Until about three months ago, voice chat seemed like a feature used only by over-enthusiastic Ghost Recon players. You know? The ones who plan out their squad movements as if they were exorcising some deep-rooted desire to actually be in the middle of a war.
My perception changed when, at the beginning of the year, I moved across country and found my multiplayer habits changing from a post-pub session of Worms in the front room to the full-blown experience of Xbox Live.
Without some sort of communication, online gaming can make you feel isolated. Playing Team Fortress 2 remotely against people who used to scream and shout right next to you only makes it more obvious that you're sitting on a sofa miles away from the last person you spoke to. That said, I'm over the moon to see that Mario Kart is dropping all forms of online voice chat, and not just because I'm scared of being groomed by a child predator.
Some things are best left untouched. A Disney flick is never the same once someone tells you their twisted theories on its sexual subtext. And whoever makes those Button Moon NSFW pictures is just wrong.
Mario Kart, for me, falls into similar territory. It's fun, joyful and uplifting to play. But voice chat would only bring a whole host of crass voices that would not only be irritating, they also damage the experience of the game. Look what happened to Halo 3. Don't believe me? Here are the sins of voice chat and how they could ruin Mario Kart on Wii.
I like women quite a bit, but there's nothing more disruptive to a game than to hear a female voice speak on Xbox Live. It's not their fault of course, but a woman's voice has the power of an electromagnetic pulse on Xbox Live. Cars careen off courses, Spartans stand motionless and footballers forget how to kick a ball, as the voice channel explodes with jittery chat.
Even worse are adolescents whose inexperience communicating with the opposite sex leads to intense bouts of misogyny. After ten minutes of listening to a child rant on about how a woman must be ugly and stupid if she spends her time playing games, we begin to think that a sterilisation program based on gamer scores (the higher yours is...) might not be such a bad idea after all.
Mario Kart is, at it's core, a social game. Back when we were students, our mixed house primarily bonded through intense sessions of Mario Kart 64. Had a kid letched upon our female housemate every time she sat down to play, we doubt she would have joined in. Which would have isolated her, and made fourth place inevitable for one of us.
Those who overindulge themselves on Mario Kart are irritating at the best of times. We've come across a fair few people on the DS that have every track down to a pixel of perfection, and by and large we've hated them all. There are two of those 'types' on the CVG team by the way.
Imagine having to listen to them though, as they point out every single flaw in your driving and every bad habit of your technique. Think about their grating voice when they cross the finish line moments after you start lap three and proceed to give you a running commentary on the mistakes you make on your final lap.
There are people in the world that will spend hours perfecting Mario Kart Wii, and I know that one day I'll play against them and lose. That's fine but we don't want to listen to their smug cries of victory.
No matter how skilled you are at Mario Kart games, the power-ups work to some extent to randomise the outcome of the races - it's this unpredictability that makes it fun.