Video games hold a lot of great characters, from heroes to villains, and everyone in between. It makes sense since a video game is usually an interactive story, one where the player controls the action. That said, there has been a definite tilt in the favor of male characters over female ones… at least where the main action is concerned. Nintendo is one of the more influential game companies, and also a company that has been very vocal over inclusive gaming. There has been no console like the Wii in terms of bringing new players to the table. So, since Nintendo has been talking the talk, are they walking the walk (yes, I know that term is incredibly outdated). In examining five prominent Nintendo female characters, it is clear that the big N still has a long way to go.
Let’s start with the most famous example: Princess Peach Toadstool.
Where She Started: There is perhaps no more famous damsel-in-distress in history. Peach has been kidnapped no less than thirteen times. That number comes after a quick count so the actual number may be higher. Peach represents royalty without power. She is only a princess after all – there is a Mushroom King. Granted, this figure is never seen, so Peach is the face of the ruling family. Yet, despite her many appearances (Peach has appeared in more games than any other female character in history), Princess Peach doesn’t have much character. Who is she besides the doe-eyed passive princess dressed in pink?
Has There Been Recent Improvement: Yes. Princess Peach is no longer just an objective to be accomplished. Recently, Peach has begun taking a more active role in gaming – outside of the Mario Party/Sports titles. Peach appears alongside Mario and Luigi as a playable character in the new Super Mario 3D World. The character also finally received her own game for the DS, Super Princess Peach, where she was the solo protagonist. Is there still more work to be done: absolutely. At least the Princess is moving in a more modern direction.
The titular character in the Legend of Zelda series, Princess Zelda is the (usual) ruler of Hyrule.
Where She Started: Like Peach, Zelda began her career as the damsel-in-distress, and the main objective of the game. In a legend that repeats throughout the years, the player learns that Zelda possess the Triforce of Wisdom. Link (male) possesses courage and Ganon (male) possesses power. This would be great if Zelda ever appeared as a wise character. Really, she rarely appeared at all. In the traditional format: Zelda appeared twice per game. Once at the beginning to kept kidnapped and once at the ending to be saved. While Link and Ganon’s characters clearly embody their main trait, Zelda never embodies hers. At least not in the beginning.
Has There Been Recent Improvement: Yes. Zelda has taken an increasingly active role in recent games. She is still usually in peril but finds ways to help Link on his quest. The character has also been more personified and even taken on a physically active role. Ocarina of Time still may represent the best leap forward as Zelda stripped off the dress and dawned fighting gear to become Sheik, a warrior who actively aided Link on his journey. Zelda fans are still waiting for a Nintendo game with a female protagonist.
Yes, another princess. This one is from Sarasaland… never heard of it? You and 99.999999% of people on the planet.
Where She Started: Stop me if you’ve heard this one: a damsel-in-distress for Mario to save… who wasn’t Peach. Yes, over time Daisy has come to be known as Luigi’s girlfriend but when she started, she was getting saved by Mario. Daisy is… well honestly there is not much to say. She appeared in Super Mario Land for the Gameboy and since then only Mario Sports games.
Has There Been Recent Improvement: No. Nintendo does not seem to know what to do with Daisy. The recent “Year of Luigi” failed to produce any games featuring the character. Daisy is an active playable character in her sports appearances and shows traces of personality… it is just no longer clear why she’s there. Sonic has been costing on video game credit for a lot less time than Daisy. Here’s hoping the character plays a (playable) role in the next Luigi’s Mansion. That would at least be a start.
Samus Aran is an intergalactic bounty hunter and the main character of the Metroid series. She is also the only character on this list that is not a princess.
Where She Started: As a pioneer for female game characters. Samus Aran is the exact opposite of the damsel-in-distress. She is (mainly) portrayed as independent and solitary. She goes from planet to planet hunting aliens and solving puzzles. Samus is not given many clear characteristics to her personality (the player’s actions tend to form the person she is) and did not have a voice for most of her career. When she did…
Has There Been Recent Improvement: No. In fact, one could argue the exact opposite has happened. In Metroid: Other M, Samus was finally given a voice, and that was the voice of an immature girl crying out for approval from her male superiors. It was a huge set back for the formerly fully independent bounty hunter. Also, the emergence of the new “zero suit” has drawn a lot more attention to Samus’ feminine form. Here is hoping that Retro Studios can get the character back on track.
A princess who commands the Comet Observatory, as well as serves as guardian for the Lumas.
Where She Started: Rosalina is the most recent addition to Mario’s Princess lineup. While she is not kidnapped in Super Mario Galaxy, Rosalina is quickly revealed to be powerless against Bowser. It is up to Mario (the player) to save the day and return all the Lumas to Rosalina. She does not come across as the most powerful “guardian of the cosmos” when an incredibly-gifted plumber can do more to save the galaxy than she can.
Has There Been Any Recent Improvement: Hard to say. Nintendo appears to be pushing the character at least. A recent appearance in Mario Kart 8, as well as an upcoming roster spot for the new Super Smash Bros. are signs that the company wants to keep using the character. Rosalina also appeared as an unlockable character in Super Mario 3D World.
Last year, Shigeru Miyamoto (the Nintendo equivalent of Jesus) was asked about his thoughts on women in video games. The video game creator touched on a main problem that Nintendo still appears to have. Yes, they have plenty of female characters now, but they have few games that directly suit them. Most of the time the woman appears as a side character while the male player character completes the action. Nintendo needs a new Metroid, a new game series surrounding a female protagonist. They just have to figure out how to accomplish it.
“So, yeah, certainly, I think there are opportunities to do it. One, I think we could do it as a parody of everything else we’ve done. But I think, certainly, we would want something where it would feel like the natural way for the game to play and in that case we would certainly take that approach.”
– Shigeru Miyamoto
Oh and don’t worry: there are people already feeling threatened by Nintendo’s desire to include more female characters in Super Smash Bros.