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8 Ways women are poorly portrayed in Super Mario Bros

Super Mario Bros is one of the most popular video games of all time. Unfortunately, the game makers seem to forget half of their audience most of the time: women.

The Super Mario Bros series is one of the most popular video games of all time. Unfortunately, the game makers tend to forget half of their audience: women. Here are eight ways women are portrayed in Super Mario Bros.

1. Pauline: The First Damsel in Distress

The plot of the first Mario game is simple: “Donkey Kong the ape kidnapped Mario’s girlfriend!” In this action-packed rescue adventure, you move Mario through incredible dangers to save her.” The idea of a beautiful woman who needs to be saved isn’t new. Since the beginning of Mario's story in 1982, it has always been about a man saving a woman (who wasn’t even named at first).

People act and objects are acted upon. The damsel in distress is something that needs to be saved, a treasure to find, a trophy to win is treated like an object. Manual even proves Mario probably didn’t stop dating Pauline when he was with Peach, as there was a new game made with Pauline during his adventures with Peach.

2. Peach: A Woman Can’t Save Herself

The main female character in Mario Bros is the (first unnamed) Princess Toadstool: Peach. And what does she do? Nothing but wait for a man to save her so she can bake him a cake. She appears in 16 Super Mario platform games and is kidnapped in 14 of them. Even if she is believed to have the power to break the curse of the evil Koopa King, she doesn’t do anything else than waiting and sending letters of encouragement to Mario.

Peach doesn’t seem to hate being with Bowser that much as he never hurts her and even lets her write letters of encouragement to Mario. She might even be Baby Bowser’s mom, even though we never heard of her being raped. This leads to the theory that she is often willingly leaving Mario for her lover, Bowser. That way, the princess pretends to be kidnapped to play the damsel in distress, creating drama and getting the attention of two men (or man and turtle). This isn’t the greatest way to portray a woman. Otherwise, we can see it as a fight between two men in which the princess is not part of any team but rather acts as the ball men are fighting for.

In Super Mario 64, the story ends with Peach saying, “Thank you, Mario! We have to do something special for you... (kisses Mario) Listen, everybody, let's bake a delicious cake...for Mario…" Many fans agree to say that baking a cake is a metaphor for having sex, which she couldn’t say in a game for children.

Following this idea, the only female character in the game is still portrayed as a beautiful lady to save in exchange for sex. This is the best thing she has to offer to Mario after he saved her life.

3. Princess Daisy: an Improvement?

Peach's friend Daisy makes her first appearance in Super Mario Land as the damsel in distress, kidnapped by aliens, that has to be saved by Mario. “Now, [the monster Tatanga” wants to marry Princess Daisy of Sarasaland and make her his queen. Mario came to know of these events, and has started on a journey to restore peace to Sarasaland.”

Fortunately, she was a smart, competitive tomboy and adventurous in parties, sports, fighting, and racing games. She even gets to slap Bowser in Mario Party 3… but ends up fleeing and bursting in tears when someone finally defeats her. Sadly, she never truly had an important role in the game. Her looks also changed through the years as she used to have brown hair and no makeup but then turned out to have red hair, a tan and makeup on. A better appearance doesn’t have to be negative, but it can be when every woman is portrayed the same way. 

After all, looks don’t seem to matter when talking about men. This is because games often focus only on heteronormative sex appeal, thinking most of their players are boys.

Daisy doesn’t only share looks with her best friend but also an interest for a similar man: Luigi. Once again, the princesses are third role characters known for their appearance and their relationship with a man.

4. Rosalina: the New Princess

Rosalina first appeared in Super Mario Galaxy as a powerful figure watching over and protecting the cosmos by commanding the Comet Observatory. She is known as a kind, wise, and mature character with a great knowledge of the universe. Rosalina even has special powers that allow her to surround the observatory with a force field, teleport, create holograms of herself, float, speak via telepathy, and use the iconic spin move. She also protects herself with a bubble and does the same with Mario if he falls off the observatory.

