475. Mario Kart and the Art of Not Giving Up

I’m really good at two things. Sure, I have minor gifts such as humor and writing, but they’re hardly worth mentioning. There are only two things in this world at which I’m really gifted.

The first is drinking coffee, in staggering amounts, at fairly high speed, with effortless aplomb. (I’ve had a lot of practice.) My second gift is winning Mario Kart races. Neither of these gifts are useful for professional success or intellectual fulfillment, but I consider them personal triumphs anyway.

Aw yeah.

Mario Kart is a series of racing video games by Nintendo, a company with an important heritage, rich history, and really weird controllers. Each Mario Kart game is packed with humor, color, whimsy, mayhem, and stuff that explodes. (For the record, Mario Kart: Double Dash!! is the best game in the series. Some people say that either Super Mario Kart or Mario Kart 64 is better. Those people are wrong.) I started playing Mario Kart in my teens, and after twelve or thirteen years, I’ve learned a thing or two.

One of the things I’ve learned is the importance of picking up speed. Every kart in the games is valued according to two statistics: speed and acceleration.

There’s technically a third stat, weight, but it’s not all that important.

Going fast is great, sure, but something is guaranteed to bring karts to a full stop. Inexperienced players drive off roads or into obstacles. Even Mario Kart veterans can’t dodge certain hazards. Consider the Red Shell, a projectile weapon that seeks outs other racers. Then there’s the dreaded Blue Shell, an unstoppable missile that wrecks the winning racer within seconds. It really puts the hell in Shell.

This diagram pretty much sums it up. (It comes from a webcomic with a lot of profanity. I guess its creator plays a lot of Mario Kart.)

Sooner or later, every Mario Kart racer ends up in a ditch… or submerged in a glacial ocean, or sinking into glowing lava. (Video games will be video games.) Every racer, no matter how fast, eventually ends up wrecked.

That’s when acceleration comes in handy. It allows players to regain their top speed quickly after obstacles or poor driving slow them down. Depending on the race, a slow kart with good acceleration might have the advantage over a fast kart that takes a long time to get moving.

I think there’s a lesson here. In nearly every day God gives me, I try to do my best. Sometimes I keep it up for days or even weeks at a stretch: making good decisions, working hard, keeping my faith, and being kind. In Mario Kart terms, I maintain a good top speed.

Then, inevitably, I wreck my kart. I make a bad decision, and swerve off the road. Some wrecks aren’t even my fault. The unstoppable Blue Shells of depression, sickness, or bad circumstances bring my kart to a grinding halt.

Aw heckles, I took a wrong turn. It’s going to be a long fall.

I really struggle to get moving again at such times. What good is a high top speed if I’m not even moving? If I’ve lost my momentum, what’s the point? I may as well just sit here. The race is lost. I doubt I can even make second or third place, so I may as well just wait for the next one… but that’s no way to live, is it?

Speed is important, but so is acceleration. It’s important to live well, but also to keep moving after living badly.

Losers sit around moping after wrecking their karts.

Winners keep driving.

Gritty or Glittery?

In the past few years, we’ve seen a lot of gritty media: books, films, and video games characterized by darkness, angst, violence, and square-jawed men brooding over inner conflicts. From Wolverine to Walter White, we’ve seen plenty of angsty characters on the large and small screens. Books—even young adult literature—feature people killing (and dying!) in all sorts of creative ways. The video game industry continues making games with guns, gore, and roughly one in every five words of dialogue being the f-bomb.

Angst! Darkness! Square jaws!

Angst! Darkness! Square jaws!

Why is gritty media popular? That’s a tough question to answer. I suppose there’s some truth to the darkness and violence in these media, and it resonates with people. We all feel sadness, discouragement, and anger. Some face depression, abuse, self-destructive impulses, or equally “gritty” problems.

Finally, gritty media often seems mature, sophisticated, or “grown-up.” All of this begs the question: Is it?

While gritty media has become more popular in past years, there are still plenty of lighthearted books, films, and video games: “glittery” media, so to speak.

Light! Smiles! Goofy braces!

Light! Smiles! Goofy braces!

Throughout history, comedy has nearly always taken a backseat to tragedy. Shakespeare’s most famous plays are his tragedies; Mark Twain’s cynical Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is celebrated over his cheerfuller books; P.G. Wodehouse’s clever comedies are largely eclipsed by the gloomy writings of his contemporaries. It seems humor and optimism can’t be taken seriously.

