Monday, March 11, 2013

If She Had A Hammer

For all of Mario's adventures, the princess, be she called Peach or Toadstool, really hasn't tended to do too much unless it's as part of a party (Super Mario RPG) or as part of a larger group (such as in Mario Kart or Smash Bros.) She was placed into the Mario universe as the damsel in distress, there just to be rescued by the hero. This is not to say that Peach hasn't had her own adventures, but even the chronically-underappreciated Luigi has has more starring roles (Luigi's Mansion and Mario Is Missing) than she has.

She's had one. It's called Super Princess Peach. Here's a playthrough of the first world.

That's right, your abilities all revolve around wild mood swings. Those silly girls, and their girlish girling!

Well, Peach's predecessor was Pauline, the damsel in distress of Donkey Kong. This was back in an era when women as the main heroes were so out-of-step with conventions that when Metroid- made by the same company- made the fact that the hero was female hidden in the game's ending, the revelation was one of gaming's most legendary shocks to the system. Mike Mika, a game designer currently with Other Ocean Interactive, knows all this and has for decades... but his unnamed three-year-old daughter doesn't. She doesn't know much yet- she is, after all, three- but she knows enough to know that games have features to them. So it only seemed natural for her, after playing as member-of-a-party Toadstool in Super Mario Bros. 2, to ask Mike, "How can I play as the girl? I want to save Mario!"

You can't.

Unless you're the daughter of a game designer.

Mike had to tell her that Donkey Kong didn't have that functions, but the question nagged at him enough to where he set to work an evening or two later, recoding Donkey Kong to put Mario in Donkey Kong's clutches and Pauline in the position of climbing the girders to save him, and turning the 'M' in the score display to a 'P'. He had it ready for her daughter by morning, after an all-nighter. Her daughter is more into the game as Pauline than she is as Mario.

Here's what that looks like:

The remarks have been... more anti-feminist than Mike would have wanted to see. It's distressing, though far from rare in the gaming industry. There still aren't very many female game programmers, and the ones that are there are routinely harassed. This is to say nothing of the women actually depicted in the games themselves, notorious for their breast size. Lara Croft- revolutionary for being a female hero who you know is female right from the get-go- has as part of her development history a stray hit of the 1 key by creator Toby Gard that accidentally increased her breast size by 150% instead of the intended 50%. His team quickly approved the change before he could correct it.

The original game was in 1996. It's only now, in the 2013 release of a game revolving around her origin story, that the breasts have managed to get back down to the original size. Which says nothing of all the other games where the intended breast size puts Lara to shame. Dead or Alive: Xtreme Beach Volleyball, for example, is not really about the volleyball. Well, it is, but not the sports equipment.

But let's not tell Mike's daughter about that yet.

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