refusing to let the sensationalism of modern-day journalism (in)sensibilities seep in. You’re about to see some of that in action, after which you might be interested in some of these:

He has been so supportive of Normal Happenings since all the way back to when I published the retrospective on my first video game. Since then, we’ve built up a truly great blog partnership. While I’m dragging my feet (for now) on becoming a mage, mainly because I get obsessed and am worried I wouldn’t be able to devote the time to make the pieces as complex as I would like, we still work together on a multitude of projects. I was recently on MAGE CAST, the Well-Red Mage podcast, discussing Sonic the Hedgehog 1, with a rumored Sonic Mania podcast in the future. Meanwhile, his retweet support is helping both Normal Happenings and this collaboration find new audiences. I’m looking forward to all the tasks we’ll be working together on in the future.

For now, however, let us begin! Please enjoy this next chapter of The Games That Define Us!

– Matthew, Normal Happenings




The Well-Red Mage @ The Well-Red Mage

Twitter: @theWellRedMage

For the warriors of light.

Game: Breath of Fire II
System: SNES
Release Date: December 2, 1994

1P Start

The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible.
-John C. Lennox

Preamble Ramble

I want to thank Matthew from Normal Happenings for asking me to be a part of this collaborative undertaking. I’m not always able to dig into the fun community events happening all over WordPress, but this one was normal enough to be irresistible! My heart is in this community of writers and I wish I could clone myself for more time to be everywhere, read everything, and interact with everyone. Until that technology is invented and the inevitable clone wars begin, this stopgap of an article will have to suffice. I’ll treat it as a love letter to this great and welcoming community.

So anyway I was asked to talk about (not review) a game that means a lot to me personally. The title of the project is “Games That Define Us”, after all. To prevent myself from running my mouth dry about Chrono Trigger yet again, or any of the other games I never shut up about, I decided I’d talk about Breath of Fire II and how it played a major part in my life’s journey so far, specifically regarding theology. I don’t want anyone to feel shanghaied into reading this under different expectations: I am about to talk about my perspective on God and religion, topics not always for the faint of heart, but ultimately, this is a post about my life and how I arrived at certain philosophies and systems of thought which I maintain to this day. You don’t have to agree with me; that makes us individuals, but I’m going to talk about my life, nonetheless.

Whiff of Fire


If I remember correctly (though if I have to have a past I prefer it to be multiple choice), I first randomly encountered Capcom’s JRPG epic Breath of Fire II at my friend Jacob’s house. He had a Super Nintendo before I did, and spending the weekends there was a big factor in why I love the SNES so much and got one of my own eventually. We played a lot of Earthworm Jim, Street Fighter II Turbo, Chuck Rock, Mega Man X, and Rock n Roll Racing among many others. There was some PC gaming that went on, too, with the likes of Duke Nuk’em and Another World.

There was one of his cartridges, however, which stood out to me. We never played it together and I didn’t know why, especially since we traded off or played co-op with pretty much all the other games in his collection. Since I spent so much time there, and since it rained so frequently, we eventually got to the point of boredom where I could play whatever I wanted with or without him. He let me have access to his entire library. Generous guy! I went straight for that cartridge and plugged it in… the familiar 90’s Capcom logo warbled on a black screen, followed by the title screen (the incendiary insignia of a dragon’s silhouette). An adventure then began, the likes of which my young mind really was not prepared for.

After a haunting, if not terrifying, opening sequence with a talking eye, I followed a little boy named Ryu in search of his sister. He finds her but when he returns to his village, nobody recognizes him. So begins a story bigger than I could’ve imagined. Breath of Fire II involved lots of dragons, a catgirl, a dog-man, a human armadillo, a monkey, a tree sprite, a French frog, an exile with black wings, a huge fantasy world, many monsters galore, and… church?

I was kind of surprised to see it there.

Encountering Religion


See, I grew up in the church. Sometimes you see that phrase passed around. It doesn’t really mean anything other than my parents made me go to a place I didn’t want to go every Sunday. I drew pictures and learned some stories without any indication of their meaning or relevant significance, and more than a few times I drew from my tiny cache of childish wiles to get out of it. Once, I put bubble gum in my hair to try to stay home so I could play The Legend of Zelda. I just ended up with a new haircut and all the old women who smelled like hair and muumuus complimented me.