Together, this all makes her even stronger than any other male character in the Super Mario games. For once, she also simply thanks Mario with a 'thank you' and not with a kiss or any bakery.

Problem is, she stays passive and let only the men, like Mario, Luigi and the Toads, take part of the action in the Super Mario Galaxy Games. The female character fits the gender role by acting like a mother to all the Lumas in her Galaxy. During this time, men are manly, working outside to help them. Fortunately, she eventually becomes an unlocked playable character in Super Mario 3D World. That makes her the strongest female character in Super Mario games and makes us hope we will see her more often.

5. Female Enemies

Female enemies are rare, but still present in some Mario games. The first to appear in the game is Wendy O. Koopa, Bowser’s daughter. New female enemies will then be created as Kammy Koopa, Cackletta, the Shadow Queen (final boss in Paper Mario), Princess Shroob, and Pom Pom. If these characters share one negative aspect, it is that they all have a classic feminine look and nothing that would be considered as more masculine or even neutral.

The good thing is they are not presented as weaker than other male enemies. The bad thing is we would like way more. Most of  the bad characters are male, according to the manual. The only enemy that differs from it is Ostro, who is made fun of for his bucking of gender norms: “He thinks he is a girl and he spits eggs from his mouth” - as if being feminine would be a negative thing.

6. Mario Bros without any Women

Some entire games didn’t involve women at all. Donkey Kong Junior was (terrifically) about Mario kidnapping Papa Donkey Kong, the first two Mario Bros about carpenters unblocking water pipes so they can take a bath and Mario is Missing in which Luigi is saving his brother. The problem is still present in recent games like Mario vs Donkey Kong, Luigi’s Mansion and Dancing Stage Mario Mix.

Even if women represent about half of the population, they still didn’t manage to have their place in any of these games. Is it better not to represent women well or not to represent them at all?

7. Female Characters in Party, Sport, Fighting, and Racing Games

The games in which the princesses are the best portrayed are the party, sport, fighting, and racing games - never the main ones. They have different characteristics (like any characters) but are still equal or even better than male characters. They also have their own special powers, skills, and personal courses.

If the princesses were first classified as lightweight with small vehicles, Rosalina was first to have a large one due to her height. If there is one negative aspect it is that, after any race or fight, they are shoved right back into the role of damsels in distress in the platform games.

8. Rarely Part of the Main Games

Female characters are playable in the party, sport, fighting, and racing games but rarely the most important ones. Peach “the Princess” with no name was first playable in Mario Teaches Typing 2 as a character just as smart as any other. Unfortunately, the game wasn’t big enough to consider it an important role.

She was then an available character in one 2D platform game: Super Mario Bros 2, which led her to become a favorite of game players. Problem is, she wasn’t even supposed to be part of the game. She was because a fourth character was needed. Unfortunately, she has been replaced by another Toad in New Super Mario Brothers Wii and wasn’t part of the action again until Super Mario 3D World.

Fortunately, the new Princess Rosalina is now the strongest female character in Super Mario Bros Games. Her female friend Luma also helps Mario (in his cap) during all the game. It is possible to unlock Rosalina in Super Mario 3D World so the players can play with her as with any other character. Women are starting to have a better place in video games, as in Super Princess Peach and Super Mario 3D World.Game makers are slowly understanding that players want to be able to play as women too. Rosalina is sure an improvement, but they still haven’t restored gender equality yet.

Mostly male game makers first tried to attract male players by giving them the chance to play as a strong manly character.

Their goal: saving their object of desire. Their price: the love of the damsel in distress. Problem is, half of the people on this earth are women and game makers disappointed them by portraying women this way. They are wrong to think so many more of their players are male as we now know that around 48% of gamers are female. Even if we now believe women are equal to men, video games have been slow to change the cliche. Many developers would rather repeat the same gendered tropes over and over again instead of trying something new. 

We need to share our disappointment to let them know we want more strong female character so they can be the heroes of their own adventures.

Published Feb. 1st 2016

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