‘Super Mario Odyssey’ Finally Addresses the Video Games’ History of Sexism Against Princess Peach

Our pint-sized protagonist learns a valuable lesson about female agency.

Fall's most hotly anticipated Nintendo release, Super Mario Odyssey, is already ranked as one of the best games ever made. Mario's latest adventure is clever, hilarious and filled to the brim with surprises that reward the countless fans across the planet who have followed his career since the plumbing days.

The overalls-sporting protagonist can lay claim to having the most successful video game franchise in history, selling more than a staggering 528 million games when all of his adventures are added together. To put it in perspective, this is hundreds of millions more in sales than the Pokémon, Grand Theft Auto or Call of Duty franchises. In fact, it's more than the Sonic, Legend of Zelda and Tomb Raider franchises' combined sales. Put simply, Mario is the single most influential character in the history of video games and one of the most recognizable figures across the global entertainment industry.

But we need to face a hard truth about our beloved Mario franchise. While relatively innocuous by the floor-low standard of sexism in video games, the hero’s games have suffered from a male gaze problem since his first outing in Donkey Kong, when he saved Peach's predecessor in kidnapping, Pauline. (She's a mayor now in Odyssey!)

Developers took notice of their reliance on the idea of female helplessness and crafted an unexpected response for 2017.

Odyssey starts with the damsel-in-distress trope familiar to anyone who’s played a Super Mario game: Princess Peach has been captured by Bowser. This time, Bowser plans to force Peach into a wedding. Mario joins forces with his new friend, a sentient hat, to fight Bowser’s dastardly wedding planners, repair a hot air balloon and give chase to the airborne Bowser.

Since Super Mario Bros. in 1985, the princess, previously called Princess Toadstool before adopting the more casual Princess Peach, has been portrayed as little more than a helpless victom.

But the game’s final act takes a step in a very different direction.

If you haven’t played the game and plan to do so, stop reading: MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD.

After the final showdown with Bowser, Mario anticipates a romantic escape with the princess. This is how Mario games end. It’s a foregone conclusion when players start.

Mario assumes the forever truth of his gendered knight-in-shining-armor trope, which will result in romantic gratitude and lifelong devotion from Peach. But the characters have never gotten around to marriage. 

Players rightfully believe Odyssey will end with the long-delayed nuptials.

But the truth is that Mario will soon discover he has something in common with his arch-enemy Bowser.

FINAL CHANCE TO AVOID HUGE SPOILERS

As Bowser awakens from an unconscious state, Princess Peach has an awakening of her own. The princess realizes she has better things to do than watch men fight over her like a trophy.

Peach heads back for the hot air balloon as Mario and Bowser tussle with each other over presenting the princess with flowers she doesn’t want. The two are left to console each other after Peach rejects them both.

You read that correctly: Peach does not choose Mario.

She doesn’t bake him a cake. She doesn’t ride vacantly on a dinosaur behind Mario to oversee a birthing celebration. She doesn’t stand giggling by her man's side. Nope. Peach straight-up bounces. The princess goes full Eat, Pray, Love and takes off to explore the various kingdoms as a free person.

Maybe Peach will fall in love with Mario. Maybe she won't. Starting with Odyssey, that's a decision Peach will make on her own terms.

Until then, Mario is free to visit Peach on her kingdom-trotting adventures as a friend. She even flips the script on Mario by becoming the bearer of moons he needs, but can't collect without her help as she flies between the regions.

Mario and Peach as a team of equals is something everyone can celebrate. Maybe Bowser will is next in line for a feminist awakening.

In Mario's world, everyone can find the good inside themselves and grow, even if it takes a few decades.

 

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