Anyway, I was still going to church with my mom when I played Breath of Fire II. I eventually got to the part in the game where the Church of St. Eva (more on that here) became antagonistic, its hypnotized congregants shepherded by the literally diabolical high priest Habaraku. Turns out (spoilers, I guess) the Church of St. Eva was actually a front for demons. The Church was siphoning the prayers of its parishioners and converting them into power for its slumbering demon-king, Deathevan. This was fairly typical for the JRPG scene at the time, which had a tense relationship toward depictions of Westernized religion, at best, stemming from what appears to be a distinctly Japanese perspective.

This concept terrified me when I first encountered it, though. It was an entirely new idea to me that a church could be actually evil. I went to church only begrudgingly back then, had the occasional stirs of inspiration when a song I liked was sung (“My Sheep Know My Voice” since I loved animals when I was very young), and I don’t remember having any meaningful tie to the church I went to. It was a place to play and see friends. That’s it. But I never thought of it as an evil place. I felt the people were nice and the food was good and it was peaceful.

The idea that the church could be worshiping evil instead of Good never left me, and as I grew up into high school age, it was one which continued to haunt me now and then. I had the occasional nightmare about it. In reality, what it did was provoke me to research. I remember growing up that I spent a lot of time alone in nature; being by myself in the forest or at the beach let me think on my thoughts. Growing up, I told a few people who didn’t know that I got dragged to church that I was an atheist, my young life punctuated by the divorce of my parents and a subsequent perspective of the universe as capricious, cruel, and meaningless: the atheistic admixture.

However, it was in nature that I reached a point in my life when I had my inciting incident. I realized if the God they talked about in church was real then that meant everything in my life had to have meaning, significance, and a fundamentally different reality than the one I usually considered: being an unwanted accident. But if God didn’t exist or worse, if he was actually something else entirely, then that meant something, too.

All Things Permissible


I began to feel like Ryu and his party creeping down the Infinity Dungeon step by step, plagued by random battles, toward the inevitable end as the daunting scope and resolution of my studies ahead settled in on me. Still, I felt the task was unavoidable. I had to figure these things out. I couldn’t just live as if they didn’t matter.

I later read about how C.S. Lewis, the most reluctant convert, came to believe in God and fought against it with all the intellectualism he could muster until the horrible, irresistible, pacifying realization came down on him like an avalanche and he had no choice to accept. Why the horror? Well, to accept that there is an infinite Mind watching you from conception, more powerful than anything else in existence, is and ought to be a humbling realization, at least. That’s why I take some irritation with some who treat their believing in the existence of God with frivolity and indifference.

And only does taking the next step further toward personal explanation on the part of that God as loving dispell any of the horror of that belief. I’ve heard Christianity described as a fairy tale for those afraid of the dark, but God’s not a teddy bear… He’s pictured as a consuming fire, someone who won’t be mocked.

Questioning the Unquestionable


It’s okay to question, be curious, skeptical, doubtful, and then search for an answer.

As a boy, I remember being fascinated with folklore and mythology but that doubled after playing Breath of Fire II. Thanks to my local library (I didn’t have internet access in my home back then), I could study as much as I wanted.

I dug through the pantheon of the Greeks and Romans. I picked up some Japanese vocab to delve into the myths of the rising sun. I felt the ice of Norse eschatology. I looked to the heavens with Native American beliefs. I even learned about the ancient tales of the Hawaiians, my own people, but, becoming rapidly superstitious, I avoided learning Hawaiian chants and prayers in some of the schools I attended, even though I remember standing at the seashore and cursing Nāmaka the goddess of the sea just to see what would happen. People are complicated contradictions, I guess. To me, those things were real until I reached an age when I learned to study if they really were.

Hawaii is both a very superstitious and spiritual place, come to think about it. As a place where the fusion of cultures functions rather well, foods of all kinds are in abundance, as are traditions and religions. Within the small circle of my friends, I knew an atheist, a Buddhist, a Christian, and a Mormon. Hawaii had a lot of religions going on in just a small plot of land.

It was in this realm of fusion and confusion that the roots of my interest in spirituality and religion was cemented, but I realize I can trace that interest back to Breath of Fire II. It wasn’t until I moved to California and went to college that all the questions I’d ever asked came to a head and I found myself the disinclined convert made inclined. In other words, I couldn’t think of a way out of it. That’s my story, trying to rationalize God because of a video game.

How do you rationalize God? Lots of people say that the Christian monotheistic model of God is so supreme so as to be disprovable (invisible, all-powerful, all-knowing, beyond physical reach, etc.), the equivalent of “Well I’ve got a dinosaur who eats forcefield dogs!” I don’t think that’s the case, though.

