The Other Columbus: Life in Columbus in eight video games

Scott Woods
Link and Mario go head-to-head in Mario Kart 8. Mushroom Rally.


The goal of Rampage is simple: Visit as much destruction upon a city as possible controlling one of three massive beasts. Choose from George (a King Kong-like gorilla), Lizzie(a Godzilla riff) or Ralph (randomly, a 30-foot-tall werewolf). If you replaced the three gargantuans of Rampage with City Hall, developers and nepotism, you’d basically be reliving the average childhood summer circa 1986.

Pokemon GO

I can think of no better analogy for Columbus during a Saturday afternoon of OSU football than a shambling zombie herd of people staring into screens, moaning mono-syllabic greetings at one another, hungering for imaginary carrots of engagement. Go Pokemon… er, Bucks!

Mario Kart 64

A classic racing game that takes you nowhere fast, MK64 features a track filled with things that shouldn’t exist behind the wheels of vehicles blocking you at every turn. Switch out Yoshi and Bowser with orange barrels and year-round potholes and you’re practically Mario incarnate.

Root Beer Tapper

Reflecting 95 percent of the new businesses in Columbus within the last two years, you play the part of a bartender that has to jump from bar to bar serving drafts to thirsty hoards. Meta warning: playing any of these games at a retro arcade bar while drinking a local craft beer and sporting a handlebar mustache will transport you into Tapper one beer-soaked pixel at a time like Jeff Bridges in "Tron."

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You would think Sim City would be a solid pick here, but you’d be wrong. Sim City is a morally uncorrupted game, devoid of our city’s penchant for backroom deals and political shenanigans. For this exercise you need a game that works like a tax abatement: I let you come do something for free on my land, you kick me back a token or two for grazing rights and then I somehow spin that transaction into a public benefit on my Facebook wall.

Guitar Hero

Prince famously never allowed his music to be used in any Guitar Hero games because he thought that kids should learn how to play real instruments (and that he should be paid a lot more than Activision was offering for the privilege). While more stubborn than he needed to be on the matter, he wasn’t wrong. Players advance through levels utilizing rote mimicry of whatever flashing colors appear on screen in sync to the banging of '80s hair bands. You could play Guitar Hero for a week straight, but a red light ain’t never going to be a C major chord. It’s a chilling parallel of how our schools play out: We pretend we’re prioritizing education and that we are giving students a bona fide, skill set-based education with plenty of resources and not just prepping them for standardized tests year-round. But we’re really just playing ourselves.


Columbus is so economically segregated that Minecraft is more blueprint than symbol. There are few games in which players participating at the same time can have such oppositional experiences. Minecraft is a world-building game in which all the potential of the imagination can be realized, but mostly people are content to make snake pizza monkey hats. The Columbus Way: so much potential to do the right thing, so little vision. Also, the fact that the architecture of all the new builds in Minecraft are hideous isn’t entirely coincidental here. 

Angry Birds

The premise for Angry Birds is simple enough, albeit bizarre: Slingshot a flock of vexed birds against various structures in cannonball fashion in an attempt to destroy the evil pigs hiding within. If there is a better analogy for what it’s like to be an activist in this town trying to unseat the abusive powers of our notorious police force than this "Animal Farm"-esque ditty, I don’t know it.