We've been told for twenty-plus years to save the princess, but what are the long-term ramifications of carrying out that directive? Kombo's Joey Davidson steps outside the castle for a moment to explore the role of female characters in video games and how story structure and psychological theory influence how we view the digital women in our lives. Today's example? Princess Peach's place in Super Mario Bros. and how we, as Mario, are supposed to interact with her.
Finally, with [Super Mario Bros.] at least, I'd like to tackle the game's end reward for saving the Princess, the supposed kiss. I say supposed because it does not actually happen on screen. We've seen the kiss in the SNES remake of SMB on Super Mario All-Stars, but the NES version leaves that bit out. We will, once again, have to assume it is implied in order to achieve full effect for this argument. [Laura] Mulvey looks to [Sigmund] Freud in order to get a grasp on the concept of sex and making love on screen and why it is that we, as viewers, find the moments so pleasurable. According to Freud, almost every member of the human race could be considered scopophiliac. We get pleasure from looking and watching, and we get pleasure from imagining that we are what we are watching.
Now, I realize that the 8-bit version of Princess Peach is far from sexy. You could never logically consider her an object of sexual desire in her NES state. But I would like to demonstrate that what she represents in the game is a prize of sexuality.
A kiss from Peach has been an end-game reward several times: Super Mario Bros. (All-Stars), Super Mario World, and Super Mario 64, just to name a few. Ultimately that isn't why I/Mario set out to save her though. It's all about the adventure for me. The kiss at the end is just window dressing for a structured narrative, particularly since even though both Mario and I rescue her, only Mario gets the physical reward.
The terrible thing is that I've been rescuing Peach for twenty-some years now starting from when I was a child. I am now conditioned to save that specific helpless girl in the pink dress. Seriously. If Ganon whisks Zelda away then I will take up the fight for the sake of good versus evil and saving the world, but if someone messes with Peach then I will take him/her/them apart with a vengeance. So there you have it: unquestioning loyalty for a fictional character.