Monday, February 9, 2009

Those Olden Days of Video Game Sexism

Way back when, the people who make the Final Fantasy games and other epically popular RPG series teamed up with Nintendo and made Super Mario RPG. Included in the roster of playable characters was one female character — Peach, who performed the traditional “girl” role of feeble magic caster who can restore her teammates’ health. She did have one attack, however, called “Psych Bomb,” in which she’d blast enemies with what the game referred to as “psychic energy.”

Today I was looking at the website The Mushroom Kingdom — a handy compendium of all things Mario that’s been around for quite a while — and noticed that they had posted a list of differences between the game’s English and Japanese versions. Among them is the fact that the Psych Bomb is known in Japan as the Hisuterikku Bomu, or “Hysteric Bomb,” which strikes me a just a little hilarious.

The words hysterical and hysteria, of course, shares a root with the word hysterectomy and ultimately come from the Greek word hystera, meaning “womb.” Hippocrates himself is credited with coining the term hysteria to describe what he imagined was a disorder that resulted from from wombs becoming too dry and light from a lack of sexual intercourse and consequently traveled north, “compressing the hearts, lungs and diaphragm,” as Wikipedia explains it. The definition has since become divorced from its etymology and now just refers general over-the-top mental oogies in men or women. Some might take offense to it, but most people use it quite innocently. What’s funny about Super Mario RPG’s use of the term is that it appears to very consciously reference the word’s antiquated meaning. When that Hysteric Bomb goes off, I think we’re honestly supposed to think Peach’s womb energies have overcome their good sense and resulted in a violent pyrotechnic outburst.

In my mind, Peach’s Hysteric Bomb foreshadows the Nintendo DS game Super Princess Peach, in which Peach went on her first solo adventure with only a parasol and her rapidly fluctuating emotions to defend herself. Seriously — burning fire when she’s angry, gushing water when she’s sad, and gradual floating into the air when she’s happy. The game has yet to receive a sequel.

Peach has been more emotionally centered ever since, but her habitual cake-baking continues.

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