Female representation in video games is something that I’ll always be looking at. I’ve looked at it since I got my Pokémon: Red Version game and wondered why I couldn’t play as a girl, and even before then when I watched my mom play Metroid 2 and stared in wonder while Samus traversed the depths of her home planet of SR388. While many series warrant a look, the series that has continuously kept me watching with the evolution of its female characters is no doubt the Mario series of games.
As to be expected, the lovely Peach is often at the forefront of the conversations and why not? Arguably, she’s the main female of the series and the main love interest, so of course she’d be under the most scrutiny. In the past years she’s become so much more than the unseen damsel offering the hero cake; she’s become a hero in her own right. She’s come to star in her own game and is even starting to get recognized more prominently in other Mario games such as Paper Mario and the upcoming Super Mario 3D World. Though many of these things in and of itself are still problematic (see: the execution of Super Princess Peach), it’s still an important step that she’s actually becoming a character rather than remaining an object for players to obtain. And I like Peach, I really do, but she has never been my princess. That title belongs to the oft-overlooked Daisy.
This princess of Sarasaland has the unfortunate history of being a Peach re-color, so that’s what usually gets her ignored (who discusses the difference between regular Kirby and blue Kirby, after all?). Those that ignore her, however, are missing an incredibly fantastic role model or at least an interesting subversion of the damsel trope that Peach embodies.
Where Peach is a more stereotypical view of a princess and more overt in her femininity, Daisy is a self-professed tomboy. She’s loud, excitable, wily, and willing to get into trouble to get what she wants. Tomboy princesses (and female characters in general) can still be tropetastic and detrimental to portrayals of women just as much as the typical damsel, but Daisy seems like an actual character who possesses those traits, not a caricature of said traits. And certainly tomboy princesses are nothing new in media, but can you name another game off the top of your head where one is a recurring character and is not a butt of a joke, whether it be in game or meta? It would take a while to think of one — I can’t come up with one, myself. This isn’t me diminishing Peach by any means. As much as it’s important to have more feminine characters, especially ones that can take care of themselves using their femininity as a tool rather than being burdened by it, it’s also important to have these characters that go against the grain. Daisy is a princess, but she’s also the type of character where ‘princess’ seems like a secondary aspect. She doesn’t get captured, and she doesn’t deal with having invasions every other week, but she does enjoy competition and pitting her skills against the other heroes’. In fact, this same comparison could be made of Disney princesses. For as many girls that look up to characters like Cinderella and Ariel, we have just as many girls that look up to Mulan and Rapunzel. They’re all still princesses (…well, as far as branding goes), but embody different characteristics.
The problem I’m having is that Nintendo is wasting Daisy’s character.
Though Daisy has been in several games spanning the time from 2000 to the present—she was also the damsel of 1985’s Super Mario Bros.—all those games were party games. What do I mean by that? They were multiplayer games like Mario Kart Wii, Super Mario Strikers, Mario Tennis, and of course Mario Party. In other words, games where the characters have little to no development because there is no actual story outside of “the characters got together to play something and want to win.” After having forty titles under her belt, it’s understandable that the audience would be able to recognize this much of her character from party banter in character summaries from the game manuals, but she deserves so much more. Luigi started out as a taller Mario recolor as well, but he has his own series in Luigi’s Mansion and an equal role to his brother in the Mario & Luigi series of RPGs. Hell, we’re even celebrating the year of Luigi right now. And while it can be argued that Luigi has been around longer and has more of a following, if a character has been included in as many games as Daisy has and shows no signs of being cut out anytime soon, I think there’s a demand to see her in a larger role.
I think it’s high time to have a game where Daisy takes the lead role. Or even better, a game where she and Peach go off to save whichever kingdom (or even an alternate world) using the strengths that both of them have. Let the boys play damsel while these princesses use their hearts and flowers to stop the evil forces du jour from taking over the land or whatever it is they’ll be doing. Maybe just forget the boys all together.
While Nintendo has come a long way, I think it could only benefit them to place their female characters in stronger roles. As a child, I would have flipped out if there was a game that started a princess or two in a situation like the boy heroes got to be in. That’s why I was so entranced with Metroid, as it was one of the only games we owned outside of Barbie: the Game that boasted a female protagonist. However, women like Samus aren’t the only women who deserve to have adventures, because not every girl is like Samus. In this day and age where female gamers are finally getting recognized, the younger generation deserves to have a wider array of female characters to choose from. Let’s not force them back to the age where they’ll have to pretend that a male hero is actually a female one to experience the story they want.