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Entries in Games (45)

Friday
Aug152014

Famicom Females: Princess Peach

peachPeach/Princess Toadstool (Super Mario Bros.)
Release Date: October 18, 1985
Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Format: Cartridge
Role: NPC (Damsel)
Any Subsequent Appearances: Yes

Introduction 

Princess Toadstool, or Peach as she is known nowadays, is possibly Nintendo's most prominent female character in their line-up. She has been in the most games out of any Nintendo woman by far, and I'd have to imagine she's the one that leaps to mind for most people when they think of a female Nintendo character. In her very first appearance in the seminal Super Mario Bros., she is relegated to the very last moments of the game as the damsel in distress trapped by the villainous Koopa King Bowser.

smb-peach

Character Design and Personality

Princess Toadstool is curiously shorter than Mario in this game (that would change in the US Super Mario Bros. 2), and her sprite does not match the concept art for her at all; she has red hair, a white and red dress, and tanned skin. This color scheme is unique to this one appearance, as she adopted the pink dress and blond hair (and a fairer complexion) in Super Mario Bros. 2 (USA) and would stick with that for the rest of her appearances. Even the Japanese boxart includes her more conventional look:

smb-fami

To be honest, Pauline had more personality in terms of debuts. Peach has no animation, and after this brief message, she vanishes from view. Not the most becoming of introductions for such an iconic character, I'd say.

Impact on Narrative

Here, Peach is the definition of the “damsel in distress” trope. The point for playing the game is rescuing her. So... she is the narrative force, which is not a great motive in theory.

Positive Aspects

She has become one of Nintendo's female stalwarts. She became playable in several Mario titles (mostly in outliers like the Mario Kart series, Mario Party, and the RPGs, although Super Mario 3D World is an excellent return to her being playable in the main Mario platforming line), and was the second woman added to Super Smash Bros. (behind Metroid's Samus Aran). She has, when given the opportunity (typically in the Paper Mario series), a fairly strong-willed personality that shows that she can be quite capable despite her imprisonment. She is often featured in Super Mario merchandise, making her the most marketed woman in Nintendo's stables.

Negative Aspects 

Peach (along with Pauline and Princess Zelda) helped establish the long-running, and frankly repugnant, industry standard for women as gaming characters. Peach continues to be featured as a damsel in most of the key Mario platformers, limiting the positive agency mentioned above. Outside of the Paper Mario series, Peach is very much a stereotypical princess in the Disney mold, with a high-pitched voice and a vapid demeanor towards the action going on around her. She embodies feminine tropes (liking pink, using hearts in her attacks in certain games, utilizing her emotions to solve puzzles in Super Princess Peach, etc.).

My Reactions

Peach has never been a favorite character of mine. She's so entrenched into the damsel/princess ideal that her characterization rubs me the wrong way most of the time. Super Mario Sunshine is probably the biggest offender in marking Peach as an insipid character to me. However, I do support her Paper Mario appearances, as Intelligent Systems added some awesome depth into her personality, and gave Peach some much needed agency. On the whole, though, I'm not her biggest fan. Her flaws stick out more to me than her strengths.

Future Appearances 

Listing Peach's future appearances would be a mammoth task, so I'll touch on the three that I think made the biggest improvements to her. Super Mario Bros. 2 (USA), where Peach became playable for the first time, is #1. Her abilities were among the best in the game, particularly her floating jump, and made her a viable (and at times vital) choice for progression. The second is Super Mario RPG, which gives Peach a chance to serve as a character in Mario's three character party. She fills the role of healer, an unfortunate trope of women in RPGs, but at the very least she served a key component of many of the possible teams in the game. It gave her some characterization outside of being a damsel as well, which Intelligent Systems would expand upon in their RPGs to come. Lastly, I would argue that her addition to Super Smash Bros. Melee was her grandest hour. Being able to fight on even ground with many of Nintendo's other iconic heroes and villains was a huge increase to her agency, and she has been considered one of the better fighters in the series.