Antony Flew, when he was still an atheist, attempted to demonstrate that the Christian God is an inherently incomprehensible concept by suggesting God’s attributes are incompatible with each other (grace and justice, for instance). He later discredited his own work on the subject but at least he established the honest potentiality for disproving God if He could be demonstrated to be fundamentally inconsistent: the theological equivalent of a zero-sided square or other such nonsense.

What Breath of Fire II did for me was it prevented me from taking anything at face value, not accept that church or God were good just because my parents went there for a time. I had to dig into these things myself and try my best to see and study and research the reality of things, if there indeed was any at all. I had run the gamut from Buddhism to Shintoism (two faiths which grabbed my attention when I was younger) and an array of others in books in full circle back to Christianity.

Personal Discovery


Really, I couldn’t be more grateful for what Breath of Fire II did for me, indirectly.

Could I have encountered God without it? I don’t know, but if I had, maybe it wouldn’t have been in the same way where I came to think of the Uncaused Cause as logically coherent within Himself, not that there are no more mysteries or that I have no more doubts (wrestling with the nature of reality is what religions are about), but learning to be assured is something that’s been a crucial part of finding meaning in my life.

Now, I’ve experienced a lot of joy, done a lot of cool things, and met a lot of incredible people that I never would have without the experience that Breath of Fire II led me toward. Literally, I wouldn’t be the same person, spiritually, certainly, and those of you who are spiritual reading this will know that that speaks to a core part of your being. If you’re not at all interested in that sort of thing, at least you can get a glimpse of what video games can do and how they can impact people, provoking them to ask questions about epistemology, psychology, history, sociology, anthropology, eschatology, and theology itself. I don’t have all the answers, just as no one in any other field of study has all the answers, but I’ve rarely been so impacted by other samples of entertainment.

Because I believe in a personal God now, I’m impressed at the sagacity in using a simple 16-bit video game to get to me. I’ve been able to find this meaning that has carried me through the later, harder parts of my life thanks to this game. Sure I discovered that meaning a little later in life but it was just like waking up on a Saturday and having breakfast at noon.

This is the second time I’ve connected Breath of Fire II to my faith in writing, so I hope it’s not old hat at this point. Thank you for reading my story!





adventure map

WordPress Reader viewers, please consider enjoying this post again on the site. While we designed with you in mind, you miss some of the nuances of the piece by not enjoying it in its original form. 


This collaboration took an overwhelming amount of time and dedication from 34 exceptionally creative, incredible makers! Help us with the resources to make more, even better, collaborations in the future! We also have aspirations of developing a podcast called Normal Talks about optimistically appreciating everyday life! Please consider becoming a patron of Normal Happenings and help us try to make the world a better, more positive place!

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Myst | The Game That Defines Imaginating Life

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Let’s go ahead and kick-start the audio for this post! We can’t go through this entire piece without hearing the wonderfully bombastic main theme for Myst — calmer tracks to follow.




The Games That Define Us features carefully chosen music and remixes from the franchise of the game represented. Music is a key component of sharing the emotions one feels about a game, so we hope you will press the play button if you’re in a position to do so. 


Hello, and welcome back to The Games That Define Us! We are six days into this amazing collaboration, and there has been so much positive feedback. Each of you reading this are amazing, and I’d like to give you a big “thank you!”

Just a brief summary if this is your first time here: This collaboration is a 34-day long adventure through video games. Each piece is its own unique audiovisual experience, complete with artwork, designs, music, and (most importantly) amazing works of prose by brilliant bloggers around the world. This adventure will take you through nostalgia, joy, ambition, self-discovery, regret, anxiety, frustration, mourning, and every human experience in between. Video games exist as fragments on the timeline of our lives, and each one of us have chosen the adventure we feel most defines us.

Today we’re joined by the talented Amanda from Imaginating Life! Like me, she’s both a graphic designer and blogger, which is always a great combination. You can check out her amazing design portfolio — her use of color is on point! You should also check out her fantastic blog post, It’s Dangerous to Go Alone – My Thoughts on Depression, when you finish up here.

Let’s get started, then, with Myst — the best-selling PC game until The Sims! We hope enjoy discovering this chapter of The Games The Define Us!

– Matthew, Normal Happenings




Amanda May @ Imaginating Life

Twitter: @ImaginingDesign

For the ages.

Game: Myst
System: PC
Release Date: September 24, 1993

1P Start

The memories formed when we were playing Myst I still hold dear today. Though my mom is no longer in this realm to reminisce about the good old days of PC gaming with me, or to help me create my own game in the future with her programming expertise, Myst continues to inspire my love of gaming.

