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.
But this system can be destroyed completely if players start working together. With voice chat enabled, you could see players forming pacts to help each other rank up.
One player could hang back, getting good items and slowing up the competition while their partner in crime speeds off ahead - a perfect rank-boosting tactic. But with no voice chat, these pacts - between strangers at least - will thankfully be impossible.
Nintendo has included the ability to play split-screen online so you won't fully stop teaming up happening, but if Nintendo knows what it's doing it'll only allow those players to join unranked races. Or else there'll be trouble.
There's a limit to how much Mario Kart you can hammer in one session. After an hour or so, enthusiasm starts to fade. First, the losing person begins to accept they're rubbish, which erases the competitiveness. Then, the apathy rubs off on to the other players, and within two tracks you've packed up and moved on.
Sloth-like players, in our book, are the ones who continue to play and win even though they're having no fun. Would we actually want to listening to their monotone drones of non-excitement? No, and that's another reason why no voice in Mario Kart is a good thing. It's bad enough that the internet has given every nine year old a soapbox to stand on, but let's try and keep Mario Kart as pure as possible.
Of course, the other end of the spectrum is when someone cares too much. Shouts and screams are fine when playing against friends, but we're not too sure the 'banter' in the office at lunchtime would be taken as friendly if we heard it coming from random strangers online.
The F-word will be used. It's a fact. With a well-placed banana, a well-timed lightning strike or just a last-minute blue shell, Mario Kart is a game that would have the Queen swearing like Cartman with Tourette Syndrome.
There are those who vent their rage down the microphone, throwing out insults and verbally abusing everyone who manages to beat them (don't look at us). Hear someone explode once or twice and you'll laugh. But get lambasted for fifteen minutes and the fun would soon stop. Maybe Nintendo's been playing Halo 3 and thought better of including voice chat?
Even without voice chat, we're expecting to feel some repercussions of our obvious Mario Kart greatness when we play online. They'll always be the odd person who takes things to heart, does a 180' on the starting line of the next race and spends the track just hunting us down.
People are very protective over their perceived greatness of Mario Kart, especially when they encounter someone who is actually better than them. We've seen racers completely neglect the other players and the race itself, just to ensure their nemesis doesn't beat them.
Which is all good fun when it's a competitive friend, but anonymous envy online is a little more insidious. Voice would only increase the barrage of sarcastic comments towards one individual to personal and abusive levels. Like Halo.
We'd prefer envious players to direct their feelings at our little kart on their own screen and not directly at us. The idea of a stranger's voice pouring bile out of our speakers directed straight at us would be like having a disembodied stalker right in our living room.
And lastly, the main sin of Mario Kart. Getting good at Mario Kart brings on a sense of pride. Being the best in a room full of competitors tends to bring out the worst in people. And if it's not us, we really don't want to hear about it.
When you're playing offline or with friends, you know exactly how far the smack talk can go. Online and with strangers though, there's no boundaries. A tirade of snide, sarcastic comments is sure enough to drive you straight from the game. At least without voice-chat, you can't hear them over-gloating. Or they can't hear you...