While there are certainly good things to say for gritty narratives, I don’t believe grittier is necessarily better. A purpose of art is to reflect or represent truth; the truth is that life isn’t always gloomy. A Farewell to Arms or The Things They Carried may be brilliant depictions of the horrors of war, but peace is no less real than violence. I think it’s absurd to suppose, say, Anne of Green Gables is necessarily an inferior book because it reflects joy and sentiment instead of pain and despair.

In the end, it’s a mistake to judge the quality of a thing by whether it’s gritty or glittery, tragic or comic, cynical or optimistic. That said, I would love to see people take glittery media more seriously. Can we study humorists like P.G. Wodehouse or James Thurber more widely in schools? I’m sure students wouldn’t mind putting down The Lord of the Flies. Can we have fewer gritty superhero movies and have more like Marvel’s quirky Guardians of the Galaxy? We could use a break from gloom and doom.

The world is an awfully dark place, but there’s a little light left. Some stories remember that, and I think they’re worth taking seriously.


This post was originally published on October 24, 2014. TMTF shall return with new posts on Monday, September 5!

The Brutal Art of Speedrunning

This is a special week. America celebrated its Independence Day, sure, but that’s not all: Games Done Quick is currently running its summer marathon for charity.

Games Done Quick, whose current marathon supports Doctors Without Borders, is an event celebrating the art of speedrunning. A speedrun is an attempt to complete a video game as quickly as possible. There are endless variations upon this concept, but they all have one thing in common—they are ridiculously fast.

The video above is a brief feature on a young man nicknamed Darbian, who held (and still holds, I think) the world record for speedrunning the original Super Mario Bros. He beat the game in under five minutes. The entire game. That’s bonkers.

I don’t really follow Games Done Quick or other speedrunning projects, but I’m fascinated by the metagame they create around existing games. They add rules, objectives, and strategies never intended by the games’ developers, building new games upon the old ones. It’s neat.

It’s also pretty brutal—a tiny mistake can derail an entire speedrun. A successful speedrun requires near-perfect timing, comprehensive knowledge of the game, tons of practice, endless patience, and perhaps just a touch of insanity.

I only ever tried speedrunning one game; coincidentally, it was Super Mario Bros. When I was in college, I spent a week or two playing and replaying the game, whittling away the seconds, until I managed to finish it in under ten minutes. I felt quite accomplished. Now, knowing that speedrunners like Darbian can beat the game in less than half that time, I feel… less accomplished.

Ah, well. I suppose what matters is having fun!

441. TMTF’s Top Ten Hot Guys in Fiction

Do you know what this blog needs? Hot guys. This blog needs more hot guys.

What? You think hot guys are an inappropriate subject for this blog? Oh, I disagree. I won’t discriminate against anyone for being totally smoking hot. I think this post is long overdue.

It’s a burning question: Who are the hottest guys in fiction? There are a lot of potential answers, so let’s warm up with a list of ten.

We’re turning up the heat, ladies and gentlemen, as TMTF presents…

The TMTF List of Top Ten Hot Guys in Fiction!

10. Calcifer (Howl’s Moving Castle)

Calcifer

This friendly fire demon is not only helpful and adorable, but also sounds exactly like Billy Crystal. (Wait, he’s actually voiced by Billy Crystal? Well.) Calcifer may not be the hottest guy on this list, but he’s certainly hot enough to fry eggs and bacon.

Cooking with Calcifer

That’s pretty hot, right?

9. Anger (Inside Out)

Anger (Inside Out)

This one is easy. I mean, the dude’s head is literally on fire.

Hot guy. No doubt about it. Great movie, too.

8. Mario (Super Mario Bros. series)

Fireball Mario

Mario isn’t always hot, but he occasionally throws fireballs. These whirling spheres of flame aren’t terribly large or threatening, except when they get out of hand. (Pun intended. I’m so, so sorry.) When Mario cuts loose with the fireballs, things heat up pretty quickly.

Mario's Final Smash

Bowser is another hot character from the Super Mario Bros. series, but I chose Mario because this list has quite enough scaly fire-breathing monsters. Speaking of which….

7. Charizard (Pokémon)

Charizard

Charizard is labeled a Fire-type Pokémon, and for good reason. His flaming tail is a life sign, like a pulse… but more likely to burn down buildings. Charizard also breathes fire.

Totally hot, man.

