Super Mario Odyssey Continues the Series’ Struggles with Gender Politics

My first few hours with Super Mario Odyssey were really uncomfortable. In the first few minutes of the game, when Peach is being kidnapped by Bowser, he taunts Mario by saying, “Are you jealous?” My skin crawled when I heard that. The suggestion was, Mario would be going on his Odyssey because, yeah. He was jealous. Essentially, the rest of the game would be spent elaborately competing with Bowser to “win the girl.” This took the usually innocuous reasons I associate with Mario’s antics and put them into question.

Right from the very beginning, the game sets up that Mario and Bowser are participating in one of the most destructive parts of toxic masculinity, mainly, Mario assumes that if he saves Peach that she will reciprocate her love without any romantic history. Mario ignores that Peach may be calling out to him to save her because they’re friends.

Madam Broode

Madam Broode is coded as a joke. Everything about her is exaggerated to the nth degree to potray her as grotesque. I’m not anti-joke but, it’s important to ask, in comedy, who or what we are meant to laugh at. In this instance, Madam Broode is designed to be a Cruella De Vil type. Dressed lavishly and clearly very wealthy but, she’s meant to read as elaborately ugly. The joke is, “haha look at this pig, with lipstick.” Broode also doesn’t fight for herself. Of all the bosses in the game, she is the only one without the ability to fight on her own, instead, her pet to does the work. She’s lazy and inept.

The fight goes like this: Broode sics her pet on Mario and he must avoid getting hit until he is able to possess the chain chomp. After the possession, Madam Broode panics and starts to chase after her beloved pet, flailing her arms ineffectually until she gets tired, which happens pretty quickly because she’s fat and therefore couldn’t possibly have any stamina. Enter fat phobia.

All of this leads into the last segment when she gets enraged. All of the boss fights in Super Mario Odyssey come with a final phase where the boss enrages. But, Madam Broode’s is different. It’s implied that she enrages because when she is hit with the chain chomp, it leaves a mark. This phase is connected to her physical appearance in a way that no other boss fight in the game has. The haughty, vain, and grotesque design of Madam Broode is the joke. And it’s deeply sexist and fatphobic.

The Good Mayor Pauline

Pauline, the mayor of New Donk City, is one of the characters that everyone knows well from the Mario universe. She appeared in the 1981 arcade game, Donkey Kong. The treatment of Pauline in Super Mario Odyssey isn’t actually that awful. She’s a mayor, who’s good at her job, according to the citizens in town. She isn’t helpless and is never explicitly damseled. She gets to be, really awesome. Though, she is reliant upon Mario for certain tasks still.

The End

**Spoiler Warning** The ending of Super Mario Odyssey really has MRAs in a tizzy. Mario ends up crashing Peach and Bowser’s wedding on the moon. He beats Bowser up, and saves Peach, Bowser, and himself from certain death. After everyone is out of danger, Mario tries to give Peach a single white flower to express his affection for her. Bowser cuts in with a lovely bouquet of fire piranha plants and the two shove each back and forth as they wait for their princess to decide who she wants to marry. Only, she doesn’t. Instead, she gets annoyed with their macho antics, gathers up Cappy and Tiara and gets on the Odyssey without them.

Let’s roll back for a minute to something I mentioned earlier. A huge part of toxic masculinity is the aspect of it which constantly pits men against each other in ways which are both destructive for them and the people around them.

In this case, that person around them would be Peach. With only a couple of vaguely canonical suggestions of a mutual attraction, the series has never established that Peach holds any sort of real romantic feelings for Mario. So, when Peach is shouting at Mario for him to save her, it doesn’t really have straight up romantic implications attached, only expectations which turn out to be false.

Giving Peach the freedom to get annoyed and dip out is probably the most agency Peach has ever had in a Mario game, when she is not one of the playable characters. Though it may appear to the player, initially, that Peach owes Mario something because of the way she calls out to him, consider maybe, for a moment, she was asking for his help as a friend. And even if she wasn’t, it’s no stretch to say that the way Mario behaves in the final cutscene is extremely petulant and sort of a turn-off.

To conclude, Super Mario Odyssey has a lot of the sexist trademarks of the Mario franchise. In order to play the game, I had to accept that I was going to have to put up with some sexist depictions of women. But, where typically there aren’t a lot of bright spots in the series’, in this aspect, I actually could find some things to appreciate about the way the game handles Peach’s agency. And, damn if Pauline isn’t really cool. It’d be great if this franchise could start to go beyond helpless princesses and cheap sexist jokes as Mario tries to enter the modern era of games.

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Nicole is a video game and pop-culture critic with a lifelong relationship with video games and the strange tenderness that can be found within them. She is an avid collector of DS games and a reluctant collector of Amiibos. She has a strong belief that the gaming community, with some work, can become an inclusive and nurturing environment to all who seek to belong to it.

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21 responses to “Super Mario Odyssey Continues the Series’ Struggles with Gender Politics”

  1. PraiseTheLord Avatar

    What did I just read?

    1. a well thought out argument about gaming and culture

  2. Evil Ex 3 Avatar
    Evil Ex 3

    Male… that appreciated your article and PoV. I find it difficult to believe that so few people can’t shut-up and listen without banging their chests and dismissing.

    1. bruce livingston Avatar
      bruce livingston

      No one should ever listen to this lunatic. How can you possibly defend someone who is talking about “gender politics” in a F*CKING Mario game? Do you see the lunacy in that?

    2. We shut up. We listened. We laughed.

  3. I wish Peach could stand up to Bowser all by herself. Samus could.

  4. Max.Tremors Avatar

    The author is reaching pretty hard here.

