Staying on Track For Mental Health Using Mario Kart

Racing through Mario Kart can help us collect important insights into how we speed past life’s obstacles

Daniel A. Kaufmann, Ph.D.

Owner of Area of Effect Counseling & Dr. Gameology on Twitch & The Gaming Persona Podcast

Mario Kart has always been more than just a fun video game. It has been shown that there are many ways to utilize the magic of this beloved childhood classic to improve one’s mental health, especially in regards to the expression of creativity and imagination, as well as stress relief. Players of these beloved games from Nintendo likely have all experienced the pain of the spiked blue shell hitting us right when victory seemed imminent. They also have learned a lot about themselves in he ways of trying again, and finding that one small thing to get better next time that will make all of the difference.

Typical Mental Health Issues & How We Drive Past Them

The issues addressed in this article include potential challenges as well as positives we can drift through using these games, and solutions that can be mobilized by utilizing Mario Kart. Let’s use our first lap to look at the challenges:

– Depression: avoid first place and try to hang back until the end of the race. This allows for a more carefree experience with less worry about winning or losing. Use mushrooms and stars only when they give you a true advantage in the moment. There is no prize for being a frontrunner in this game. Trust the process, and each race will work itself out one lap at a time.

– Anxiety: let your imagination run wild when picking a character. If you feel that the mushroom head characters are too abrasive (looking at you Toad!!), then go for Luigi or Princess Peach. Maybe Yoshi can be your shield from other competitor’s bananas and turtle shells. Embrace your creativity in this world through choice of character and teaming up with friends to accomplish that 3-star trophy and also have a great time.

– Addiction: there is no end to this game, but it does come with the unfortunate side effect of repeating some courses over and over again. Try to vary your play mode with different styles of racing (time trial, battle mode, etc). If you are stuck on one course for too long, try doing something else like watching a show, taking a walk, meditating and connecting with yourself. Anything can work, so use that same creative energy you used in the races and choosing that perfect character for you to destress and and play again when it is really the right time to have fun.

– Dysfunctional relationships: it’s fine to be all about yourself and focus on your own development! That said, Mario Kart is a fun game to play with friends focusing on fast-paced cart racing, whimsical weapons, and iconic settings from across the Super Mario franchise. Try using this versatile game as a way to connect with others and work on your ability to keep your competitiveness in the right place.

How Mario Kart Helps Us Find Success in Life

Mario Kart is known for flipping the experience of the player upside down from lap to lap. Being able to stay calm and focus as the bombs explode all around us is a important super power we may notice from time to time which can help us in day to day life. Grit is an acronym which stands for Growth, Resilience, Integrity, Tenacity. This ability helps us to overcome obstacles, dodge banana peels, and cross the toughest finish lines in life. By working to get better at each course in a game like Mario Kart, we are actually programming our minds to know what it takes to achieve these tough goals. After all, underneath the charm of the Mario universe lies a deceptively hard gaming experience. By practicing in the game, we are introducing our brains to these difficult yet rewarding mental health strategies which carry over into our day to day life. So let’s line up for another lap:


  1. It is smart not to be first all the time. Perfectionism distracts us from the best experiences of true growth reality can offer.
  2. Use your brakes!! There is no special prize for winning with super star speeds (and you won’t win anyway).
  3. Life doesn’t have to be fair, and it can still be awesome (Looking at you BLUE SHELL).
  4. Friendly competition means you can destroy your friends and nobody holds a grudge (probably).
  5. Don’t be like Luigi – smile even when you own others. It is called manners.
  6. We can do hard things! Keep trying and you can beat any ghost.
  7. The race isn’t over (unless it actually is). Expect the unexpected, and enjoy the surprises in life.


Finding Our Finish Line

If we can use just a few of these insights in our day-to-day life, it becomes clear Mario Kart is much more than an imaginative dash through the mushroom kingdom. The game has been shown to increase positive mental health experiences, such as increased self-esteem and optimism about life’s future possibilities. Being a game with an off-the-track sense of fun, compelling modes, and a high difficulty curve, we can learn a lot about many elements to our mental health by opening our minds to the play of this exciting game whether we play alone or with friends.


Bosboom, J., Demaine, E. D., Hesterberg, A., Lynch, J., & Waingarten, E. (2016). Mario Kart is hard. In Discrete and Computational Geometry and Graphs (pp. 49-59). Springer International Publishing. 

Nintendo. (2017). Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.