News Article

Shigeru Miyamoto Is Open to More Female Heroines When the Gameplay Structure Fits

Posted by Thomas Whitehead

Playable female characters prominent in upcoming Wii U games

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.


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User Comments (64)



Pichuka97 said:

Well, more girls playable in games could draw in more people (specificly girls) into playing Wii U. It's a good thought.



Gate_Shikimuri said:

Changing up the patty's formula!? THAT BE MUTINY!

But yeah, if the shoe (game) fits, wear it (make it work).



Shiryu said:

Remember all those awesome -> FEMALE F-ZERO GX PILOTS<- ? hint, hint



MagicalVioGenie said:

I think they should make a game where a rich girl save a poor boy and a bunch of cliches should be reversed.



theblackdragon said:

@k8sMum: I don't think he's hinting so much at having playable girls as he is hinting at another F-Zero game :3

that said, i do kinda agree with the sentiment that heroines shouldn't be forced into a story just because. if i'm playing a game from a female character's standpoint, i'd rather it be crafted that way from the ground up instead of shoehorned in just to say they gave us the option. However, I hope that they honestly give some thought in the future to including female main protagonists if possible, either as an option to the player or as a solid story built around a female character.



indienapolis said:

I think that's an honest answer. Their games obviously put gameplay first, something people either love or hate about Nintendo games. It's refreshing to see that Miyamoto has thoughtful ideas on the issue though. I love the man more and more.

I know this is going to start a huge argument, but I thought I should add that while Samus can certainly be an example of a strong female character (though the game isn't much about her as a woman), I don't think I'd consider Bayonetta a like example. Gameplay aside, she's not much more than a teenage fantasy and is debatably part of the gender politics problem with gaming. I know, I know, no one wants to hear this, and I'll admit I'm interested in playing the game, but I don't think I could celebrate it as a stride for feminism with a straight face.



tsm7 said:

Female characters are fine but it worries me about Zelda. I can't see a Zelda title from the perspective of Zelda not being a lame spin-off. Maybe with the Tetra version of Zelda it would work out or a new character.



Varia01 said:

I hope Samus keeps her title as the most popular video game female character...



tsm7 said:

And I do like how a gay man rescues a lesbian and vice-versa.



AJWolfTill said:

What is with Shiggy and rescuing XD
Totally agree, while I appreciate the fact that the crude sexuality seems to have been toned down in that series I'm not sure she is on my go to list for female VG rolemodels.
What we really need is more cases like Commander Shephard where the option is entirely open for preference. Jennifer Hale did a fantastic job with that role!



indienapolis said:

@tsm7 That would truly be shocking for a Nintendo game. It was kinda funny how it was about gender politics and Miyamoto jumped head first into sexual identity. But, hey, why not. We've always wondered about Toad.



Emblem said:

Female leads are great but the generic do-it-all action heroine that's plagued gaming since Tomb Raider blew up is not what i want to see from nintendo games. I could see a Zelda game where Link is captured and Zelda is bestowed with additional power to save him, role reversal is great for relationships lol.



Yorumi said:

I'm all for them doing more female characters, but a lot of this does have to do with the consumer. I play female characters in MMOs, you should see the way people react to that. Ultimately video game companies arn't political outlets, they want money and that generally means what they're doing is driven by the consumer.

A game featuring zelda could be interesting(she did do a lot of in OOT) and I wouldn't be against it. Plus it could be really unique gameplay since she represents wisdom instead of courage. However, I think the main reason you don't see it is right now a game featuring male lead just sells better.



indienapolis said:

Also, there doesn't necessarily need to be gender role reversals in existing franchises. We'd all love some new IPs...



Romeo said:

i would like that and i'm not even a girl : )

i mean... Lara Croft, Jill Valentine, etc.
more of that? oh, yes, please!

games need more female leads in general, not just from nintendo



erv said:

But a female person in general doesn't make a bad personality to drive a game, It made sense in perfect dark on n64, for instance, but wouldn't make sense in turok that same generation.

Without too much of an explanation I think the average cultural stigma against the liberty of women in general has not benefitted our economy and world and it is only slowly improving. Sexism (not the the erotic word, the discriminatory one) prevails in much of our culture, sadly, putting women all over the globe in less favourable positions.

So I understand the point about wanting more women in leading positions within games as well as I understand the position of myamoto which I really agree with: the gameplay comes first, the elements making the game follow. I do feel it is great to see society in general accepting more women in leading role models as well as women respond favourably to that, though in a way it only shows the lessened freedoms women seem to have even in our western cultures.

In other words: less discrimination towards women please and more independance, as well as not caring about the way they are represented as it just shouldn't matter - because society itself needs to learn to accept any gender difference in any occasion without bias.



alLabouTandroiD said:

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.

I can't wait.



idork99 said:

Feminism?! I'm still upset that there was no lead male in Stylesavvy! Get with the times Nintendo! Lol.
But yes, great topic with many points of view.



edhe said:

Ugh! kotaku...
Ugh! Steven Totilo...