6. The Fury (Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater)

The Fury

This crazy cosmonaut hails from my favorite Metal Gear Solid game as a member of the Cobra Unit: a team of supervillains working for a rogue Soviet colonel. The Fury is a pyromaniac through and through, packing a flamethrower and a jet pack—which, I can only assume, were standard issue for Soviet cosmonauts prior to the sixties.

When the Fury finally gives up the ghost, it’s with delusions, explosions, and surreal shrieking heads of fire. So hot.

5. The Guys in the Seventh Circle of Hell (Dante’s Inferno)

Seventh Circle of Hell

The circles of Dante’s hell offer various horrors, from violent winds to ceaseless whippings. It’s the seventh circle that most closely resembles the classic image of hell as a fiery place, with a river of boiling blood and flakes of fire drifting to the ground. “Thus was descending the eternal heat, whereby the sand was set on fire, like tinder beneath the steel.”

You can bet the sinners in hell’s seventh circle are pretty hot.

4. Zuko (Avatar: The Last Airbender)

Zuko

In the fantasy world of Avatar: The Last Airbender, Zuko is a firebender: a martial artist who redirects chi (spiritual energy) and unleashes it as fire. Firebending is awesome. It can be used to warm tea, heat bathwater, or do this:

Firebending

Zuko is the show’s most dynamic firebender, learning from dragons and experimenting with advanced forms of his art. He never did learn to make a good cup of tea, but he’s still a really hot guy.

3. Hades (Disney’s Hercules)

Hades

At first glance, Hades looks like a shady uncle to Anger from Pixar’s Inside Out. Don’t be fooled. The smooth-talking god of the dead from Disney’s Hercules often loses his cool. (Pun intended. I’m still sorry.) When his temper flares (I’m so, so sorry), those flames rage out of control.

Yes, Hades is a hot guy… but he’s the master of the underworld, so what did you expect?

2. Smaug (The Hobbit)

Smaug

Do I even need to explain this one? Smaug is a dragon. He breathes fire. Dragons breathe fire. Hot.

It would have been easy to fill this list with dragons, but I limited myself to one. I chose Smaug because, of all the dragons I considered, he hit the best blend of hotness and cultural significance. (Next time, Toothless. Next time.) Smaug is far from the only hot character in J.R.R. Tolkien’s books; Sauron is represented by a fiery eye, and Denethor was pretty hot right at the end of his life.

1. The Human Torch (Marvel comics)

The Human Torch

I don’t really have anything to say about the Human Torch, except that he’s literally on fire, burning at impossibly high temperatures that would reduce ordinary men to greasy little piles of soot.

I can think of no hotter guy in fiction.

Who are your favorite hot guys or gals in fiction? Fire away in the comments!

439. Are Video Games Art?

Can video games be art?

This question has proved divisive and difficult. Some people have praised games for their visuals, music, writing, and interactive narratives; others have dismissed games as a childish diversion.

Are games art

My own opinion, for whatever it’s worth, is that video games have the artistic potential of any other medium.

A few days ago, someone with whom I shared this opinion smirked, shook her head in contempt, and said “Nuh-uh,” before walking away as though she had just won an argument. I didn’t pursue the matter any further, though I did suppress a strong impulse to kick that person in the shin.

Such a jeering derision of video games—not of any specific game, but of video games as a medium—irritates me. If books, films, and songs can be valued as art forms, why not video games? They are just as capable of conveying ideas, challenging perceptions, and evoking emotions. What makes game design any less valid than other media as a form of artistic expression?

After all, many games blend acknowledged art forms—music, graphic design, storytelling, and sometimes acting—into a single medium. It seems irrational, small-minded, or even prejudiced to dismiss the entire medium as intrinsically inferior to other media, especially without giving any good reasons why.

Of course, some people have given good reasons. I’ll be the first to admit that some of the arguments against video games as an art form are well worth consideration.

Roger Ebert, for example, argued that the interactive nature of games interferes with their artistic value. Some degree of creative control is wrested from the game designers and thrust into the hands of players. To illustrate his point, Ebert posited a video game retelling of Romeo and Juliet that allowed for a happy alternate ending. Such an ending would weaken the story; the storyteller’s vision would be lost.

Romeo and Juliet

I’ve never played a Grand Theft Auto game, but its “Game over” message was too perfect not to use for Romeo and Juliet. I’m so, so sorry. (I’m not sorry.)

