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hey, gamers, what say you?

2009 March 3
by Solomon Lutze

I found this awesome post about women in the most recent game in the Super Smash Bros. series. The fact that women are greivously under-represented in this game had not escaped me, but this definitely did a better job of talking about it than I could have. So, anyone else who plays video games: what do you think? Did Nintendo screw this one up, or were they just representing what’s already out there pretty accurately?

9 Responses
  1. Alex M. permalink
    March 3, 2009

    I wouldn’t call myself a serious gamer, but I am a fan of Smash (which I gave up for Lent. Boo.). I found myself most keenly aware of this problem when my friend and I decided to play a women-only match and found ourselves pretty much limited to Peach, Zelda, and Samus. The post was spot on, especially in the case of Ice Climbers. Not only is Nana, the female of the pair, not really a playable character, she can also die before Popo, the male character who is the leader of the two. Yet without her, he can’t do as much as before. No longer can he triple jump, perform effective attacks, or execute their Final Smash. Maybe I am reading too much into it, but it seems the message is pretty clear there.

    Also, unless I’m mistaken, Peach was a much stronger character in the previous game, Melee, where a hit with her hips did a ridiculous amount of damage (ex. 3 or 4 hits = dead). They toned her down for Smash. Her regular hipcheck does considerably less damage and her Final Smash is, yes, the pinkest thing you’ve ever seen.

    On the bright side, if there is a bright side, the game is lacking in giant boobs on scantily clad ladies, as you will see in pretty much any other fighting game out there. I feel that Nintendo is definitely taking some forward steps by having relatively normal looking women in their game, but could use some work in the representation department.

  2. Solomon Lutze permalink
    March 3, 2009

    Yeah, at least there aren’t boobs flying everywhere. -nod- Samus sans suit is probably the biggest criminal in this area, but I’m not going to get into that just yet. It sounds like video games will be bigger in the next portion of the course, so it’s then that I’ll do my Metroid post. It will be Extensive. 😛

  3. Mista Jay permalink
    March 4, 2009

    I’m a gamer too–not a serious one, but I do play Melee! To Alex M: I understand what you’re saying about Nana and Popo, BUT at the same time, Popo doesn’t always have to be the leader. Usually when I play using the ice climbers (Nana and Popo) I make Nana the leader, though I never did read that much into the color switching of Nana’s outfit when she is placed as the leader. I guess part of me was glad that Nana no longer had to wear the pink outfit when she became leader, but at the same time, if Nintendo is associating “pink” with “femininity” (and thus, associating Popo’s blue outfit with masculinity) then are they implying that female leaders can’t be true women? I think Nana wears an orange outfit when she’s the leader…I’m not quite sure what to make of that.

    I remember one of the things that bothered me most In Melee was Peach. Couldn’t (can’t) stand her. Not the high pitched voice, not the “oh, did I win?” after she had obviously won, not her princess outfit, not any of it. I especially hated it when she still beat me in the game, but besides that, a lot of my female friends who played the game tried to avoid Peach because of all the stereotypes that went along with her.

    And then there’s Zelda, who a female friend of mine loved to play as, but she would always play her as Sheik. Even though we both have mentioned that they really aren’t enough female characters in Super Smash Brother’s melee, she only played as Sheik, Zelda’s more “masculine” alter ego. In fact, there’s a way that you can turn into Sheik as SOON as the playing field loads, without having to actually SEE the more feminine side of Zelda at any point of the game, not even the beginning, if you so desire. My friend made use of this technique all the time. In fact, my friend was rather good at playing Sheik (while I kinda followed in her dust as Link) but during one game where she played as Zelda with all her “sparkly princess powers” she didn’t do so well.

    What I’m wondering now, is whether the need for being “stronger” and thus picking strong male (or seemingly male) characters in the game, overrides the need to feel “represented” in the game if the player is female? I’ll admit, I usually played a male character (either Link or Falco), but at the same time, even though Peach is considered a relatively strong female character in the game (as you pointed out Alex) her overflow of stereotypes prevented me from really playing her. Maybe Nintendo should try and go for a more even blend of a powerful female character: no more alter ego’s that change the character’s appearance completely into a masculine one, but also, not another powerful, yet ditzy female character clad in a pink dress and heels.

  4. Solomon Lutze permalink
    March 4, 2009

    Like I said, I’ll talk about Samus at some point. I disagree a bit with the author of the post I linked about Samus; I think there are things very feminine about her in Smash, particularly the shape of her suit and the way she carries herself (though the way she stands only changed in Brawl, and was a change made to reflect the way she looked in Super Metroid).

  5. Alex M. permalink
    March 4, 2009

    “I especially hated it when she still beat me in the game”

    Absolutely. The problem with Peach is that she is clearly meant to embarrass you. You are supposed to feel bad to have been beaten by this delicate flower whose frying pan sent you flying into the screen which translates pretty directly to “You lost to a girl!” And what kind of video game playing man are you if you fail to the girliest girl ever? Nintendo put so many stereotypes into this character that she becomes a freak. Yes, she does tremendous damage and is therefore a strong character, but the heart that appears above her head when she does it is meant to add insult to injury and detracts from her obvious strength, making it strange that she is powerful. Like, “Oh, I beat you and I’m just a girl!”

