Ever noticed how often Princess Peach needs rescuing?
When Shigeru Miyamoto (creator of the massively popular Super Mario Bros. franchise) designed the 1981 classic game Donkey Kong, he designed it for a male audience. After Donkey Kong took off and Miyamoto’s reputation and career skyrocketed, his game philosophy became more and more influential, not only for Nintendo (where he still works) but for all of the gaming industry. To this day, video games continue to have many more playable male characters than female characters, despite the fact that as of 2008, 94% of teen girls played video games. Things are finally beginning to change, but it’s been slow going.
News and opinion site Kotaku sat down briefly with Miyamoto to discuss new projects from Nintendo, and the reporters couldn’t resist asking a couple of questions about the recent increase in playable female characters. The conversation, however, was not very reassuring to the female gaming community.
Miyamoto explained that, because 1980s arcades were places for boys, they “didn’t even consider making a character that would be playable for girls.” However, now that the female market is expanding, it’s just natural that they would create female playable characters.
Kotaku summed it up nicely: “It seemed like he was saying male characters were default characters. It seemed like he was saying that Nintendo mostly added female characters as a reaction to expanding player demographics.”
What’s more, when Kotaku asked Miyamoto if he would consider making games starring a female character who rescued a male character (an inversion on the common Damsel in Distress trope), Miyamoto first replied that they might do it as a parody, before going on to say, “whether it’s a female to go rescue a male or a gay man to rescue a lesbian woman or a lesbian woman to rescue a gay man, we might take that approach.”
While I’m glad Miyamoto is amenable to the idea of gay characters in a Nintendo game, both Kotaku and Miyamoto missed the point. Reversing the Damsel in Distress trope won’t actually solve sexism in gaming. What we need are games that don’t rely on objectification in the first place.
Progress in gender equality is happening in games—that’s undeniable. However, something has got to change, and it doesn’t seem that Nintendo will be the platform to make any big leaps.
If you want to learn some more about gender inequality in gaming, check out Anita Sarkeesian’s fantastic three-part feminist video series, “Damsels in Distress: Tropes vs Women.”