How Nintendo changed the game for LGBTQ+ representation
Nintendo says LGBTQ+ rights. (Nintendo/PinkNews)
From direct representation to fan-created trans mascots, games publisher Nintendo has an oddly fascinating history with LGBTQ+ representation.
As one of the most prominent video game companies in the world, it’s no surprise that today Nintendo encompasses a plethora of LGBTQ+ voices.
But her history with queer representation goes back further than you might think.
Nintendo’s first queer character debuted in 1988 in the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) game Super Mario Bros. 2: recurring boss Birdo.
Birdo had been designed for the game Yume Kojo: Doki Doki Panic but remained unused. Along with many other assets and characters, she was eventually transformed for the second main Mario Brothers title.
Her description in the North American instruction booklet seems to suggest she is transgender. One explanation, which has aged like milk, read: “He thinks he’s a girl and he’s spitting eggs out of his mouth. He would prefer to be called “Birdetta”. Some translations of his original description in doki doki panic also suggests that she likes the name “Cathie”.
This makes Birdo – who continued to use this name and her/her pronouns in future promotional material – the first transgender character in video game history.
Also, her gender ambiguity hasn’t been swept under the rug.
Birdo’s validity in her gender identity is seemingly recognized by the entire gang. In Mario Kart 8, she appears alongside Princess Peach and Princess Daisy in “Women of Racing Organization” commercials and in Mario Golf: Poison Mushroom Tour she is classified as a golfer.
There have been occasional transphobic undertones around Birdo, such as a section in the instructions of Super Mario Strikers which reads, “Birdo is your man…well, or your wife.”
But laudable attempts at humor aside, Birdo’s legacy has given way to the introduction of more LGBTQ+ characters into Nintendo franchises such as Metroid, Animal Crossing, and Pokemon.
Nintendo and LGBTQ+ rights in Japan
Arguably, many of Nintendo’s early queer characters were the twisted result of Japan’s poor history with LGBTQ+ rights.
Nintendo has always thrived on what is considered weird and unusual at any given time. Sadly, LGBTQ+ identities were incredibly stigmatized in 1980s Japan when Birdo was introduced, and the community still fights even today for basic legal rights like same-sex marriage and freedom from discrimination.
The game company might have seen the incorporation of an LGBTQ+ character as a way, at the time, to signify its slightly odd branding.
In modern times, Nintendo has embraced the LGBTQ+ community. In July, after a court in Osaka (where Nintendo is based) upheld Japan’s ban on same-sex marriage, the company introduced a policy giving employees with same-sex relationships equal status.
This willingness to embrace change is a huge reason why the gaming giant has such a diverse and mostly accepting community today.
This is also the reason why games like animal crossing are considered a safe space for the LGBTQ+ community, especially during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s not so much that the company specifically tailors its experiences to specific groups, but that it opens its arms to everyone.
Trans Luigi and Donkey Kong the ally
This unrestricted openness also lends itself well to the way he portrays his characters, especially in the Mario universe. Mario and his friends don’t have specific storylines or character arcs, but are simply mascots with generalized archetypes that can be incorporated into any product Nintendo wants. It also means they’re ripe for fan theories.
Take Luigi for example. Nintendo’s official description reads, “He may not always be in the center of the action, but when Mario needs him, Luigi leaps straight into danger.” This surface-level ambiguity and a few bits of evidence have led fans to theorize that the character is weird.
The theory started after the 2019 release of New Super Mario Bros Deluxe for the Nintendo Switch. The game introduced a new power-up called Super Crown which transformed the Toadette character into an enhanced form that looks exactly like Princess Peach, known as Peachette.
Although only available when playing as Toadette, fans began to wonder what would happen if other characters managed to acquire the new power-up. This resulted in a fan joke character in which Bowser used the crown to become Bowsette.
Nintendo joined in on the joke and updated the item description on its website to read, “When Toadette finds one, she can transform into a super-powered Peachette. (Sorry Luigi – only Toadette can use this item!)”
Fans immediately started using #TransLuigi in an effort to acknowledge the validity of the queen herself. Users also pointed out how the character’s history with gender roles supports the claim, including a comic where Luigi steals Peach’s dress, saying, “I don’t know…I’m starting to like it. “
She’s ours now pic.twitter.com/DYnXrrsFgE
— Michaela Joffe (@joffeorama) January 5, 2019
— Jenny the Miney Gal (@megaminerjenny) February 6, 2020
The trans Luigi saga encompasses only a small microcosm of the wonderfully weird and captivating ways the Nintendo fandom has incorporated LGBTQ+ identities into the series, even without the company’s direct involvement.
Another example includes a wonderful story about how fans declared Donkey Kong the ultimate trans ally after YouTuber and streamer Harry Brewis AKA Hbomberguy raised $347,000 for UK trans charity Mermaids by playing the game of 1999 platform. donkey kong 64 for 57 hours.
The streamer received thanks from various celebrities and trans activists, including US Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, trans whistleblower Chelsea Manning and US actress Mara Wilson.
In a 2019 interview with Pink News, Brewis said he was shocked after the stream went viral and peaked at 25,000 concurrent viewers during its live broadcast.
“I actually broke down and kinda cried about $75,000,” Brewis continued. “I really expected it not to work out very well. ‘Cause I didn’t think many people really knew or cared [about trans issues]. I thought it was part of the territory and that’s why it’s worth doing.
“I think what made so many people react the way they did was the utter shock of finding out that there are so many people out there who are willing to help, so many people who care. , and they were almost waiting for an excuse to do so.”
Of course, no business is perfect. Nintendo certainly hasn’t been the one and only safe haven for LGBTQ+ games and things like its fan game policy can often make it seem like the company is trying to nullify creative freedom, but for nothing. on the other, it fostered an environment where people can be whoever they want to be and find themselves in the worlds created by Nintendo.