Over the course of many generations, stereotypes of all kinds have nestled their way into society, and they don’t appear to be going away any time soon. It’s an unfortunate aspect that gnaws at essentially all cultures. Branching off from stereotypes are tropes, which share these characteristics. Tropes feed off of and are strengthened by stereotypes, in fact. A trope refers to recurring themes or ideas. They are abundant in all forms of media, and video games are certainly no exception. Tropes aren’t always necessarily bad, though many of them have become so much part of the norm and generally accepted that we tend to not even be aware of their existence. This is where problems can crop up. While there are many tropes out there, this post will hone in specifically on a particular “genre” of tropes, that being gender representation in video games. More specifically, I’ll take a look at a female trope wherein women are often portrayed as overly emotional. The game I will use as my focus is Super Princess Peach (2006), a platformer developed by Nintendo for the Nintendo DS. As a side note, Super Princess Peach is not a bad, ethically-void game. The purpose of this post is rather to demonstrate the prevalence of this trope, and how we might hardly notice that. It’s easy to glance over things that are considered normal. This kind of behavior is what fosters tropes and stereotypes and allows them to remain as they are in culture.
Super Princess Peach is a very interesting title. For those who follow the traditional Mario games, it’s well-known that Princess Peach, the ruler of the fictitious Mushroom Kingdom, has this strange tendency of being captured by Bowser, the series’ antagonist. For whatever reason, it always comes as a surprise when he shows up on the doorstep of Peach’s Castle and takes her by force even though this has happened on many occasions. Regardless, the duty to rescue the princess has always been put upon Mario, the series’ protagonist. Super Princess Peach aimed to mix up the formula just a bit. Bowser has come across an artifact known as the vibe scepter on an island near the Mushroom Kingdom called Vibe Island. The scepter has the power to change the mood of both the user and those around the user. Victims can be put into a fit of rage, a bout of gloominess, and other mood states. Using this new power, Bowser storms into Peach’s Castle and uses the scepter to incapacitate the guards and to steal Mario and Luigi, as Peach isn’t there. So instead, Mario and Luigi have been captured by Bowser, and Peach must make a journey through Vibe Island to save them. Though maybe not a drastic change, it served as a different twist on the story as well as a unique opportunity to play as Peach, which isn’t offered in a majority of Mario games. Players were probably excited to see what Peach could bring to the table in terms of new gameplay mechanics to set it apart from the traditional Mario title. Super Princess Peach certainly delivers new gameplay not before seen in a Mario game, though it may not have been what some players wanted from the princess.
Though video game tropes may not always make themselves transparent, the “overly emotional woman” trope is essentially right on the surface of Super Princess Peach. The trope can actually be found in the game’s most central mechanic, which revolves around Peach using her emotions to defeat enemies, solve puzzles, and find secrets. Peach has four emotional states, which are joy, gloom, rage, and calm, each represented by different-colored heart icons on the bottom DS screen. When joy is activated, Peach is granted the ability to fly. When in her gloomy state, large streams of tears burst from Peach’s eyes, which can be used for puzzle purposes, such as watering and growing a plant to reach higher areas. In rage mode, Peach is engulfed by a giant flame, and can plow through anything in her path. She can also create earthquakes by jumping and landing on the ground. Finally, when calm, Peach is surrounded by a bubble which restores her health. In these ways, Peach is very much portrayed as overly emotional. She hasn't had the chance to star in any of her own games, and when finally given that chance, she isn't represented very well. She’s represented as an individual whose only method of defending herself (aside from her umbrella weapon/companion) is through the use of her exaggerated emotions. This isn’t empowering for Peach. Funnily enough, other games where she doesn't play the primary role represent her in a better light than Super Princess Peach. This can be seen in both Paper Mario (2000) and Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door (2004), both developed by Nintendo for the Nintendo 64 and Nintendo GameCube, respectively. In both of these titles, Princess Peach has been kidnapped, but instead of standing around idly and waiting for Mario to come to her rescue, the player is given gameplay segments whereby they can control Peach. This is used as both a way to further the narrative of the game, as well as a brief break from playing as Mario. These segments usually involve Peach sneaking into areas she shouldn’t be in, all in an attempt to gain control of the situation she’s in, to gain light on what’s going on around her. She doesn't sit in the corner feeling scared and helpless, she doesn’t go on an angry rampage, and she doesn't start to cry uncontrollably. She maintains control of her emotions. She steps outside the overly emotional female trope, and she develops a respectable character and personality because of that. These games represent how females ought to be portrayed. Super Princess Peach doesn't do its protagonist very much justice. In that game, her personality is defined by her emotions, which should never be the case.