Characters in Mario Kart 7

I’ve been playing a lot of Mario Kart 7 on the 3DS recently, and while I think it’s a great game, the character choice is extremely frustrating.

Back in 1992, the original Super Mario Kart on the SNES featured eight characters. Of these, seven were male (Mario, Luigi, Bowser, Donkey Kong, Koopa, toad, and Yoshi) while only one was female (Peach). Almost two decades on, let’s see how far we’ve come.

Mario Kart 7 has either 16 or 17 characters in total, depending on how you’re counting. Of those, eight are available for selection initially, with the others needing to be unlocked through play. So let’s start with the initial eight. These are, it turns out, exactly the same characters as the SNES original. Absolutely no improvement on gender diversity there, then.

The unlockable characters do show signs of improvement. Here, we have five male characters (Metal Mario, Lakitu, Wiggler, Wario, and Shy Guy) and three female characters (Daisy, Rosalina, and Honey Queen).

The 17th character is the Mii, which I’m not including here since it’s something of an oddball, seeing as it is an out-of-universe character, and one which is player created. I don’t like to play as a Mii, because it feels jarring against the backdrop of all the Mario characters, but the option is there (after you unlock it).

[Note: For characters where the gender isn't immediately obvious, such as Koopa and Wiggler, I'm going off the gender given on Nintendo's official site.]

So, of a total of 16, we have 12 male characters, and 4 female ones. In the 19 years since 1992, we’ve managed to go from 1/8 inclusion, to 1/4 inclusion. It’s something, I suppose, but it’s not anything I’m going to get excited over.

It gets even worse when you look at it a little more closely, though. Of the four female characters, three of them are extremely similar. Peach, Daisy, and Rosalina are all princess archetypes with crowns and dresses, and offer little variety beyond a pallet swap, a different hairstyle, and a different voice actress.

Rosalina from Mario Kart 7

Rosalina from Mario Kart 7. A woman with a crown in a teal dress, standing by a blue kart.

Daisy from Mario Kart 7

Daisy from Mario Kart 7. A woman with a crown in a yellow dress, standing by a yellow and orange kart.

Peach from Mario Kart 7

Peach from Mario Kart 7. A woman with a crown in a pink dress, in a red and pink kart.

This is hardly a staggering array of diversity we’re being offered here. In fact, I’m tempted to combine all three of these characters together as variations on a theme. For the sake of fairness, I will also combine Mario, Luigi and Metal Mario, as well as Koopa and Lakitu. In total, this gives us 2 different “ways” to play a female character, and 9 different “ways” to play a male character. If you include the Mii, those numbers go up to 3 and 10 respectively.

Things get even worse when you consider that the character selection isn’t just a cosmetic choice. Instead, the characters fall into 5 different weight classes, with each different class having different strengths and weaknesses in speed, acceleration, handling, and so on. Of the 5 classes, only 3 (or 4 if you include the Mii) have female representatives. The two that are missing are the overall most balanced class (available if you include the Mii) and the class that’s best for beginners.

And if you’re only including the default characters and not the unlockable ones, we ladies only have one choice to match our one character. Needless to say, the men have all five choices available right from the beginning.

To me, the saddest part of all this is that Nintendo are meant to be a company that pride themselves on targeting a broader demographic than just 18-35 year old men. Nintendo games are meant to be the sort of games that anyone can play, regardless of age or gender. Come on, Nintendo, you can do better than this.

About rho

Scientist, woman, lesbian, transsexual, gamer, geek, feminist, liberal, rationalist, and various other labels. Gamer since the days of the ZX81. Feminist since the time I realised that the label was not synonymous with transphobe. I keep a sporadically-updated personal blog about whatever's on my mind at the time.
This entry was posted in Console Games, Handheld Games and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to Characters in Mario Kart 7

  1. Trodamus says:

    Mario hasn’t exactly seen a vast expansion of characters in its games. It’s not like they’re omitting loads of characters for these things. You literally have Mario, Luigi, Evil Mario, Evil Luigi and a couple of princesses for immediately recognizable human characters. The rest of the nonhumans are honestly a matter of debate as they aren’t immediately recognizable as such, though including them on the male side certainly does make your argument look better.

    I’m not saying it couldn’t be better, but more focus should be on the roles, rather than the numbers. This is the classic “rescue the princess” series in VGdom, and still relies on that trope…when you’re not racing carts or playing boardgames and whatnot.

    • rho says:

      I’m going to have to disagree with you for two reasons.

      First, the characters are there if they want to use them. Past Mario Kart games have had Toadette and Birdo, for instance (and OK, Birdo may or may not be female, depending on which version of her personal history you take, but she’s definitely not cisgender male). If you want to branch out a little, how about Wendy O. Koopa, or Dixie Kong? A little obscure, sure, but so’s Wiggler. And those are just characters that I can think of off the top of my head. If they had wanted to include more female characters, they could have done.