Another argument claims that the popular nature of video games disqualifies them for serious artistic consideration. Hideo Kojima, the creator of the Metal Gear Solid series, stands by this argument. More than perhaps any other medium, games typically exist not to convey moral, emotional, or existential insights, but simply to be fun.

Yet another argument states that video games, with their rules and conditions, are no more artistic than sports, cards, or board games. Few people consider soccer matches or poker games works of art.

What about video games that exist not to be played in a traditional sense, but simply to immerse the player or tell a story? The argument goes that these aren’t really games, which brings us back to the contentious not-a-game debate. What is a video game, really?

In the end, the question of whether video games can be art hinges on an even bigger question: What is art, anyway? That’s a question with no easy answer, and without a categorical standard for art, there’s no way of knowing whether video games can meet such a standard.

Fortunately, it doesn’t really matter whether video games can be art. I believe they have value as a medium in any case. For example, I think the Portal games are works of art, but I know they’re tons of fun. My appreciation for those games doesn’t depend on whether anyone labels them art.

Adam and... GLaDOS

If any game is a work of art, it’s Portal 2. (I covered up the indecent bits.)

The question of whether video games can be art is interesting to discuss, but not worth a fight. I suppose the thing that irritates me is when people express unsupported opinions as fact, without acknowledging even the possibility of discussion—and that’s a problem that goes far beyond the video-games-as-art debate.

I believe video games have artistic potential. That said, whether video games actually fulfill that potential is an entirely separate question. For the most part, they tend to favor fun over artistic expression, which is a valid choice.

In my next post, I’ll discuss the ways a subject of particular interest to me has been handled by video games. Stay tuned!

431. My Creative Heroes

Creative people are fun, quirky, smart, and responsible for most of the entertainment in my life. (The rest of it comes from acting silly in public to make my younger brother uncomfortable.) I have many creative heroes: people I know personally, people on the Internet, and professionals in the media.

Today’s post honors three of my creative heroes, one each from the media of film, video games, and literature. I admire and respect the heck out of these people. If I were the sort of person who cries and gives hugs, I would embrace these heroes of mine and weep tears of joy and gratitude. I’m not, however, so instead I’ll ramble about them, because rambling is what I do.

John Lasseter

I considered naming Hayao Miyazaki one of my creative heroes, but this brilliant Japanese filmmaker is also demanding and grouchy: not qualities I admire in anyone, creative or not. John Lasseter, like Miyazaki, is a legend; unlike Miyazaki, he seems like a nice human being.

John Lasseter

Lasseter’s career is one of the most incredible rags-to-riches stories I know. As a boy, he dreamed of working for Disney as an animator. He achieved his dream—only to be fired after just a few years. His mistake was annoying his superiors by experimenting with a brand-new form of art: computer animation.

Heartbroken, Lasseter drifted to a division of Lucasfilm, which later became an independent company called Pixar Animation Studios. (You may have heard of it.) For a decade, Pixar pioneered computer animation with masterpieces like Toy Story and its sequel, both of which Lasseter directed.

It seems strange to us nowadays, as we enjoy terrific films like Wreck-It Ralph and Zootopia, but just ten years ago Disney’s animation studios were stuck in a losing streak. Their films found neither commercial nor critical success, and their fans yearned for the good old days of Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King. Disney, the most successful animation company in history, had sunk to the unimaginable low of mediocrity.

Faced with this crisis, Disney’s newly-appointed CEO, Bob Iger, did the only sensible thing: oversee Disney’s purchase of Pixar, and then put Lasseter and his colleague Ed Catmull in charge of basically everything. After more than twenty years, John Lasseter returned to the studio that had fired him—as its chief creative officer. His employees welcomed him with cheers and applause.

In the following years, Lasseter renamed and restructured Disney’s main animation studio, canceled cash-grab projects and lazy sequels, and oversaw the release of superb films from both Disney and Pixar: all while wearing colorful Hawaiian shirts.

I admire John Lasseter for his creative vision, which blends an appreciation for tradition with a dedication to cutting-edge innovation. Mr. Lasseter emphasizes teamwork, strives for quality in art and storytelling, and seems like a genuinely nice guy. He’s one of my heroes, and a colorful one at that.

Shigeru Miyamoto

Several decades ago, the president of a company on the verge of financial collapse made a desperate plan to salvage unpopular hardware. He tasked a young employee named Shigeru Miyamoto with creating a new game for old arcade units. That game was Donkey Kong, that company was Nintendo, and that employee went on to create Mario, The Legend of Zelda, and many of the greatest video games ever made.