When I was a kid, I loved reading fantasy fiction about far away mystical magical lands. Anything that sparked my vivid imagination was inspiring to me. I would even invent my own mystical magical lands. I enjoyed sketching them out, and would create stories around them in great detail, filling up notebook after notebook.

When my mom bought our first home PC for the family back in the early 90s, I began to shift my focus from imagining fantastical tales to game strategizing and connecting patterns. I was all about some Space Invaders, Pong, and my favorite, Tetris. On DOS. Yup.

Later I would go on to play such “innovative” games as Hero’s Quest, Lemmings, and Fable (the 90s DOS adventure game, not the 2004 version on Xbox — totally different games!). My mom was a computer programmer after all, so she also encouraged learning about computers, and would even involve me in the process whenever she would upgrade our computer — yes, my mom actually built computers!

But the real “game changer” (pun totally intended) came when Mom bought a new PC, upgrading us to Windows 95, and purchased the game that would eventually be the standard I would hold all future games by. That game was Myst.

Myst was, at that time, cutting edge and revolutionary. It received high praise for its amazing and detailed graphics, unique storyline, and beautifully composed soundtrack — all ahead of their time by industry standards back then. The soundtrack was of particular interest to us, as my mother was herself a pianist and composer, and would often sit at the piano recreating the game’s music. I always enjoyed listening to her play. But I would go on to remember this game for another reason: it was the first game, and first activity in general, that my mother and I truly bonded over.

In the mid-90s my mom had become disabled, and had to step down from her corporate job as Sr. Computer Analyst, a title she was proud to have at that time. Though pain and restriction of movement limited her, she did have more free time to play games and watch movies with myself and my brothers. Myst, though, was our game — just Mom and me.

This in-game merger of fantasy worlds with strategy and puzzle solving led me into a new phase of creative inspiration that was the start of my interest in game design and, later, web design. I started filling up notebooks with not only new fantasy world sketches and story lines, but also images of my own puzzles and actual dialog between characters I had created.

Mom and I would play other games like the Myst series between releases, such as Obsidian, 7th Guest, Shivers, Qin:Tomb of the Middle Kingdom, and Schizm: Mysterious Journey, which would all inspire even more sketches and descriptions of game mechanics. (By the way, if you ever get the chance to play Obsidian you’ll be in for a real challenge! It’s my second-favorite game of all time after Myst.)

When it was time for college, the schools nearby that I could afford on the state scholarship I’d received sadly did not offer Game Design or Game Development as part of their curriculum. So I settled for a dual major in Web Design and Visual Communications. But I kept up my dream of creating my games someday. Having a programmer for a mom was also super helpful in my studies too, especially when I started working with animation scripts like JavaScript and Flash. (I know, it’s an obsolete skill now. One day I’ll find time to sit down and sink my teeth into Unity!)

The memories formed when we were playing Myst, and its many sequels over the coming years, I still hold dear today. Though my mom is no longer in this realm to reminisce about the good old days of PC gaming with me, or to help me create my own game in the future with her programming expertise, Myst continues to inspire my love of gaming. I’ve always felt proud to boast about playing the game whenever I’m included in a gaming discussion. Moreover, it helped my mom hold onto her sanity when she became disabled, and helped us to stay close through my turbulent teenage years and onward.

I believe our relationship was strengthened through our bond over Myst, and I will never forget those days. It was more than a game. It was a place of calm respite. A ray of hope. The beginning of my future career path. It was, and still is, the game that defined me.

And so I close, realizing that perhaps the ending has not yet been written.
~ Atrus, Myst

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This collaboration took an overwhelming amount of time and dedication from 34 exceptionally creative, incredible makers! Help us with the resources to make more, even better, collaborations in the future! We also have aspirations of developing a podcast called Normal Talks about optimistically appreciating everyday life! Please consider becoming a patron of Normal Happenings and help us try to make the world a better, more positive place!

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The Secret of Monkey Island | The Game That Defines Later Levels

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We know we’re mixing games in the franchise, but we cannot get over the goodness of this ambient mix from Monkey Island 2



The Games That Define Us features carefully chosen music and remixes from the franchise of the game represented. Music is a key component of sharing the emotions one feels about a game, so we hope you will press the play button if you’re in a position to do so. 