      Second, if there aren’t enough interesting female characters in the main Mario series for Nintendo to choose from, that’s nobody’s fault but their own. They have total control over the world, and have made a bunch of new Mario games over the past 20 years, where they’ve had the opportunity to include interesting female characters, but have chosen not to. There’s no reason why they couldn’t have introduced a sister or a female cousin for Mario and Luigi, if they’d wanted to do so. If you’re saying that the main Mario games don’t have enough female characters to draw on, that’s just pushing the problem back up a level, not eliminating it.

    • glitchy says:

      “The rest of the nonhumans are honestly a matter of debate as they aren’t immediately recognizable as such, though including them on the male side certainly does make your argument look better.”

      The thing is, since their appearance doesn’t necessarily suggest any particular gender, why does the official site have to identify them as male? They could easily have made their descriptions entirely gender neutral and let players interpret them however they wanted, but they didn’t. Not that people can’t still say, for example, “Well, I say that the Koopa I’m playing is a girl,” – but now if they do, they have to be willing to contradict what Nintendo is saying about the characters.

      As a side note, from my experience playing the Paper Mario series, the non-human characters (Koopas, Boos, Lakitu, etc.) with “default” appearances all tend to be said in-game to be male – the females all have, like, bows or eyelashes or long hair or are colored pink or whatever. Just another sad example of male being considered the default.

      • 2ndnin says:

        Following the link – where does it give the gender of the characters, the entries do seem to use the male / neutral English pronoun ‘he/his/him’ however this does not mean that they are male since the use of ‘it/they’ is very uncommon in English and it does lack a true gender neutral pronoun set.

        As for the bow thing well as with characters in armour how do you determine the difference between a male character and a female one without some kind of identifying feature? Most characters should appear gender neutral to us but we put them in boxes.

        • glitchy says:

          To me, using “he/his/him” to refer to someone specific (as opposed to a general/unknown person*) implies that the person “he” is referring to is male. I think most native English speakers would agree that “he” does not function as a neutral pronoun in this context. For my part, I cannot read these characters’ descriptions and think “this Koopa that they are describing could be either male or female;” I think, “this Koopa that they are describing must be male.”

          Here, they could have made the descriptions gender neutral by simply not using pronouns at all – the descriptions are short enough that it shouldn’t really be difficult to do so in this case.

          We do put them in boxes, I’m just saying we do so in silly ways. Why should we look at, say, a bipedal turtle and say, “welp, it’s not wearing a bow, so it must be male.” Is it Koopa law that all women must wear bows? Why do we need to be able to visually distinguish male turtley-creatures from female turtley-creatures, anyway? Why can’t they look more-or-less the same and just have their gender distinguished in the dialogue/text (if there is dialogue/text about them, of course)? And if they don’t look the same, why does the default appearance have to be male rather than female? It all seems pretty silly to me.

          *some people (including me) don’t consider “he” to be a good gender-neutral option even when referring to someone general/unknown; I, for one, prefer to use “they” rather than “he” in such cases.

          • 2ndnin says:

            Most native English speakers should assume that the ‘he/him/his’ should be read as a gender neutral in cases where the gender of the person is unknown – it has been used that way for well over one hundred years at least so there is no one alive who has not grown up with that usage. It was even codified into British law that ‘he/him/his’ should be read as gender neutral for the purposes of acts of parliament under the 1850 interpretation act (and its subsequent updates which allow for any pronoun or gender reference to be used in a gender neutral fashion unless otherwise stated). Since we do not know the gender of the Koopa in question we should therefore assume it is gender neutral because we have insufficient information to tell otherwise.

            You are of course right that with descriptions that short we should be able to get away from using any pronouns at all – simply rephrasing it to something like ‘ Koopa enjoys… ‘ would get around it however it is not incorrect to not do so.

            We look at these things and gender them because we are taught to do so. Until I started reading Feminist literature it didn’t occur to me to gender these things except when an explicit reference to performance masculinity or femininity was involved. The best example would be armour – if a character has short hair, no visible facial hair, and no breasts (armour should hide them) it will be read typically as male where as it should be interpreted as whatever we want it to be. The default is male because men do not seem to have any really outstanding features in a default mode unless you go around adding facial hair to everything. Long hair, dresses, breasts, curves, prettiness, exposed flesh etc are normally read as female which is problematic because it means anything that doesn’t conform to this is read as male which means the default will be male unless we actively make it female rather our reading what we want into the character.

