Pleasing the Princess: Hacking Donkey Kong

Donkey Kong

I love this story.

In the midst of some of the crazy “controversies” (and I use that term loosely) that discuss the role of sexism in gaming culture and the industry at large — including the frothing attacks that were leveled against Anita Sarkeesian for daring to study the role of women in video games (the first video is fantastic, by the way), the bumbled PR about Tomb Raider, and the “Bros Before Hos” trophy in God of War — it’s nice to get a more touching story about why all of this stuff actually matters.

Mike Mika, a former video game designer for Atari, recently took up a “father of the year” level quest to please his 3 year old daughter when he realized how sad she was that she couldn’t play as Pauline, the princess in Donkey Kong, in order to save Mario. Mike, being a knowledgeable sort of dude, set to some pretty impressive work.

Over the course of several late nights, Mike hacked Donkey Kong so that Pauline was the playable character. This not only involved changing the sprites and animations pixel for pixel to match Pauline, but also involved changing the game’s color palette, since it’s originally based on Mario. He made it so it matched the Princess.

When she finally got to play as Pauline, Mike’s daughter was thrilled. He noticed that she actually seemed to enjoy the game more, being able to play as a female protagonist instead of a male.

Sadly, as gamers have tended to do with these kinds of things, a gender debate ignited as Mike’s video went viral. This wasn’t Mike’s intent at all — he was just making something fun for his daughter. Meanwhile, some gamers made comments wishing that she would die, “so there would be one less feminist in the world.” It’s a pretty sad commentary about the protective nature that gamers feel about the content of their games, and speaks to what Cliffy B. recently called the Internet Boy Taliban.

Despite the unintentional debate, Mike is still thrilled that his daughter is enjoying this game so much, and had some wonderful things to say on the matter:

My kids are awesome. They are too young to understand any of the things people are saying. And after all, it’s the internet. It comes with the territory. It got me thinking about Metroid. If the internet was more prevalent back when thousands of boys discovered that, all along, they were playing as a woman, maybe Nintendo would have gotten just as much hate mail?

Having kids is incredible. And having a daughter is something special. I get the opportunity to see the world through her eyes. And if this experience has taught me anything, it’s that the world could be just a bit more accommodating. And that if something as innocuous as having Mario be saved by Pauline brings out the crazy, maybe we aren’t as mature in our view of gender roles as we should be.

I didn’t set out to push a feminist agenda, or try to make a statement. I just wanted to keep that little grin lit up on my daughter’s face every time we sit down to play games together.

As a parent of a daughter myself, this story is terribly heartwarming. Thinking about gender roles in video games and society at large is something that I used to not concern myself with too much, because it didn’t feel like it was my place. But now that I have a daughter, I’m constantly looking at the things I want to teach her versus the things that other people will try to put on her. I think the most important lesson in all of this is just what Mike said: maybe we can try to be a little more accommodating.

What do you guys think of all this? Weigh in with your comments!

Source – Wired

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I write about samurai girls and space marines. Writer for Smooth Few Films. Rooster Teeth Freelancer. Author of Red vs. Blue, The Ultimate Fan Guide, out NOW!

6 thoughts on “Pleasing the Princess: Hacking Donkey Kong”

  1. I really hate the internet sometimes. Glad to see that the guy didn’t let the hateful comments get to him, that’s a wonderful thing that he did for his daughter.

  2. I definitely support more female protagonists. What worries me is the possibility that developers will just give them these cliched backstories and/or campy outfits. There’s nothing wrong with having vixens, or even with having damsels in distress, in your game, but it’s become so overused. I feel like Samus is still one of the best examples of a female protagonist done right (minus Other M). She’s tough and versatile, but she’s also got brains and she’s also got emotion. She’s not wholly reliant on anybody, but even when people come to her aid, she doesn’t play the damsel in distress who’s eternally grateful. Her backstory is surprisingly well-done, too.

    I’d be more willing to play games with female protagonists if they weren’t so campy or just plain weird. I played as Lilith for the entire campaign of Borderlands, and while she is pretty campy at times, she’s not obnoxious or overinflated. She has really cool powers that I valued more than I did the powers of the other three classes. That’s another aspect, too–I don’t care what gender the character I play as is, as long as they have skills or powers that I know I’ll enjoy using.

  3. @TQuin,

    That’s how we roll on GamerSushi. There is rarely a troll and when there is, people run off him with logic and kindness.

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