Justin Wigard deposited Now THIS is Podracing! Ludic and Narrative Friction in Star Wars Episode 1: Racer on Humanities Commons 2 years, 9 months ago
Abstract: In Star Wars Episode I: Racer (1999), players choose between several different podracers (including Anakin Skywalker and Sebulba), and compete in racing tournaments on several planets. While the game currently holds the Guinness record as the best-selling sci-fi racing game of all time and was re-released for Nintendo Switch in 2020, Episode 1: Racer is also notable for the multiple ways that resistance manifests within the game’s design and within the narrative itself. One primary expression is game design friction — specific mechanics which slow the player down and thereby extend player engagement. As one example, rather than allow the player to boost engines indefinitely, the engines slowly heat up, forcing players to choose releasing the boost immediately or resisting the friction, pushing their podracer right up to the point of explosion for exponential speed. Narratively, players begin at the bottom of the podracing league with access to several underpowered podracer rigs. By winning races, players can purchase extremely costly new parts directly from Watto, or, purchase used and damaged junkyard upgrades. They have to choose between racing for a safe-but-lower payout for a top 4 finish, or gamble more on a winner-take-all high payout. Taken together, Episode 1: Racer is ingrained with resistance, and, incumbent on overcoming that same resistance. Ultimately, I demonstrate not only the game’s visible and hidden design frictions/narrative constraints, but show how podracing itself acts as a resistance to systems of economic inequality within the Star Wars universe.