Friday, March 13, 2009

More than Pac-Man with a Bow: Part 2

"Yeah, well, just keep your Power Gloves off her, pal."
- The Wizard, 1987

The character of Princess Peach originated as one of pure captivity: A literal damsel-in-distress, held captive by Donkey Kong, who must be saved by the heroic Jumpman. At the time, her name was simply "The Lady", and her long hair, pink dress, and frequent shouts of "HELP!" communicated all that you needed to know about her: That this was one long haired, pink-dressed lady in serious need of some HELP.

Re-christened as a princess in Super Mario Bros., a crown was added to the number of signs that communicated her character. But it wasn't until the North American port of Yume Kojo: Doki Doki Panic that she was given legs, so to speak.

While originally Yume Kojo contained characters from a Fuji TV television event, it was Marioified for a North American release as Super Mario Bros. 2. It was in this translation that the character of Lina, a young girl who could fly, was replaced by Princess Peach (or 'Toadstool' in the English version). Grouped alongside Mario, Luigi and Toad, each of these characters range in abilities such as their jump height and ability to lift objects.

The Princess' performance is on par with one might expect from a formerly-distressed-damsel: Peach has the most difficulty lifting objects and had the second-worst jump height, drawbacks that were mitigated through her ability to glide on her dress for short distances.

Though the end result is a playable character that still carries the signified femininity of a captured damsel, the messages that is conveyed treats women as both an exception and a burden: "Women can play games, too... it's just that they're weaker and slower." Even the benefit of being able to glide fits within this negative context. Jumping in the Mario Bros. games was difficult - so difficult that the original version of Super Mario Bros. 2 wasn't ported for fear that certain tricky jumps would frustrate novice North American gamers.

With such footwork an early badge of video game acumen, the idea of a female character - designed in part to appeal to female gamers - who could 'float past' the trickiest sections of the game serves only to re-iterate notions of handicap and inability.

It can be tough hiking up your skirt to make those jumps.

With Peach as a character serving the role of the perennial victim, and her victimhood dependant on notions of female paralysis, notions of gender and ability are inevitably linked. That is, her signified femininity defines not only the ways in which she is rendered incapable, but also sets the context through which she is playable. In Squaresoft's Mario RPG, Peach (as Toadstool) is armed with a wide variety of weapons including a parasol, a hand-fan, a frying pan, and, of course, good ol' fashioned slaps.

In the TOSE-developed Super Princess Peach, Peach is promoted to the role of protagonist, and navigates the game through the power of her emotions. In turns angry, happy, sad and calm, (calm?) each emotion changes music tempo and alters her ability set. Rather than discard the rudimentary signs of a hysterical female, these games extrapolate them to the point of caricature.

Peach, then, proceeds as a hyper-woman: Through femininity, weaponized.

- Rook


  1. I hope that no one jumps to any conclusions from that quote I pulled from the Wizard.

    Truth be told, I love the Power Glove.

    It's so baaddddddddddddd.


  3. That scene floors me. I love it in ways I never knew one could love, ways dark and forgotten to man.

    It looks like he's getting ready to PUNCH the EIGHTIES.