Rationality made me less bad at Mario Kart 8

Origi­nally posted at https://​​www.three­mon­key­mind.com/​​wgir/​​mario-kart/​​.

“Ra­tion­al­ity techiques helped me to be­come less bad at Mario Kart” isn’t the most com­pel­ling ele­va­tor pitch for read­ing The Se­quences, but it illus­trates the use­ful­ness of reeval­u­at­ing the things you think you know ev­ery so of­ten, es­pe­cially when you’re mak­ing de­ci­sions based on the things you think you know.


Ra­tion­al­ity gives you a men­tal toolkit to help you up­date your be­liefs based on ev­i­dence. This is not always easy. Or­well once re­marked that to see what is in front of one’s nose needs a con­stant strug­gle and it’s use­ful to have men­tal tech­niques, habits, and say­ings to help you model the world as best as you can.

I re­cently got back into play­ing Mario Kart 8 on my own Switch. This wasn’t my first time play­ing Mario Kart, though. Back in the day, I man­aged to get first place in all Mario Kart cups at the high­est difficulty. I’d played about three hours of Dou­ble Dash, and I’d played a bit of Mario Kart 8 at a friend’s house. When my friends play mul­ti­player, they all race at 200cc, so I tried to pick a char­ac­ter and load­out that was up to the task[1]. Be­cause I didn’t know any bet­ter, I opted for Yoshi in the Stan­dard Kart, Stan­dard tires, and the Su­per Glider. I re­mem­bered read­ing that bikes were “more ad­vanced”, so I didn’t try them ini­tially. After a cou­ple rounds of do­ing abysmally poorly, I tried one of the bikes think­ing they’d be, at the very least, very differ­ent. After all, the mo­tor­cy­cle was very differ­ent from the cars in Stunt Race FX. I was right — I went from “abysmal” all the way up to “mediocre” just by chang­ing my ve­hi­cle type. A mas­sive im­prove­ment!

Sev­eral months later, I was sit­ting at home when I de­cided I wanted to get gold tro­phies for each of the cups in the sin­gle-player ver­sion of the game. I figured that I’d start out with the most ba­sic load­out, but in the in­terim I for­got how well I did on the bike. Re­mem­ber­ing that “bikes were for ad­vanced play­ers”, I ended up pick­ing the same racer and load­out: Yoshi, Stan­dard Kart, Stan­dard tires, Su­per Glider. With this load­out, I was only mediocre. While get­ting 5th place is definitely bet­ter than trailing ev­ery­body else in 12th place, I wouldn’t be able to get a gold Flower Cup tro­phy any­time soon if all I could do was 5th place on the first cir­cuit in the cup.

While I didn’t ex­pect to dom­i­nate Flower Cup, I con­sis­tently did much worse than I hoped. My biggest prob­lem was over­steer­ing and un­der­steer­ing while slid­ing. The kart never seemed to do what I ex­pected it to, es­pe­cially since I was still get­ting used to the new post-slide boost me­chanic.

At this point I de­cided to try the “more ad­vanced” Stan­dard Bike in­stead as I re­mem­bered do­ing a bit bet­ter with it at the friend’s house.

This seemed to be the change I needed; I took first place in Flower Cup’s first cir­cuit, Mario Cir­cuit. The bike be­haved in ways I ex­pected. I over- and un­der­steered much, much less.


Now then. I had a be­lief of “bikes are more ad­vanced”, but clearly this be­lief was keep­ing me from do­ing what I wanted to. The min­i­mal-fan­fare way to up­date your be­liefs in this case amounts to shrug­ging your shoulders and rea­son­ing “guess that half-re­mem­bered meme about bikes was way less use­ful for me than mem­o­ries of how much bet­ter I am on a bike”. Gen­er­ally, one doesn’t need to spend too much time mul­ling over one’s cog­ni­tive er­rors.

That said, some­times it’s use­ful to pause a mo­ment and mull over an er­ror in cog­ni­tion. After all, I’d like to make this er­ror less of­ten in the fu­ture. I like snow­clones as much as the next guy, so I looked up the Li­tany of Tarski and amused my­self by writ­ing this:

If I am bet­ter at Mario Kart on a bike,
I de­sire to be­lieve that I am bet­ter at Mario Kart on a bike.
If I am bet­ter at Mario Kart on a kart,
I de­sire to be­lieve that I am bet­ter at Mario Kart on a kart.
Let me not be­come at­tached to be­liefs I may not want.

From what I’ve ex­pe­rienced, both with Mario Kart and in other situ­a­tions, the Li­tany of Tarski is handy to keep in mind when faced with con­flict­ing in­for­ma­tion sources of im­perfect re­li­a­bil­ity. It’s even more use­ful to keep in mind if there’s a chance you over- or un­der­trust a given in­for­ma­tion source, as I overtrusted what was prob­a­bly a throw­away phrase in a GameFAQs guide.


  1. A racer who’s vi­able in slower cir­cuits can be too slow to com­pete in faster cir­cuits. In the origi­nal Mario Kart, for ex­am­ple, I chose Toad (slow top speed, easy to con­trol), but even­tu­ally had to pick Yoshi (mod­er­ate top speed, ac­cel­er­ates quickly, some­what harder to con­trol) in or­der to keep up with the com­puter-con­trol­led op­po­nents. ↩︎

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