            We should likely have a neutral set of pronouns, however given the limited set of use it would see it likely isn’t worth fighting over. They / it does work but perhaps easier to do s/he and him/er if it really is an issue. D&D for example takes the opposite path and makes ‘she/her/hers’ as the default set of pronouns in the core rulebooks.

            • glitchy says:

              I really just can’t agree that “he” can be read by most people as being a gender neutral pronoun in a case where it is referring to a specific, known person (or, as in this case, a specific, known Koopa). Like, if you point to one specific person, perhaps someone whose gender is difficult to discern, and refer to that person as “he”, the person you’re talking to will probably assume that you believe that person is male, rather than assuming you’re using “he” in a gender-neutral way.

              For example, anecdotally… I have a pretty androgynous appearance. I sometimes meet people who, it seems, can’t tell what gender I am. How do I know? Because of the way they studiously avoid referring to me with any gendered expressions, including pronouns. If “he” functioned as a gender neutral pronoun as broadly as you are saying it does, people should never have a problem simply calling me “he”. But some people are wary of doing so, because they know that, if I was a woman, I would likely be upset at being referred to as “he” rather than considering it natural because that’s a gender neutral pronoun. Most people would simply not interpret “he” as gender neutral in such a context.

              Or, to put it another way, if the picture, rather than being of a turtle, was of an androgynous-looking person, with the description still referring to that person as “he” would you still say, “Since we do not know the gender of the [person] in question we should therefore assume it is gender neutral because we have insufficient information to tell otherwise”?

              Some people would disagree that gender neutral pronouns aren’t worth fighting over – particularly people who fall outside of the gender binary. Constructions like “s/he” exclude people who do not identify themselves as “she” or “he”. Even disregarding that… at the very least, singular “they”, used in contexts where it is referring to someone unspecified, already has widespread use and really shouldn’t be all that hard to get many people to use in place of supposed-gender-neutral “he”.

            • glitchy says:

              Whoops, shouldn’t have tried to use html. That first sentence should read,
              “I really just can’t agree that ‘he’ can be read by most people as being a gender neutral pronoun in a case where it is referring to a SPECIFIC, KNOWN person.”

              and one of the later sentences should be, “Constructions like ‘s/he’ exclude people who do not identify themselves as ‘she’ OR ‘he’.”

            • 2ndnin says:

              I’m not arguing that people might not be comfortable using it that way however under common English it is / should be used that way. That we don’t is simply another facet of this whole mess – we want to gender people and animals, not doing so is very strange to us because so many of us do fit within or accept the binary – you are either he or she.

              As for the gendering of an androgynous person I would typically expect someone to take their best shot or avoid it not because they are worried about the correct use of English but rather because of the worry that they would upset the person they are talking to.I wouldn’t say that’s a language fault but rather a socialisation fault – people are quite unwilling in some ways to upset people.

              Without a common use gender neutral pronouns would be difficult to integrate the real world. While laws and similar could make good use of it the fact that we do gender most people / things and most people / things do fit within the gender binary makes it harder to find a good way to introduce gender neutrality to the masses.

            • glitchy says:

              “I’m not arguing that people might not be comfortable using it that way however under common English it is / should be used that way.”

              1) There is no “should be” in language. If people do not use a construction (and you seem to acknowledge that most people would not use/interpret “he” as a gender neutral pronoun in this context) then that construction is not part of the language. One determines the rules of a language by looking at usage, so if a “rule” does not reflect usage, then the supposed rule is wrong.

              2) Generic “he” was indeed a thing in English. But, just as it sounds, it means when the pronoun has a GENERIC referent who could be of any gender, “he” could have been used. I would argue that even under this rule, you could not use “he” to refer to a SPECIFIC, NONGENERIC referent that was not known to be male. This description is not about generic Koopas, it is about one specific Koopa. So generic “he” should not apply.

              2b) Even if you are taking a prescriptivist view of grammar (i.e. you would look to grammarians and style guides rather than usage to decide what the “true”/”correct” grammar of a language is), according to Grammar Girl (http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/he-they-generic-personal-pronoun.aspx), most style guides now advise against the use of generic “he”.

              …sorry, I’m a wannabe linguist in addition to being trans, so I get fired up about these things.

              My point was that, if “he” truly functioned as a gender neutral pronoun, people wouldn’t hesitate to refer to me that way, as it wouldn’t be wrong, and there would be no reason for hypothetical-female-me to be upset by being referred to by a gender-neutral pronoun. And I don’t know if I would call it a “fault” in either case, but I think I get your point.

              There is indeed a problem with getting widespread acceptance for gender-neutral pronouns. I nevertheless think it’s something worth fighting for. (For my part, I tend to advocate for the expanded use of singular “they” as a true gender-neutral pronoun, just because it seems to me the most likely to be accepted, seeing as it’s a word that we already have and use in a gender-neutral-like sense in certain circumstances. But I understand that opinions vary on this, and if someone wishes to be called by a different gender-neutral pronoun, I would naturally use that.)

