Critical Play: Play like a Feminist

At this point, I’m sure we’re all familiar with the way that Princess Peach is traditionally portrayed in the Super Mario Bros. games: classic damsel in distress. I have semi-regularly played Super Smash Bros. in the past, but I typically just played as a character randomly generated by the game itself. I initially was unsure whether I believed this popular game promoted feminism, as there is not a clear feminist narrative. 


I was even more unsure after Chess stated that she frequently meets women who describe video games as “gun-filled, violent, on-screen explosions.” She seems to imply that feminist games are somewhat opposite of this description, and I was not certain that a game centered around fighting an opponent would fit into this category of a feminist game. Chess also stated that “a good feminist game needs to tell a good feminist story” While she says it does not need to be “overtly feminist”, I still wondered if Smash provided a feminist narrative at all. 


After connecting the reading with my past experience playing Smash, it was finally time to play with a new perspective. After playing several straight rounds with characters such as Peach and Bayonetta, I was convinced that Smash does deconstruct traditional roles of femininity. Rather than Peach being the victim as she typically is, she was handily defeating larger, male characters, sometimes even specific characters that typically terrorize her in other games. While specific players will certainly prefer some characters over others, Peach is not inherently weaker than the other characters, and a skilled player could defeat any other character using a female character. 


It did fail to tell a strong female narrative, and was more so focused on portraying female characters differently than the stereotypical representation. Chess states that a good feminist story is “conversational, personal, and relays narratives”, and I fear that Smash fell short of this definition. 


Although Super Smash Bros does not provide this feminist narrative, I think giving all players the chance to immediately play as diverse characters can help to comfortably bring women, especially nongamers, into the toxic gaming community that directly harmed Chess herself. These female characters had some moves that were more stereotypically ‘feminine’, such as Peach softly floating around screen, or Bayonetta taunting by fanning herself, but still served as powerful warriors in the game, with ability equal to all others in the game. Smash did not feel particularly overwhelmed by the same masculinity that has been prevalent in the industry for years. While Smash wasn’t overly personal or conversational, it still satisfied Chess’s requirement of feminist games breaking expectations. 


Hopefully characters such as Peach and Bayonetta will normalize playing as strong female characters within the gaming community, especially hardcore gamers who might not frequently see this representation. Even though Super Smash Bros falls short of providing a strong feminist narrative, and allows players to never play through a feminist lens, it was still able to intertwine feminist theories.


Discussion Question: When thinking about inviting more women into the “onslaught” that is the gaming community, would Super Smash Bros be a good place to start? Or would a more narrative driven game such as Florence be more beneficial? 


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