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Miyamoto discusses the role of females in game narratives

Friday, 21st June 2013 11:15 GMT By Dave Cook

Shigeru Miyamoto might have made Princess Peach the damsel in distress when he conceptualised Super Mario Bros. back in the ’80s, but he’s not adverse to putting females front and centre, if it makes sense in a narrative light. The industry veteran has shared his thoughts on the matter in a new interview.

Speaking with Kotaku, Miyamoto shed light on his first damsel in distress, Pauline, as first seen in the arcade edition of Donkey Kong, “back in the days when we made the first Donkey Kong, that was a game we first made for the arcades, the arcades were not places girls went into often. And so we didn’t even consider making a character that would be playable for girls.”

The article recognises that Super Mario Bros. 2 featured Peach as a playable character, along with Metroid hero Samus being something of a champion among female protagonists. The princess now appears in Wii U platformer Super Mario 3D World, and Miyamoto explained Nintendo’s approach to female players and stars over the years.

“But typically with the DS era, what we found is, you know, gradually, more and more women began playing games—both young girls and adult women, playing games like Professor Layton and Animal Crossing, so more and more … and even as far back as Mario Kart, we had females who wanted to be able to play as female characters and we obviously saw the addition of Princess Peach early on in that series.

“And gradually, over time, we started to see the desire for other-balanced female characters. And so we’ve added heavier female characters in the Mario Kart series for them to choose from. So I think it’s just a natural tendency.”

Miyamoto then stressed that if it makes narrative sense to make a female or gay character the hero, then he’d be fine with it. “I guess, for me in particular, the structure of the gameplay always comes before the story,” he explained. “And so we’re always looking at, when we’re putting that together, what is the most natural story to take place within that structure.

“Pikmin is a good example of that. In Pikmin, the original structure of the gameplay was centered on all these individual little creatures moving around like ants. As a result of that, the world that you’re in is kind of earthy and natural settings and the creatures you’re fighting seems sort of like insects, because that’s what the gameplay centers on.

“So, if we end up creating a gameplay structure where it makes sense for, whether it’s a female to go rescue a male or a gay man to rescue a lesbian woman or a lesbian woman to rescue a gay man, we might take that approach. For us it’s less about the story and more about the structure of the gameplay and what makes sense to be presenting to the consumer.”

What do you make of Miyamoto’s view and the issue of gender representation in gaming today? Let us know below.

Thanks ONM.

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5 Comments

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  1. FrayJoker

    I don’t object to anything said here. But I do wonder why this mindset of gradually adding more female characters wasn’t applied to The New Super Mario Brothers?

    I mean letting aside entirely having Peach as a playable character, because fair enough, the game needs an objective, and she’s pro at being an objective. Why the hell don’t they add Daisy? She’s one of the most personable characters in the Mario spin-offs. Showing a competitive streak and tomboyish personality.

    Instead we get two barely distinguishable toads with no personality. Fantastic.

    It’s not like she would even be that out of place. SMB 2 had Mario, Luigi, Toad and Peach. Having Mario, Luigi, Toad and Daisy could be a callback to that game. Instead we get a nameless, faceless, uninteresting little toad that can barely be told apart from his nameless, faceless little toad friend.

    Remember how part of the design of the TF2 characters was to give each a distinctive silhouette? So that you can definitively discern what each character was at a glance? How awesome that is as a design principle? I’m just saying, why wasn’t it applied here? Hell, you could even put Rosalina or Birdo in there and it would still help.

    It’s always bothered me in the first game, and each game since then.

    #1 1 year ago
  2. G1GAHURTZ

    Careful Miyamoto.

    Don’t talk about women. People will decide that you’re sexist.

    #2 1 year ago
  3. Cobra951

    @2: Yep. It’s best to put out games without discussing these politically charged subjects at all. Let people engage in all the conjecture they want. Don’t provide any more ammo to the special-interest bullies.

    #3 1 year ago
  4. Rocketbilly

    So there has to be a particular gameplay reason for there to be a female or gay playable character. This must be flawless, unassailable logic to people who insist that sexism isn’t really a thing. But unless there is a specific gameplay reason not to, they just go with a heterosexual male? Why? And since this very practice is exactly the problem at hand, why does it never get addressed?

    There was a reason for the Pikmin to be bug things, okay, I guess I get that. But why were the actual playable characters guys? Because they just default to guys.

    Similarly, characters in Animal Crossing can’t be black, because they don’t see a gameplay reason for it?

    What bothers me almost as much as the inherent, institutional, sexism of it all, is the way that Miyamoto just gets a pass despite the fact that what he is saying is so obviously discriminatory. There won’t be any mass internet uproar even from the most easily offended social justice minded liberals over this, because well, its just sweet old Miyamoto, he gets to be sexist or racist or whatever really, because he made Mario.

    #4 1 year ago
  5. IntrovertedOne

    I think at the end of the day most gamers are still male, I personally feel less immersed in a game with a female protaginist. (eg. perfect dark 64 was an amazing game, but i felt like i was controlling an avatar rather than playing myself)

    And Nintendo, ms, sony are corporations, so they has to put share holders first (something i hate as it stalemates creativity), if the data shows that the majority of players are hetero males (I imagine it does) they have a ‘legal’ responsibility to target that audience, as that gives the best chance for profits. unless some idea in the game demands a female or gay role to be used, it probably wont be.

    I hate capitalism, its an creativity killer.

    But as far as sexism, at least Nintendo girls wear reasonable costumes, the most “revealing” is probably Samus, and shes covered head to toe.

    #5 1 year ago