Sources  

Personal experience
Mariowiki

Wednesday
Jul022014

Misogyny Missive: Lufia II: Rise of the Sexism

Selan's artwork doesn't really portray strength, but trust me: she can bring the hammer down.As I’ve mentioned before, I have a tendency to play as female characters in video games, if the option presents itself. I’m still searching for the exact motivation for me to do so, but I think I’ve recently come to one of the reasons: it allows me a glimpse into a perspective I don’t get to see as a male. Despite being a feminist and despite my zeal for equality among the sexes and genders, I am still shackled into male conformity in society. People who don’t know my beliefs often spout some sexist or stereotypically-gendered nonsense when talking to me, and it’s frustrating beyond words. Occasionally I slip into such garbage myself; an unfortunate side effect of growing up in this misogynistic culture. I hate it, but I can’t erase who I am in the real world.

I can, however, step into a virtual space and embrace different viewpoints: those of a woman primary among them. Oftentimes, this has its own burden: sexualized costumes or bouts with what is perceived as “feminine” can wreak havoc upon my experience. One such example of the latter was in Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals for the SNES. I had been enjoying the game quite a bit, but noticed some subtle sexism underlying the narrative. Some NPC’s made some disparaging comments about some character’s physical traits, or bluntly questioned the choice of female lead Selan as the general of the Parcelyte kingdom’s military. I shrugged those off, as Selan was an awesome character in battle and more than proved herself as a valuable component of my team. I gave her all of the strength bonuses I had floating around in my inventory, and they gave her a damage boost rivaling anyone else in my party. Alongside her array of spells, Selan was a force to be reckoned with in my playthrough. Her stoic personality was all about business; she got the job done, and she did it well. She too had her own doubts about her effectiveness as a leader, but she overcame them as she defended her kingdom from harm.

Alas, this empowerment was not to last. As a crucial plot point presented itself, Maxim (the male lead) made the chauvinistic choice to send Selan and Tia – another female character – away from the party. His logic is dubious and misogynistic: they would come to harm in the fights ahead, and only the men should go on to tackle this threat. I cringed as Selan and Tia suffered this indignant command and shirked away from playable status. I lost the two most valuable members of my team, and only because the narrative felt compelled to rely on the “weak woman” trope. Selan dealt more physical damage than Maxim or Guy by this point! Both Selan and Tia had magic spells capable of damaging entire rows of monsters; their replacements did not. Maxim was feebly gifted with some magic, but he alone could not carry the party’s HP burden. And, as much of a cliché as it is, Selan and Tia could heal the entire party and they could do it well. On top of that, Guy and Dekar were packed with overwrought machismo that was a bit sickening to bear. I tried tackling the tower that followed this roster switch, but I couldn’t stomach it. The challenge was too great without Selan and Tia -- the men proved ineffective at their task. I sold the game off after this; I had no desire to play it any further.

Games allow me to witness and feel these things women feel every single day: the doubt; the anxiety; the unfairness. It’s a perspective that grants me insight and motivation to do all I can to try to alter these misconceptions about gender in games. It’s disempowering in some ways, because I’ve seen these actions inflict so many narratives and cripple too many characters over the years. The industry has dug itself into a mighty rut. However, that doesn’t mean that things will never change. What I witness is what other like-minded people witness. And more and more of those people are becoming engaged and proactive. They’re creating games, criticizing faults through writing and other forms of media, and speaking out about the injustices. I’m proud to be counted among them.

As this feature progresses, I intend to point out these issues as they lurk in certain games, all in the hopes of countering against their use in the future. I hope you will join me in the endeavor and find your own voice and reasons to fight against misogyny in video games. Feel free to share yours in the comments!