Shigeru Miyamoto

Nintendo is awesome, and Shigeru Miyamoto is the genius behind many of its successes. Many of the turning points in the history of video gaming hinge on Miyamoto’s games. Donkey Kong established the platforming genre. Super Mario Bros. helped save the video game industry after it crashed in the eighties. Super Mario 64 and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time pioneered movement in a virtual 3D space, and the Wii experimented with motion control.

Miyamoto has helped shape the video game industry for nearly four decades, but you wouldn’t guess it to look at him. He’s a mild gentleman who enjoys music and gardening, and walked or biked to work until his company pressured him for his own safety to drive. For a creative visionary, he seems entirely down to earth.

Nowadays, Miyamoto is more of a creative consultant for Nintendo than a game designer. He is notorious for “upending the tea table” during game development, flipping design concepts on their heads. (His suggestions are game-changing, so to speak.) Miyamoto seems like Nintendo’s idea guy, stepping in when a development team needs a boost.

I admire Miyamoto’s design philosophy: he values fun over fancy graphics or technical intricacy. Most of his games are based on his own life experiences, from exploring woods and caves as a child to gardening as an adult. (He even made a game inspired by his attempts to lose weight!) His work is colorful, charming, fun, and friendly. Nintendo is basically the Pixar of the video game industry, and Miyamoto-san, like Pixar’s Mr. Lasseter, is one of my heroes.

J.R.R. Tolkien

Of course this man is one of my creative heroes. Really, they don’t get any more creative than J.R.R. Tolkien. The man created an entire world—an earth with its own geography, mythology, languages, cultures, genealogies, and thousands of years of history—and he did it in his spare time.

J.R.R. TolkienLong before he published The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien was a noted academic renowned for his groundbreaking work in literary criticism. He lectured, graded papers, translated old texts, published books, raised a family, and still found time somehow to create his own vast, private, intricate mythology.

Tolkien was irrepressibly creative. For example, every year his children wrote to Father Christmas, aka Santa Claus—and, incredibly, Father Christmas wrote back. For twenty-two years, Tolkien played the role of Father Christmas to amuse his kids: writing and illustrating stories about his misadventures at the North Pole. These letters were published as a children’s book after Tolkien’s death; I’ve read them, and and they’re delightful. Even in his little pet projects, Tolkien’s creativity and cleverness were astounding.

Of course, Tolkien’s greatest project of all was Middle-earth and its stories, the most famous of which is The Lord of the Rings. The sheer size and intricacy of Tolkien’s world is astounding; by some estimates, it’s the largest and most complex ever created by a single person in all of human history. Tolkien’s influence on literature and pop culture is literally incalculable.

In his vast mythologies and in his little stories for children, at work and at home, J.R.R. Tolkien was incredibly creative, and he’s one of my heroes.

Whew! That was a long post. What can I say? Creative people inspire me!

Who are your creative heroes? Let us know in the comments!

The Best History Lesson in the History of History

Never before has video game history been so awesome… or so darn catchy.

Fun Fact: Nintendo existed for nearly a century before it began producing video games. It dabbled in everything from card games to cab services before striking gold with franchises like Donkey Kong, Super Mario Bros. and Legend of Zelda in the eighties.


This post was originally published on September 18, 2013. TMTF shall return with new content on November 30, 2015!

Bored Games

Board games, bored gamers

The GaMERCaT is an adorably funny video game-inspired webcomic by Samantha Whitten.

I don’t like board games.

Mind you, I have nothing against them. Many people love MonopolyClueSettlers of Catan, and, um, whatever else is popular these days. Board games bring people together in fun, laughter, and friendly competition. To everyone who enjoys board games, I have this to say: Good for you.

I just don’t like ’em.

To be honest, I’m not entirely sure why I detest board games. I played my fair share as a kid, and enjoyed them. Somewhere down the line, I guess, I ran out of patience. Starting a board game demands an implicit commitment to finish it, and I don’t want to become stuck in a long session of Monopoly or Settlers of Catan.

Board games encourage fun and fellowship, sure, but so do many video games. I’ll take a few rounds of Mario Kart or Super Smash Bros. over a board game. There is, however, one series I’ll always avoid: Mario Party titles. These are basically board games in video game form, trapping players in tedious sessions of rolling digital dice and moving around a virtual game board. Meh.

Board games, bored gamers, am I right?

…I’ll show myself out.

