Unsung Heroine: Why I Love Princess Peach
If I were to ask you to name a female videogame character who you look up to, your first thoughts might be along the lines of Lara Croft, Samus Aran, or Commander Shepard. They are, after all, three of the strongest, most iconic women in gaming. While I agree that each of them have a lot to offer, if you were to pose that same question to me, my first answer would always be Princess Peach. The internet has a lot of opinions on Princess Peach, both good and terrible, but to me she's always been my favorite character in some of my most played games. Growing up, I looked up to her because she personified the things I wanted to be: graceful and feminine, but also strong in the face of hardship.
My first console was a Super Nintendo. A gift from my grandmother, it was the one that came with Super Mario All Stars and Super Mario World, and I remember how much my mom hated the idea of a videogame system in our house. She called it a total waste of time, but she was fighting a losing battle. At that age, I wanted representation in everything. I wanted dolls that looked like me, with freckles and dark hair. I wanted to see cartoon characters writing with their left hands. And I wanted to be a girl in my favorite videogames. Super Mario Brothers 2's Princess Peach looked nothing like me, but she was a girl, and at 7 years old, that was enough for me.
Another thing that drew me was that Princess Peach is not afraid of being feminine. She wears a pink dress and carries a parasol, and her ability to gracefully float or glide in many of her games really appealed to me. To further paint the picture of poise, Peach's fighting style in the Super Smash Brothers games is elegant and incorporates her large skirt and her parasol to float across the stage. She isn't able to hit as hard, but due to the float ability she is able to glide back from nearly anything. This image doesn't necessarily conjure up the prototypical badass protagonist, but that's why it's important -- it proves that “badass” doesn't have a uniform. To a girl like me, who enjoyed dressing up in princess outfits but also wanted to be a superhero, it was refreshing to play a game where I could do both. Getting to play as Peach helped me come to terms with the idea that being hardcore and being feminine are not mutually exclusive.
Peach is also not ashamed or embarrassed of being emotional. In Super Princess Peach, her arsenal consists of her parasol and four basic emotions: joy, gloom, rage, and calm. It was the first game in which she was featured not as a supporting or backup character, but as the main character. In an additional, refreshing change of pace, her mission was to rescue Mario and Luigi, who usually rescue her. Peach was able to traverse through an entire game dedicated to her.
Many critics took issue with the emotion system. For example, Anita Sarkeesian called the game a “trainwreck,” saying that “Nintendo has turned a PMS joke into their core gameplay mechanic.” Back of the Cereal Box argued Peach was being “manipulated by her own emotions.” I disagree: her emotions are a powerful tool rather than a hindrance, and Peach has a firm grasp on them, especially relative to the rest of the cast. Peach is not the only character we see experiencing strong mood swings. Each boss and enemy you encounter is similarly governed by their emotions, even Bowser and his army. Yet Princess Peach is the only character in the game actually able to control her emotions, and she uses these to defeat her enemies. Instead of Peach's emotions being something to suppress, the player is required to use them to beat the game, and in doing so develops a kind of emotional intelligence, picking up which feelings are best used in each situation. Not only is Peach allowed to feel a spectrum of emotions, she draws strength from them. I find that empowering.
Peach has come a long way from the mute damsel in distress of her earliest appearances. She's become a person I feel proud to emulate, for many more reasons beyond “she's a girl.” She embodies a lot of traits that I find important and ideal for any impressionable person: composed in the face of danger, resilient; friendly, polite, and grateful, even when she's being held prisoner. She's not hardcore in a stereotypical way but she is tough in her own uniquely charming way. Her presence has become so ingrained in my formative gaming years that there's no way she couldn't have had an influence, and I wouldn't have had it any other way.
Kirstin Carnage is a freelance writer and avid gamer. She lives in the desert and can be found making puns on Twitter @kirstincarnage.