Sunday
Jun082014

Bionic Commando/Top Secret: Hitler no Fukkatsu (NES/Famicom)

Study 5 – Bionic Commando/Top Secret: Hitler no Fukkatsu (NES/Famicom, Capcom)

Capcom's early NES/Famicom output was primarily releasing straight arcade ports onto the console, often with the aid of the dubious Micronics doing the heavy lifting. After the release of Mega Man, however, Capcom began shifting more of their design teams onto the Famicom, and were more willing to tinker and reinvent their arcade ideas for the system. The greatest example of this remolding is easily 1988's Top Secret: Hitler no Fukkatsu, better known here as Bionic Commando.

Bionic Commando was one of Capcom's arcade action titles that was ultimately undercooked for its initial release. It took the protagonist of their overhead shooter Commando, Super Joe, and outfitted him with a bionic arm to swing across chasms and to grapple high platforms. Joe couldn't actually jump at all, so the arm was vital to make any progress! It's a decent game, but it didn't do a lot with its unique mechanic and premise. The levels were more about piling on the enemies and climbing up long, arduous areas than featuring much actual platforming, making it more of a standard action game without a jump button than something distinct.

When the Famicom port rolled around, Capcom decided to revisit the idea of the bionic arm, but this time reinvented the entire gameplay mechanic. In short, they made the arm a crucial aspect of the level design. A new hero, Radd Spenser, was invented to carry on the Bionic Commando mantle, and Super Joe was regulated to being a P.O.W. Capcom pioneered a new Nazi uprising for its antagonistic force, and Spenser would need to infiltrate their base, rescue Super Joe, and destroy the Albatross Project during his mission.

The word "Nazi" probably raised some eyebrows. The American Bionic Commando lacks any direct mentioning of the regime, and the only allusion made to Nazism is the surprising likeness the main villain Master-D has to Adolf Hitler. The Bionic Commando we received is different from the Japanese original, which was dubbed Top Secret: Hitler no Fukkatsu. The subtitle literally means "Resurrection of Hitler"; it's clear that from the start Capcom's original intentions was shooting down Nazis and defeating the revived Hitler. Nintendo of America's strict censorship policies barred Nazism from being carried over to the NES, and so Capcom stripped out the majority of the game's Nazi references. The Nazis were renamed the BADD's, and Hitler's name was changed to Master-D. However, despite the radical alteration to the game's plot and themes, Capcom left in some shocking moments that are breathtaking in their audacity. Before getting into that, though, let's take a look at the boxes.

Click to read more ...

Sunday
Jun012014

Misogyny Missive: Metal Gear Sexism

The Metal Gear franchise. The exploits of Solid (or Naked) Snake have given rise to some of the most amazing moments in all of gaming, and has produced some of the most iconic characters -- good or bad -- in the gaming lexicon. It has style, substance, and surreality in each and every chapter, and creator Hideo Kojima is unafraid of taking risks and gambles with this monster of a series despite its lucrative branding. However, there is one area that this franchise stupidly tumbles into again and again: blatant, unapologetic sexism. Female characters -- particularly those who work with or against Snake out in the field -- are nearly always played up for their looks and/or bodies. Women are often victims of male gaze, which can go as far as pure voyeurism. There are secret ways to strip characters to their underwear. And the latest two chapters, Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes and Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, take the misogyny into bold new territories of discomfort. All and all, I'm disgusted and tired of it, and I've decided to write off any interest in the series. Let me break down why (some images feature scantily clad women to prove my point. Not recommended for work).

Click to read more ...

Sunday
May252014

The Need for Gender Equality in Video Games, Inside and Out: Part 3

Note: This was originally written for my WRI 105 class for an essay prompt asking “How Shall We Live?” For an article, I have included supplementary illustrations and made some further additions. The first part can be accessed here, and the second here.

pw2
EARTHBOUND: Addressing the Issues

“Game developers are forever talking about how much they listen to the audience, how keen they are on offering choice and freedom. Now is the time to fulfill their boast.” – Colin Campbell, Polygon

I noted earlier that looking into the sexism inherent in games would help illuminate the misogyny polluting the industry. Media sways culture, but culture also sways media in a vicious cycle. How can the gaming industry even begin to fix these problems when our entire society is entrenched in sexism?

Click to read more ...