375. Why Video Game Movies Suck

Name three good video game movies.

Yeah, that’s what I thought.

You see, video game movies suck.

Granted, movies about games as a medium are sometimes good, like Disney’s superb Wreck-It Ralph. I love that movie.

Wreck-It Ralph coverMovies adapted from games, however, are another story: a sad, depressing story. I’ve seen a number of video game movies, and most of them are awful.

Why is this? There are many excellent films based on books; why not on video games? There are at least three reasons.

First, many games have either no story or only the barest semblance of one.

The plot of nearly every Super Mario Bros. game, for example, consists of a monster (Bowser) kidnapping a princess (Peach) and a brave man (Mario) setting out to rescue her. That’s it. This story (and minor variations thereupon) appears in game after game after game.

For a video game, such a simplistic story is perfectly fine—after all, the story is just an excuse to play the game. What matters in the Super Mario Bros. games is the what of the adventure; the why is a minor afterthought. It’s such fun to guide Mario through challenging levels that his reason for facing them in in the first place is hardly more than a footnote.

Unlike a game, which can be fun for its own sake, a film needs a story. The what is not enough; it also needs the why. Many video games don’t offer a strong enough why to be adapted into compelling movies.

The second reason video game movies often fail is that too many filmmakers, assuming their film has a guaranteed audience in fans of its source material, make it inaccessible to broader audiences: people who don’t play video games.

Final Fantasy VII - Advent ChildrenThe clearest example of this is my all-time favorite action movie, Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children. This computer-animated movie’s action scenes are ridiculous—this movie has a sword fight on motorcycles, guys. The animation looks great nearly a decade after the film’s release, the music is excellent, the characterization is compelling, and the ending is genuinely touching.

However, Advent Children has one damning flaw: it’s practically incomprehensible to anyone has hasn’t played an old PlayStation game called Final Fantasy VII. Even for those of us who have played the game, the movie can be a little tough to follow. This is a shame. In every other respect, Advent Children is an excellent film—but that excellence is locked away from most audiences.

The third reason games hardly ever make good movies is in the medium itself. Most video games are a repeating pattern of stages; many are nothing more than a series of levels. That’s hard to adapt to film.

Other games offer a more subtle take on this structure. Role-playing games, for example, generally feature a robust story, yet follow the same pattern: the player progresses from a town, to the open world, to a dungeon, and then back to a town, there to begin the cycle anew.

This approach works well for video games as a medium. It even works for television, in which a set of episodes allows for repeated rising and falling action. A film, however, is too short for this structure. The repeating pattern of a video game doesn’t fit in a movie. A game’s cyclical narrative can’t be compressed into a two-hour film.

Every now and then, however, there comes a game whose narrative isn’t a repeating cycle, but a focused story that could be brilliantly adapted to film. I can think of at least one video game movie that absolutely needs to be made… but I’ll save that for next time.

Are there any good video game movies?

Vide game movies that don't suckOf those I’ve seen, I can think of a few good ones. Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva, an animated film spin-off of the Professor Layton games, is accessible and charming, though it drags a bit. The aforementioned Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children boasts phenomenal action, epic music, and stunning visuals for viewers who don’t mind having no idea what the heck is going on. For those who like foreign films, Takashi Miike’s live-action Ace Attorney is really good, despite its absurd hairstyles.

Um, that’s it. Flipping heck, someone needs to make a good video game movie.

Question: Have you seen any video game movie that you would recommend? Let us know in the comments!

TMTF’s Top Ten Hats in Video Games

I recently learned of an indie game titled Fez. The game’s protagonist wears a fez, presumably because fezzes are cool. (We all know this.) This game reminded me that characters in video games have some pretty sweet hats.

As a gamer, blogger and proud owner of several hats, I believe it’s my solemn duty to decide which video game hats are the best.

The following rules apply: I’ll choose hats only from games I’ve played, and I’ll select no more than one hat from any game series. Only original video game hats are permitted: no hats from licensed characters like Indiana Jones or Donald Duck. Hoods, helmets, headbands, ribbons and all headgear except hats and caps are disqualified from this list.

Now, ladies and gentlemen, hats off as TMTF proudly presents…

The TMTF List of Top Ten Hats in Video Games!