Nevertheless, I'm interested in how Nintendo are going to represent these ideas in their future games, and I'd certainly not be averse to playing a game where I take on the role of a woman saving a man.



rjejr said:

@indienapolis - "I don't think I'd consider Bayonetta a like example. Gameplay aside, she's not much more than a teenage fantasy and is debatably part of the gender politics problem with gaming."

Just out of curiosity did you play the first game? Her being a woman has a whole lot more to do w/ the story than just her being naked and hot. Not sure I can say the same about Lara Croft for most of her games though.

"which arguably takes away some teenage fantasy by replacing the "hair as clothes" concept with an actual outfit."

Even though my initial reaction to this news was "Nintendo cop-out" if this game follows the first by a few years I can see this actually making perfect sense in the story line and I really expect someone WILL comment on it in game. I'm sure there have been lots of woman who have practiced more nudism - skinny dipping, topless beaches, nude sunbathing or whatever - in their younger years than after they've gotten older. Nobody wants to go to nude beaches w/ their mom.



Ren said:

Nice measured comments from the king of game design. I get that in game design the playability is first for him, fine.
But lets just say that if there is to be a real change in the old boys club that is game design largely today it needn't be about a game design element. Equal consideration and less than grotesque sexualisation of female characters in ALL things needs to slowly become a real innate priority for PEOPLE; in LIFE.
If that is or were to become a part of his world view, it wouldn't have to be a design priority or a choice it would just be a natural part his creative thought process. I'm not bad mouthing him really. I'm just saying it's there or it isn't for someone, there isn't a "choice of if it fits" or not.

by that logic stories favoring male heros has coincidentally fit gameplay/film/writing/storytelling for a thousand years already. Change your thinking and the rest will come easy.



Haywired said:

I've always kind of thought of video games as being at the fore-front of having strong and prominent female characters and gets a rather unfair rep. Samus, The Boss, Alexandra Roivas, Jill Valentine, hundreds from Fire Emblem, Final Fantasy, etc. just off the top of my head, too many to mention really.

Fighting games seem to come in for a fair amount of stick because the female characters tend to be very sexualized and scantily-clad, but a) they're super-tough warriors who go toe-to-toe with the men and b) the male characters are just as scantily-clad and just as sexualized as a man can be (ultra-muscular, chiselled, handsome, etc).



CyberNature said:

I'm surprised no one's mentioned Pokémon. That's the one Nintendo franchise where you can choose between a boy or a girl.



k8sMum said:

@tbd: that sound u heard was that reference going right over my head, lol.

On topic, I agree that female heroes should not just be stuck in a game as a token appeasement, but as a real character with something to add to the story because of who she is. For all the mars/venus theory out there, when it comes to basic traits such as honour, bravery, loyalty, heroism we are more alike than different.



Zombie_Barioth said:

I definitely agree that things like gender or race shouldn't be shoehorned in. Putting a women in a game for the sake of being able to say you have a female protagonist isn't much different from thinking having a black friend means your not racist.

Also, theres a fine line between being sexually attractive and fanservice. Trying to get a point across and panty shots are two completely different things.



unrandomsam said:

@k8sMum: I think Wario has more in common with most of the human race deep down than any other Nintendo character. Most people don't have any of those traits you list.



k8sMum said:

i have lived a lot longer than most here and subsequently seen more. imho, i have seen all those traits, sometimes together, sometimes separately, but i have seen them. unfortunately, it is often in the little things, not the big where they are shown. ergo, no one notices except those directly involved. sometimes no one sees. they still exist.

i am a complete cynic. but, as often happens, it hides the soul of a romantic. anyways...sorry, i am in a philosophical mood tonite.



jacksayspurple said:

Nice that Miyamoto considers these things. Even nicer that he considers themes such as sexual identity given the recent controversy over Tomodachi Collection. That said, wouldn't a gay man be more interested in rescuing another man than a lesbian woman and vice versa? Haha! As a gay guy myself, I think I'd rather play as a gay character rescuing my lover! But awwwww! It's still nice! Gotta love Miyamoto! What a sweetheart!



AlbertoC said:

@Boidoh: It's not a game announcement, it was just figuratively speaking to make it clear that it isn't about a boy who rescues a girl because he is strong, she is weak, and they marry as a result, as is the cliche in these cases. He doesn't care about it, rather he makes gameplay first, and the history or setting is added later on.



Hong said:

Not like you had to have women playing games to have female protagonists. :/



TwilightV said:

"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."

So your idea of a strong female lead is a mostly silent protagonist with hardly any personality? Because aside from Fusion, the manga and a little of Super, that's what Samus was.



Trikeboy said:

"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."
What is your basis for this? In most Metroid games, Samus is a silent Bounty Hunter. In games where we get a narrative such as Other M and Fusion, Samus is nostalgic. That doesn't mean she can't kick butt or isn't a strong female lead because she is incredibly strong. It annoys me when people attack Other M for it's storyline when there was little or no personality to work from anyway.



