Why ‘Mario Kart’ makes you a better driver

The beloved childhood video game “Mario Kart” doesn’t just help you learn the rules to Rainbow Road


For years, our parents have tried to convince us that video games are a waste of time. However, research has proven that the time you spend dodging banana peels and throwing colored shells at your friends might actually improve your driving skills.

Of course, a video game is not going to make you the next big name in Formula 1 racing, and drifting down Rainbow Road or through Bowser’s Castle is not the same as driving on the 101 freeway. To be a good driver, you still need to get physical practice behind the wheel of a car. 

Time spent playing video games cannot substitute for the 50 hours of practice on the road needed to get your license, but playing “Mario Kart” and other racing games can help enhance the skills that good drivers already have. 

“Our research shows that playing easily accessible action video games for as little as five hours can be a cost-effective tool to help people improve essential visuomotor-control skills used for driving,” said researcher Li Li of New York University Shanghai, lead author of the study.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term “visuomotor” refers to skills that are “relating to or denoting the coordination of movement and visual perception by the brain.” Important driving skills such as reaction time, awareness of surroundings, and hand-eye coordination were all observed during the research period. 

The study, conducted in 2016 by the Association for Psychological Science, made participants split into two groups. One group trained with “Mario Kart,” a fast-paced action video game with a steering wheel controller, while the control group trained with “Roller Coaster Tycoon III,” a non-action video game, using a mouse and keyboard. 

Before and after the training sessions, the participants were asked to complete a driving simulation during which the objective was to steer a vehicle on a road while they avoided obstacles and crosswinds that affected the direction of the car. 

Data showed that after just five hours of playing “Mario Kart,” the visuomotor control skills and response time of participants improved. Those playing “Roller Coaster Tycoon” showed no noticeable change in these skills.

In addition to “Mario Kart,” other racing games have also shown similar results. Welsh professional racecar driver Jann Mardenborough started his career by playing “Gran Turismo” on the PlayStation in his bedroom.

“During the national final I was sideways in a 370Z and I was just doing what I was doing in the game,” Mardenborough said in an interview with Popular Mechanics.

In the latest versions of racing games, real life cars and tracks can be used by players. The result is a highly realistic reality that amplifies the visual sensory motor skills of its players.

Along with strengthening your skills in the driver’s seat, racing games have also proven to have other cerebral benefits. They have been shown to improve attention span, spatial intelligence abilities and the speed of making high-stress, time-sensitive decisions. 

Research conducted by the University of San Francisco demonstrates that racing games can improve the ability to multitask and filter out distractions in older adults. The study used the car racing game Neuroracer, which required players to make turns, slow down, have sign recognition and many more real-life driving skills.

“What’s most novel here is other abilities that were not directly trained, such as sustained attention… and working memory, their ability to hold on to something for a short period of time, also improved,” said Adam Gazzaley, lead researcher on the study.

Some argue that racing games like “Mario Kart” actually make people more reckless when driving, but they forget one important detail: it’s just a video game. At least for now, cars with parachutes and special power-ups are only a fantasy.

Players drive more recklessly in video games than they would in real life because they know it’s not real. While Kanan Road does have stop lights and speed limits, it doesn’t have speed-boost tracks or floating mystery power cubes.

I’m not suggesting that you should play five hours of “Mario Kart” per day. Although racing as Princess Peach in the Grand Prix is fun, everyone needs a break from their screens. But if gaming is already a timely habit, consider this a new excuse: you’re not wasting time, you’re taking Driver’s Ed.