New scientific paper explores the ways that Mario Kart can help reduce poverty and improve global sustainability

From (emphasis added):

In his new paper, Andrew Bell, a Boston University College of Arts & Sciences assistant professor of earth and environment argues that policies that directly provide assistance to farmers in the world's poorest developing regions could help reduce poverty overall, while increasing sustainable and environmentally friendly practices. Bell says the idea is a lot like the way that Mario Kart gives players falling behind in the race the best power-ups, designed to bump them towards the front of the pack and keep them in the race. Meanwhile, faster players in the front don't get these same boosts, and instead typically get weaker powers, such as banana peels to trip up a racer behind them or an ink splat to disrupt the other players' screens. This boosting principle is called "rubber banding," and it's what keeps the game fun and interesting, Bell says, since there is always a chance for you to get ahead.

In the video game world, rubber banding is simple, since there are no real-world obstacles. But in the real world, the concept of rubber banding to extend financial resources to agricultural families and communities who need it the most is extremely complicated.


Those opportunities might look like this, Bell says: governments could set up a program so that a third party—such as a hydropower company—would pay farmers to adopt agricultural practices to help prevent erosion, so that the company can build a dam to provide electricity. It is a complicated transaction that has worked under very specific circumstances, Bell says, but systems like this—known as Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES)—have been successful in benefitting both the farmers and the environment. A major challenge is finding private companies that are willing to pay for ecosystem services, and connecting them with farmers who are willing to change their agricultural practices. The good news about rubber banding, though, is that the more people participate in such economic programs, the more other people will join in as well; a concept Bell calls "crowding in," in his analysis.

I always knew that Blue Shell could save us.

Could Mario Kart teach us how to reduce world poverty and improve sustainability? [Jessica Colarossi /]

Image: Public Domain via NeedPIx