For many years, becoming a princess was the cherry on the cake for little girls across the world, but when those girls grew up, they lost the need to place that gold, sparkling tiara on their heads. I can’t say I blame them; when we’re faced with the harsh world of reality, taking the lead role as princess in Mushroom Kingdom becomes nothing more than a trip down Nostalgia Lane. It’s no wonder both girls and women shudder with glee when the sacred vow of marriage arrives on their doorstep, complete with a glittering white dress and tiara. But what is so interesting is why both those girls and women place so much importance in the dress, and why it, inevitably, becomes the crux of the matter.
The gaming industry has been a fan of the damsel-in-distress story arc for quite a number of years, and it appears to keep getting bigger, bolder and better. Nintendo’s own Mario has been working this plot for – well, quite frankly, forever – but it works, right? In fact, Nintendo broke the “princess barrier” a few years ago and gave Princess Peach a chance to star in her own game: Super Princess Peach.
The game, originally released in 2006 (2005 for Japan), went on to relative success with gamers and critics alike – however, they dubbed the game as being “too easy” irrevocably making it difficult to die. The abundance of hints added to this ‘easy-vibe’, which ultimately led IGN critic Craig Harris to believe Nintendo were intentionally ‘spoon-feeding’ gamers: “Nintendo goes completely out of its way to spoon-feed the player, going so far as to nearly spell out the solution to every boss battle before the player enters the fight.” There was also the murmur of Nintendo planting ‘undercurrent sexist themes’ within the game – in one specific level, Peach has to avoid the Boos, and if one brushes past to touch her, she dies. Reading between the lines here spells out certain sexual connotations for sure, but what is so frustrating is that she can’t seem to fight back. Sure, she has her chance to fight bosses, but she uses her emotions of gloom, rage, joy and calm to defeat them. Is it such a ridiculous notion to allow Princess Peach to stomp enemies flat, just like her on-off boyfriend Mario? It’s somehow ironic that she must use her umbrella to hit an enemy, as if her body is too virtuous and pure, so she must imbue her rage in an inanimate object.
Super Princess Peach presents us with a rather interesting theory: if Peach was to take off the dress and wear women’s trousers and a shirt, accompanied by walking boots rather than dainty heels, could she shake off the damsel-in-distress image? Does her vulnerability come from her costume choice; trapped in a pink flouncy dress with nothing but white bloomers underneath? In fact, when a video game character gets the chance to shirk the dress, she does so, albeit only for half of the game in The Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time and subsequently, The Wind Waker. In both of these examples, Princess Zelda takes on a ‘boy-ish’ image, wearing cut-off trousers and, in Ocarina of Time, even wears a scarf to cover her feminine features. But as soon as she transforms back into the princess and into the dress, she is captured by Ganondorf, ending her plight to take on the evil usurper, giving control back to the male hero. Is it too much to ask Nintendo to make a game that actually modernises the female princess, letting her control her own fate for once?
From the Mario franchise, we’ve also been tempted by the cute yellow ‘Belle’ dress that Princess Daisy wears so wonderfully. Of course, we’ve yet to see a spin-off that takes Daisy from mere Mario Kart racing to super-stomping, princess-popping heroine – hopefully though, this isn’t as far off as we first imagined. As a new generation of ‘girl-gamers’ evolves, Nintendo must supply them with role models they can look up to, and role models that don’t trap the princess in the dress.
So, why is it that the dress matters so much to both women and girls? We get to look like the stereotypical princess, if only for one day, but that’s not to say we want to wear it every day. Do you think Nintendo needs to create characters suited to modern tastes, or is it better to keep up with tradition?