Just a brief summary if this is your first time here: This collaboration is a 34-day long adventure through video games. Each piece is its own unique audiovisual experience, complete with artwork, designs, music, and (most importantly) amazing works of prose by brilliant bloggers around the world. This adventure will take you through nostalgia, joy, ambition, self-discovery, regret, anxiety, frustration, mourning, and every human experience in between. Video games exist as fragments on the timeline of our lives, and each one of us have chosen the adventure we feel most defines us.

Happy Saturday, and welcome to day three of The Games That Define Us! We have two posts this weekend you simply can’t miss! Tomorrow I’ll be unveiling my piece for Sonic the Hedgehog 2 — one I’ve worked very hard on and am excited for you all to read.

But that’s for another day, literally. Today we’ll be visited by a legend in our local blogosphere. Give a big hand to Kim of Later Levels! She is one of the most stand-out people I know, and has done so much to help Normal Happenings get off the ground.

You can’t go wrong with her writing either. She knows how to get right to the heart of the matter, and you always come out the other side of her posts feeling like a better, more informed person. All of her posts are excellent, but here are some recent suggestions you should consider exploring after finishing up here:

She’ll be your tour guide today as we seek The Secret of Monkey Island, so let’s get adventuring! We hope you treasure this chapter of The Games The Define Us!

– Matthew, Normal Happenings




Kim @ Later Levels
Twitter: @LaterLevels

For all the aspiring pirates

Game: The Secret of Monkey Island
System: Amiga 500
Release Date: October 15, 1990

1P Start

I’d never heard of The Secret of Monkey Island, but after booting it up on the Amiga, I was amazed. It was then that I realized fantastic worlds I thought only existed inside of books could be brought to life through a video game.


We all have that one Christmas present we remember receiving as a child, and mine was an Amiga 500. After I’d excitedly unwrapped the box, my dad told me to think about what I wanted to try first while he figured out how to hook it up to the television. This was obviously a very big decision for a little kid, so I carefully made my selection: it was the floppy disks which came with a manual depicting a mysterious skull, fierce-looking pirates and a young blonde hero which caught my attention.

I’d never heard of The Secret of Monkey Island, but after booting it up on the Amiga, I was amazed. It was then that I realised fantastic worlds I thought only existed inside of books could be brought to life through a video game. My dad and I were wrapped up for hours, battling dangerous-looking yaks in the Governor’s mansion and insulting swashbucklers by telling them they fought like cows; and I felt extremely proud of myself for reaching the solution to the grog-mug challenge before the grown-ups.

That was the start of a lifelong love-affair with the adventure genre and a childhood crush on Guybrush Threepwood. I’d played other games on the Commodore 64 and NES, but nothing so story- or puzzle-focused; and that title became the first I played for myself, all the way through to the end and without much help. It influenced me as a gamer and, even though I now enjoy a variety of releases, it’s point-and-clicks that I always return to because they hold a special place in my heart.

After that Christmas I went on to play as many adventures as I could, eagerly working my way through Simon the Sorcerer, Myst and The Dig. I eventually had the chance to play a game I was inspired to try after meeting Cobb in the Scumm Bar back on Mêlée Island and questioning him about his ‘Ask me about Loom’ badge. I love references in titles like this; a subtle nod can hold intrigue for players and direct them towards releases they may not have otherwise have found.

During a charity marathon stream a couple of years ago, I played The Secret of Monkey Island very early in the morning and my stepson joined me once he’d woken up. He was then about the same age I had been when I’d received my Amiga and I’d never thought to show the game to him, seeing as it didn’t contain anywhere near enough explosions for his tastes. Much to my surprise, however, he was totally captivated – and even ended up taking over the last part of my shift.

That’s the real secret of Monkey Island. It can show a young girl that magical worlds exist in pixels and give a dad an opportunity to spend some quality time with his daughter. It can explain to a ten-year old stepson that video games don’t always have to be about weapons and violence, and can even contain a story with humour. It can give a blogger an adoration for adventures and the chance to meet amazing people in this community. And it proves that all you really need to defeat an evil zombie pirate is a bottle of root beer.

adventure map

WordPress Reader viewers, please consider enjoying this post again on the site. While we designed with you in mind, you miss some of the nuances of the piece by not enjoying it in its original form. 


This collaboration took an overwhelming amount of time and dedication from 34 exceptionally creative bloggers. Help us with the resources to make even greater collaborations in the future. We also have aspirations of developing a podcast called Normal Talks about finding optimism in everyday life. Please consider becoming a patron of Normal Happenings and help us try to make the world a better, more positive place.become_a_patron_button

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