    Women are rarely the strongest in video games. Yet they usually have the most powerful magic or healing powers, making them crucial to your team, but they always die first. What’s up with that?

    I wonder if any other video game females have frying pans as their weapons. I just recently finished Earthbound and the girl in that game is given ever more powerful frying pans and a yo-yo.

    (Also, I didn’t know you could lead with Nana. I’ll try it after Lent…)

  6. Solomon Lutze permalink
    March 4, 2009

    Oh, wow, I was JUST about to go talk about EarthBound, but you beat me to it. Paula is TOTALLY weighed down by gender stereotypes – that pink frilly dress, the way she gets kidnapped and has to be rescued, the pathetic, pathetic physical attacks, and I mean, she attacks with a frying pan.

    FRYING PAN. come on.

    What redeems her a bit, in my mind, is that she’s not the healing/support caster. Ness and Poo (to those who haven’t played the game, these are both other characters in the game [yes, there’s a character named Poo]) each have one or two magical attacks more powerful than hers, but for the bulk of the game she’s the major offensive caster, and actually will probably be doing the most damage. Turning the tables on that, it’s actually Ness, the main male protagonist, who has all the support/healing spells. I don’t know WHAT to think about that.

  7. March 4, 2009

    Hey. Thanks for the link. Good to see that people are thinking about the same issues I was when I put up the Smash Bros. post. A few things:

    One of the characters I suggested for inclusion in a future Smash Bros. is Kumatora, from the sequel to Earthbound. She’s quite the exception, both for Nintendo’s stable of female characters and for video games in general. Though she’s technically a princess, she’s a tomboy. She fights with magic and physical strength. And no, she doesn’t fight with frying pans: she uses her fists.

    Though you could lead with Nana in Melee, I’m pretty certain you can’t do so in Brawl. No idea why.

    Finally, hacked versions of Brawl indicate some data for characters that may have been initially planned to be playable. These include Dixie Kong and Toon Zelda, the latter being a counterpart to Toon Link. Both would have had great potential as characters because neither is a frilly stereotype, especially if Toon Zelda would have appeared in the guise of her Wind Waker alternate persona, Tetra the pirate.

  8. Alexandra Funk permalink
    March 4, 2009

    I just checked out the link you posted Solomon and I know we’re talking about Smash Bros here, but I’ve been spending the last week or so reading up on Pac-Man gender stuffs and I found the exact same blog!!! (so Drew you’re officially awesome and I will now add you to the growing-longer-by-the-day list of blogs I follow.)

    On another note, this past summer I ran a Video Game club for middle school to high school kids and the most popular game to play by far was Smash Bros. The boys and lone girl (Yes there was one girl! Feel free to imagine the shocked faces of the young men coupled with the unsuppressed relief beaming from the girl when they showed up to find ME running the group) liked to play this game because we could have the most players going at once.

    It is horribly depressing to be the one who has to explain to a young woman just getting started in the gaming world why such a popular game is lacking really strong sans stereotyped female characters. At the end of the summer she asked me to tell her about the games that convinced me to come back to gaming/stick with it and of course I mentioned Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest. Dixie Kong is my girl. (She can fly with her ponytail. How awesome is that!?) She would be a great addition to Smash Bros . . . in my humble opinion.

    Anything Zelda pwns. Bring on Tetra the pirate!!!

  9. Solomon Lutze permalink
    March 4, 2009

    Thanks for showing up, Drew! Good to have outside input in this class.

    One of the things I also liked about your post was the suggestion of the addition of Marina from Mischief Makers. I love this game. I recently tried to play it again and couldn’t get past the title screen; the sounds, they’re just . . . so ridiculous . . . I’ll have to try again later. But I think Marina’s really interesting. Her fundamental ability is her strength, which is kind of unusual in a female character. That she’s female also isn’t really overplayed throughout the game. The professor is interested in her, but he’s a dirty old man. And most of the enemies aren’t charmed by her ways, they treat her as a threat and want to beat the crap out of her. When conversations about her gender come up, she tends to sort of shrug them off (I’m thinking about her interactions with Merco – it’s been a few years since I’ve played, so maybe there’s something crucial I’m forgetting that’s sabotaging my point). Would have been an interesting character to implement, though, with good recovery and probably the best throws in the game. Don’t know how her final smash would work, though. I’m sure you could work a Clanpot somewhere in there.

    I’m not sold on Dixie Kong just because I wasn’t sold on Diddy Kong. I would have loved to see his character be made a little more interesting, and then yes, I would be totally willing to give Dixie the go-ahead.

    For those who know the game, I also would have been totally pumped to see Alex Roivas from Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem. A very dark game, but I think that Smash Bros. could have accommodated it. She’s a Silicon Knights character, but the only game she was in was Nintendo-exclusive, so I don’t know if that would have been a problem. In any case, we don’t see a whole lot about her gender get mentioned at all, probably because she only interacts with two characters throughout the game. Still, she’s got a big sword and a book of scary-ass magic – that has to count for something.

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