If there's one topic that seems to do the games industry discredit on a regular basis, it's probably gender politics. It's often the case that when gender is the subject in games, reasonable and sensible debate can unfortunately be lost in a sea of unreasonable online noise. And yet it's a topic that won't, and shouldn't, go away in modern times.
As a company that specialises in family-friendly, colourful and cheerful experiences for the most part, Nintendo isn't often involved in the most fevered of debates on the subject. Yet that doesn't mean it's immune from criticism, with many of the simplistic tales it tells — most prominently Mario rescuing Peach — revolve around a boy rescuing a sqeaky voiced Princess in a pink dress. There are exceptions, of course, but it's an area where the big N is targeted for some stern rebukes, while stories of caring dads modding Zelda so the Princess is the hero gain a lot of interest.
Yet the upcoming lineup, on Wii U particularly, does at least feature a share of female characters. Walking stereotype Peach may not be a symbol of modern womanhood, but she is playable in Super Mario 3D World, Pikmin 3 includes Brittany, and Nintendo is publishing Bayonetta 2, which arguably takes away some teenage fantasy by replacing the "hair as clothes" concept with an actual outfit. Samus Aran — perhaps aside from her schoolboy-crush portrayal in Metroid: Other M — has also been portrayed as a strong female lead in various entries of that franchise.
But still, it's a topic that can draw controversy, but nevertheless Kotaku took the chance to ask Shigeru Miyamoto about these issues. First of all he address the boy rescuing girl theme of the original Donkey Kong, before explaining how the consumer market in the industry has evolved.
Well, yeah, 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.
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.
Of course, the topic of reversing what can be seen as the 'traditional' gender roles of boy rescues girl was raised, and Miyamoto made clear that as his focus is on gameplay first, story often follows later on. The implication is that various gender scenarios will happily be used, provided the development team see it as a good fit for the game in question.
So, yeah, certainly, I think there are opportunities to do it. One, I think we could do it as a parody of everything else we've done. But I think, certainly, we would want something where it would feel like the natural way for the game to play and in that case we would certainly take that approach.
I guess, for me in particular, the structure of the gameplay always comes before the story. 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.
It should be emphasized that Kotaku's Stephen Totilo has stressed that these comments were a small part of a larger interview, some of which we've covered, so this wasn't a lengthy, nuanced discussion on the topic. What we do think comes from this is that Nintendo seems enthusiastic about keeping up with the evolutions in its audience, and isn't averse to switching up into alternative storylines should the project fit.
With those caveats in mind, let us know what you think in the comments below, but please stay on topic and civil towards fellow users.