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A Father’s Love In Game Design

Mar 14, 13 A Father’s Love In Game Design

Mike Mika has nothing but a good job, a wonderful profession and a curious three-year-old who wanted nothing more than to play as Pauline in Donkey Kong. As a father, Mika couldn’t help but cringe on the inside when his daughter quietly muttered “How can I play as the girl?” Mika just couldn’t resist. Such a question had not been asked in decades, aside from the benchmark political jargon of female protagonists in video games. (You can view the article here.)

For those of you who didn’t know, Mario got his start in Donkey Kong as the hero that saves Princess Peach, then called Pauline.

We’re all quite familiar with Super Mario; it stars everyone’s favorite bubbly Italian plumber, bouncing about, shooting fire balls from red & white flowers, all the while saving the damsel in distress, Princess Peach. Mario doesn’t inherently have physical features that could justify his leaping mushroom to mushroom. In fact, there’s nothing Mario that we can hold to real world logic. After all, it is just a video game. Could Super Mario be more typical in its depiction of male and female gender roles?

Mika’s three-year-old was just curious, but obviously the conditioning of society had moved her to question her own gender identification. We have Mario traversing obstacle after continuous obstacle to save a female clad in a pink dress. She is not only a woman, but she is also just outright defenseless. Our hero enters center stage, red cap gleaming in 8-bit glory, and saves the day. When Mika pondered his daughter’s question on how she could play as Pauline, he had completely outdone the general expectation of a game.

Mika is a game developer, a Chief Creative Officer at Other Ocean Interactive, and has over 15 years of experience in the gaming industry. With that being said, Mika’s mission to replace the character sprite of Mario with Pauline wasn’t very complicated job at all. In just three days, Mika’s daughter was climbing ladders and leaping over wooden barrels, calm and resolved that the hero was a woman.

Video games provide players the ability to control the hero. With that responsibility to save someone, we have a natural inkling to feel closer to the hero we’re playing.

What does this mean for Mika’s view on female protagonists? Actually, Mika hadn’t intended on knocking the door down on the subject. In sheer honesty, Mika claimed that he was only setting out to provide a factor in a video game for his daughter. I’m afraid that the observation of gender roles in video games — even for a child as young as three remains to be debated.

Have you a thought on the subject? I’d love to hear it in the comments section.

Image Credit: Nintendo

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