10. Quote’s Baseball Cap (Cave Story)

Quote's Baseball Cap

Quote, the amnesiac hero of indie classic Cave Story, manages to look quite heroic in a simple baseball cap. The hat isn’t particularly fancy or elegant, but its bright white and red design helps Quote’s pixelated figure stand out against the muted blacks and browns of Cave Story‘s subterranean locales. On an entirely different note, do the buttons on Quote’s hat remind anyone else of Mickey Mouse’s shorts?

9. Cormano’s Sombrero (Sunset Riders)

Cormano's Sombrero

This Mexican gunslinger, who has been described as “either groundbreakingly inclusive or an offensive stereotype, take your pick,” is a playable character from Sunset Riders for the SNES. The game consists mostly of shooting stuff. Cormano’s skill with a rifle is belied by his sombrero, which is colored bright magenta and shaped like a taco. Never has the Old West been so fabulous!

8. Shadi Smith’s Pork Pie Hat (Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney)

Shadi Smith's Pork Pie Hat

Not since Buster Keaton has anyone looked so good in a pork pie. Despite being a shifty character with questionable ethics, Shadi Smith is a really sharp dresser. There are many fantastic hats in the Ace Attorney series, from magician’s top hats to policewomen’s berets, but none seems more stylish or elegant than Shadi Smith’s classy pork pie hat.

7. Carmen Sandiego’s Fedora (Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?)

Carmen Sandiego's Fedora

As a child, I played Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? on my family’s ancient black-and-white Apple Macintosh. (I’m pretty sure the above picture of Ms. Sandiego comes from another game in the series, but it’s the best I could find.) It was educational gaming at its finest: besides learning about geography and national flags, I got a taste of fashion from Carmen Sandiego’s criminally fabulous fedora.

6. Red’s Baseball Cap (Pokémon FireRed)

Red's Baseball Cap

This one was a toss-up between the hats worn by Red from Pokémon and Ness from Earthbound. Red won because his baseball cap is quite a bit cooler. (Besides, Red’s cap in the original Pokémon Red was the inspiration for Ash Ketchum’s iconic hat in the Pokémon anime.) Like Quote, Red takes a common item of casual apparel and makes it seem dashing and even heroic.

5. Agent Chieftain’s Stetson (Elite Beat Agents)

Agent Chieftan's Stetson

Elite Beat Agents is a wonderful rhythm game for the Nintendo DS in which government secret agents assist people in desperate need by invoking the inspirational power of song and dance. (Yes, the game is every bit as weird—and awesome—as it sounds.) Agent Chieftain, a senior agent of the Elite Beat Agency, flaunts a flashy Stetson that adds a dash of cowboy flair to his plain suit and tie.

4. Red Mage’s Wizard Hat (Final Fantasy III)

Red Mage's Wizard Hat

Although the Black Mages from the Final Fantasy series have neat hats, the Red Mages earn this place on the list with their gorgeous crimson hats adorned with snowy feathers. Other Final Fantasy characters have clunky helmets, dull hats or plain hoods. Red Mages alone uphold the lofty standards of fashion while defending their worlds from demons, dragons and other monsters.

3. Mario’s Flat Cap (Super Mario 64)

Mario's Flat Cap

How could I not include Mario’s cap? It’s indisputably the most famous video game hat in the world, and definitely one of the neatest. Mario’s cap from Super Mario 64 deserves special mention for giving Mario superpowers, including flight. Few things in video games have been more fun for me than soaring around the game’s locales with Mario’s winged cap. Like its owner, this hat is remarkable.

2. Professor Layton’s Top Hat (Professor Layton and the Curious Village)

Livewire-AGE

I have absolutely nothing to add.

1. Link’s… Cap? (The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap)

Link's... Cap

Link’s cap is one of the most iconic elements of the Legend of Zelda series. It’s instantly recognizable—seriously, how many legendary heroes wear green pointed caps? Link achieves an incredible feat in every Zelda game by looking cool in a hat that wouldn’t seem out of place on one of Santa’s elves. As much as I like it, I wouldn’t give Link’s cap the number one spot on this list if it weren’t for one detail: it talks. In The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap, Link is joined on his quest by Ezlo, an enchanted hat who gives advice, grumbles, cracks jokes and turns out to be one of the most engaging characters in the entire Zelda series. For its iconic status, surprisingly cool appearance and amusing dialogue—I can’t believe I’m saying this about a hat—Link’s cap is TMTF’s pick for the best hat in a video game.

O people of the Internet, what great video game hats would you add to this list? Let us know in the comments!


This post was originally published on April 8, 2013. TMTF shall return with new content on April 20, 2015!