  5. TJ Wilferd Avatar
    TJ Wilferd

    Because everything is offensive now…
    This article captures what is really going wrong in the world now, and it’s sure not “toxic masculinity”. Everyone has to keep all these thousands of special sensitive moral values in mind and walk on eggshells to try and avoid offending someone in everything they produce, yet they WILL still offend people regardless.
    It’s pathetic. The days of things just being good innocent goofy fun are apparently over.

    1. I think the problem has more to do with people not standing up to these c*nts. We need to collectively go tell them to get f*cked.

      1. bruce livingston Avatar
        bruce livingston

        Completely agree. Many people still tip toe around the issue, and try and have reasonable debate. These people are lunatics, they’re talking about “gender politics” in a f’ing Mario game. Everyone just needs to tell people like this to screw off.

  6. WTF?

  7. LeeEdwards2 Reverso Avatar
    LeeEdwards2 Reverso

    One of the worst articles I’ve ever read.

  8. LeeEdwards2 Reverso Avatar
    LeeEdwards2 Reverso

    WTF? Is just a game!

  9. F*ck off with your feminist SJW bullsh*t

  10. Seb Geller Avatar
    Seb Geller

    This is the single, WORST article I have ever read. It’s absolutely Daily Mail worthy stuff. As a gay man, I kept thinking “keep an open mind, keep an open mind” reading your article but your line “enter fat phobia” was where I flipped my lid and rolled my eyes so hard, it hurt. I wholeheartedly disagree with your POV – as you said yourself, the game never implies that there is romantic involvement between the two. EXACTLY. If anything, Mario is taught a lesson in the end by Peach when she walks away from both of them as a strong, independent woman. 5-10 years ago, she would have kissed him and they would have lived happily ever after and your article maybe would have had a somewhat strained point to it.

    As for the fat phobia part – snort worthy. Are you seriously going to try to tell your readers that the game was fat shaming people? That she was ‘incapable’ of fighting herself because she was a fat woman so she had to have her pet do it for her? Interesting. Most people will never even make the connection that she stops running after her Chain Chomp because she’s fat. This is reaching so far that it borders on ludicrous and it screams volumes about personal insecurities on you, the author’s part. While here, I notice that you chose to completely omit that fact that there was another female Broodal boss in the game. Was there nothing negative that you could project on that one?

    Even talking about Pauline who is clearly represented as a strong, successful, intelligent and fun female character in a very high up/leading position, you take an issue with the fact that Mario helps her? Sorry, do people not help help other people? Regardless of their gender.

    Snort worthy, terrible, laughable and completely meritless journalism. Continue riding the hype of a successful video game with your click bait, inaccurate articles. I hope misleading your readers gets you far in your career which I have no doubt is filled with numerous other articles, searching for things to be offended by in the most innocent places.

    Good day madam.

  11. StormSailor Avatar

    What you need is a real job and psychiatric treatment, you need to live more real life, care about real things and not polygonal characters in a virtual world. When you’re about 50, you’ll be ashamed of these bullshit, better take care of it now

  12. iEatNapkinz Avatar

    Although I can respect your opinion…..I find it sad and reaching for something to complain about.

    No matter what, there’s always going to be something “wrong” with video games.

    Last of us 2 trailer people were getting mad because its gruesome and shows a woman getting her arm “Broken” and a woman being hanged. Everyone yells about how this is degrading to women but these same people complain that women don’t have enough prominent roles in video games. Naughty Dog puts two strong women in a trailer, and a woman villain, and it looks like the 2 “good gals” were about to get killed….then they out play the enemy and escape. No one seems to appreciate that there’s actual women playing big roles in games that guys would usually play. All they see is a woman being “Hurt” and now its an absolute disgusting trailer.Oh…..but it would have been okay if a male was being hanged or got his arm broken because “Makes sense”.

  13. What a waste of time reading this crap, it genuinely seems you created this article with the title in mind to draw people in just to complain about how absurd your claims are. The part about Madam Broode, how is it sexist and fatphobic (which isn’t even a f*cking word)? you don’t want a f*cking nice looking enemy boss do you? Are you trying to say because Bowser is a fat ugly dragon lookalike guy, that Nintendo are targeting spotty ugly fat guys? NO, you’re grasping on to anything you can at this point, pathetic. Then you just HAVE to bring up the fact that there’s a successfully female character (Mayor Pauline) as if the game is somehow redeeming itself for lack of female authority, its a pointless entry and again.. your clutching at straws for your article. Then finally end with Mario interrupting a wedding. Why not use your head and think for a second why Bowser would want to do this… If he marries the PRINCESS of a kingdom, they he will become the KING of mushroom kingdom, so piss off with your sexist sh*t. ALSO it is a well established fact that the SM fandom throws around the high possibility of Mario being in love with Peach, ever since the first time he saved her, maybe Nintendo are appeasing the fans by him handing her flowers at the final level? Nah, you’d rather play the “male masculinity” card like a 2017 standard idiot.

  14. Gizensha Avatar

    Personally I’m hoping we get more treatment of Peach, when she isn’t a playable character ala 3d World, along the lines of how she’s handed in the post-game here going forward – Which is basically the same way as Captain Toad was in the main game, if in easier spots to find. As someone going on a journey that happens to intersect with Mario’s, but isn’t the reason for Mario’s continued journey, nor is Mario the reason for her decision to go on a world tour.

  15. I would rather argue that the game, as well as the series, has stepped away from these tropes in recent years. Peach was shown to be a much stronger character in SMO than in Mario games previous. Hell, she was even a badass playable character in 3D World.

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