WiiLovePeace said:

I control the game character, hence that character is me. I don't care what gender the character is, so I don't see this as an issue. But I'm a man, so I don't get a say in the matter



Trikeboy said:

I always play as the female character in Pokemon because that character normally appears as a companion in the anime.



ecco6t9 said:

Maybe a new Donkey Kong JR style game but starring Tiny Kong who has to rescue the Kong's?



Sceptic said:

How out of touch can a man be?

But I can totally see their 'creative meetings' at nintendo now, where every fresh idea gets silently crushed with a wave of the hand or a furrowed eyebrow from the great sensei, until, by unanimous vote and to great applause, 'Super Luigi Zelda Smash Racer Kong IV' it is.



DarkNinja9 said:

i agree with the fact that is the gameplay and such seems to fit for that character then they should go that route cuz if they were to just start with a IP like legend of zelda and say oh hey we making changes just cuz some "people" seem to have a problem so we making it this way from now on... that would just ruin everything

anyway i dont get why this is a big deal though? its not like nintendo has never had options before to choose what character you wanted to be in many games being female or male characters they always seemed to have a choice yet ppl still have a problem? wow they need a reality check its a game ._.



Varia01 said:

Now Peach is gonna completely take away Samus's titles as most popular female video game character. I wouldn't doubt it......



Shambo said:

@Shiryu and from now on, there's no such thing as 'won't be doing the f-zero series justice with a new entry' anymore.

give it female characters with pink hoover cadillacs, online multiplayer, bright neon-lit hd graphics, gyro-gamepad steering, off-tv... nintendo, you have the winning hand, play it!



Jaz007 said:

One problem is the fact that games like to have an everyman as the protagonist. Men are simply biologically buit to be stronger. That's not sexist either l, it's fact. Women can be strong for sure, but boys are also more likely to do things like lift weights while growing up, just generally more physically strenuous activitys growing up and later on in life. Your average everyman will be stronger than your everywomen. Which is just plain fact. I agree that Bayonneta probably isn't the best argument either. Faith from Mirrior's Edge is a good example of a strong female protagonist. If female if a female protagonist uses some sex appeal to draw people to game like Bayonneta probably does, it's probably a bad example.



startropics3 said:

@Harrison_Peter Hilarious!
When people talk about Nintendo including "mature" games in their library, topics like these are what I consider mature content. But like Harrison_Peter and Miyamoto brought up, you might as well not even bring gender roles into play if the gameplay does not require it. Olimar might as well be an asexual automaton as he(?) isn't likely affecting views on gender in order to progress in the game. I can hardly think of a game where gender is even relevant. When included, gender is used as a marketing tool or tired plot design.

A quick search of "sexualized games" brought up a 2009 research article on the effects of sexualized female portrayal in video games.
The authors tested two versions of Lara Croft (scantily-clad Lara and fully-clothed Lara) on 56 male and female undergraduates in a southwestern US university. Interestingly, they found no effect on female self-esteem from the sexualized version, but did for female self-efficacy (the measure of one's own ability to complete tasks and reach goals [wikipedia]). Females also reported less favorable attitudes towards females' physical abilities in the sexualized version than in the non-sexualized version, and males had less favorable attitudes than females in both versions, but attitudes towards other areas like cognitive abilities, appearance, and career and domestic roles were not significantly different. Finally, the degree of presence (or immersion) had no effect on the previous attitudes (physical and cognitive abilities, appearance, and career/domestic roles).

Quite a bit of literature on this topic has emerged in the past decade, and we will likely see more as female gamer representation increases. I find this topic very interesting and relevant as an "older gamer" (now 30) and as a father of a potential female gamer. I expect a lot from a medium that influenced my childhood, but sadly, the industry can and likely will keep the status quo as long as no one is upset by sexism in video games.



nwheat said:

@Yorumi I'd like to see a Zelda game with a female incarnation of Link. No reason one of the many heroes to bare the power of the triforce of courage can't be female.



Gregor said:

I find the whole woman rescuing a gay guy concept to be hilarious. You go through all that crap to save him just to hear him say "Sorry I'm gay." ROFL



Gregor said:

@nwheat true. Not to mention Link Has been mistaken as female in some cases so it wouldn't be difficult at all.



cheleuitte said:

I'm gay and I'm an expert in video games, I would love to see that nintendo approach!!



DanielWW said:

i wouldnt mind seeing lesbian intergalactial love in a game jk
but completely serious no one or atleast no one i know would complain for a LGTB leading role



DanielWW said:

@Romeo i know! i loooooooooooove lara croft and SAMUS OH GAWD! I LOVE THAT GIRL OOOOHHH OTHER M DONT GET ME STARTED ON MY LOVIN' <3



Nictendo64 said:

I've been seeing a lot more female characters pop up lately in video games. I welcome it. I always play as a female character whenever given the chance.



paperskyx said:

There is really no situation where it "wouldn't make sense" for the main character to be a girl. Seriously, give me ONE example of a game where it couldn't work.

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