Chris Suellentrop, a former editor on the NYT’s op-ed page, took to that page Thursday to take on the burning issue of sexism in Super Mario Bros video games. The famous series is making its iPhone debut, but Suellentrop’s young daughter won’t be playing it, because of “Mario’s Not-So-Super Sexism.” He condemned its "stale, retrograde gender stereotypes."
Unfortunately, despite Nintendo’s history and reputation, Super Mario Run is not a family-friendly game -- or at least not one my wife and I will be letting our 6-year-old daughter play. The game is rife with stale, retrograde gender stereotypes -- elements that were perhaps expected in 1985, when the first Super Mario Bros. was released in the United States, but that today are just embarrassing.
Super Mario Run begins, as does almost every Super Mario title, with Princess Peach becoming a hostage who must be rescued by Mario. Just before her ritual kidnapping, Peach invites Mario to her castle and pledges to bake him a cake. Upon her rescue, she kisses Mario. The game also includes a second female character, Toadette, whose job is to wave a flag before and after a race, like a character from “Grease.”
By failing to update Super Mario for a contemporary audience, Nintendo is lagging far behind the Walt Disney Co., one of its closest American analogues....
In isolation, there’s nothing wrong with princesses or baking. My daughters love those things, too. But Super Mario Run relegates its female characters to positions of near helplessness. Peach and Toadette become playable only after you complete certain tasks, which makes the women in the game feel like prizes. (To be fair, the same is true of a few male characters.) Worse, should you then use Peach to defeat her kidnapper, Bowser, you’ll discover that neither Mario nor a kiss is waiting for her as a reward.
Take a moment to remind yourself that Suellentrop is devoting all this moral outrage to a revamp of a video game set in the Mushroom Kingdom, involving a cartoon Italian plumber rescuing Princess Peach Toadstool from Bowser of the Koopa Kingdom.
He insisted that “Seeing people like yourself depicted as heroic on TV and in movies and video games can have a powerful effect on viewers and players,” then listed in sympathy some agit-prop that in some alternative world qualify as “games.”
This sense of identification gives video games an enormous capacity to create empathy for other people. There are video games in which you play as the parent of a dying child, as a transgender woman beginning hormone replacement therapy, as the son of an alcoholic. But it also presents more conventional game designers with an opportunity to create games in which young girls, and not just young boys, actually become heroes themselves.
Suellentrop, who thinks Video Games Matter, took the politically correct line on the complicated videogame scandal of GamerGate.
His piece is the latest feminist rant in the Times to squeeze the fun out of everything. Two weeks ago it was a Christmas musical with insufficient gender equality among its cast of anthropomorphic reindeer.