  2. Maverynthia says:

    “To me, the saddest part of all this is that Nintendo are meant to be a company that pride themselves on targeting a broader demographic than just 18-35 year old men.”

    Nintendo is a Japanese company and as such, compartmentalizes what is good and OK for women to look like or be. It also seems in Japan they suffer the same sort of problems we have over here. They tailor all the “non-forwomen” games to the male demographic first and foremost.
    You can see this in their NOT thinking of putting Peach in anything other than a dress for I think it was the Wii game. Then again, her sole function in that game was to be kidnapped. I think the only time she wears something different is in the sports games.

    • Gunlore says:

      Hey um… That sounded a little racist.

      Ya’know

      Generalizing an entire culture like that.

      Japan isn’t exactly what people would have you believe it is. It has problems just like everybody else, and the problem of this article problem is NOT culture specific. It’s fine if you want to say that Nintendo doesn’t write women well.

      Just don’t say it’s cause they are Japanese.

      Please and thank-you.

    • TM says:

      “And if you’re only including the default characters and not the unlockable ones, we ladies only have one choice to match our one character. Needless to say, the men have all five choices available right from the beginning.”

      Maybe I’m being facetious here but I don’t like the insinuation that female characters only exist to cater towards “us” and male characters only exist to cater towards “men”.

      This is just me speaking personally, but I’ve never felt marginalized by games like Mario Kart. Not in the same way that I feel marginalized by games like Grand Theft Auto or Dead or Alive. That’s not to say Mario Kart shouldn’t have more female characters. But I don’t think characters like Wario or Bowser are particularly there to represent male gamers any more than characters like Peach or Rosalina are there to represent female gamers. They’re one dimensional stereotypes at best.

      • rho says:

        I wasn’t trying to imply that, though I can certainly see how what I wrote came across that way. Sorry about that. Clumsy use of language on my part. What I meant and what I should have said was that they were the options for male and female characters. You’re quite right that both men and women can choose to play whomever they want. I was, perhaps, projecting slightly, since I prefer to play female characters when they’re available.

        I’ll also add that I personally feel more marginalised and frustrated by things like this than I do by things like Grand Theft Auto. GTA is just so ridiculously over the top, with theft and murder and what have you, that I can’t take it seriously. That’s not to say that you’re wrong to feel the way you do. It’s just an interesting case of mileage varies.

        • TM says:

          That is interesting, because I feel exactly the same way about Mario Kart. It’s so ridiculously over the top and cartoonish that I can’t take it seriously. I suppose it’s because the characters are all so cartoony, one-dimensional and un-human-like that I just can’t see them as representations of my gender. They’re more like media stereotypes (the damsel in distress, the kidnapping monster, the spaghetti obsessed Italian, etc) in human form.

  3. Frida says:

    I don’t know…The Mario series is one of those series where the characters have never really had much depth and haven’t changed in about 20 years. So you’ve got Mario and his three variants (Luigi, Wario, and Wauigi) then you’ve got Peach and her two variants (Rosalina and Daisy). They’re all essentially the same character. Just slightly taller/shorter/fatter/different colored/etc. Then there are a bunch of non-human mostly male creatures (Yoshi, Toad, Bowser and DK)…but I don’t think they really count, since most of them don’t have personalities beyond acting like animals and making various growling noises.

    Should there be more female characters in the MK games? Sure. I’ve always felt Toadette, Candy Kong, and Pauline deserved more attention.

    But with that being said, this IS Mario Kart we’re talking about. It isn’t really the sort of series I’m too fussed over when it comes to gender representation. I just want to see classic Mario characters duke it out via karts.

  4. Kat says:

    Why would they take out Birdo and Toadette? Bah.

    I always thought it would be neat if Nintendo worked some of the Paper Mario characters into one of the Kart games. Vivian, Ms Mowz, Bombette, Flurrie, Lady Bow and Goombella would all be good additions. Of course, there would be more male characters added, too, so the ratio might not improve much, but there would still be more options. Plus, none of those characters fall into the human princess mold.

    While they were at it, they could throw in characters from Superstar Saga. I for one would love racing as Queen Bean. Perfect heavy/high top speed option right there.

    But then, I’m a lot more attached to the Mario RPGs than I am to the Galaxies games and the rest of the “proper” Mario titles, so I’m biased. I do wish Nintendo were a little more willing to cross the streams and use more of the characters they create.

    • Tina G says:

      Oh! I like the idea of playing as Bombette and Gombella!

      I’m only speaking from my own opinion here but I wouldn’t mind too much if there is still an unequal number of male characters and female characters at the end of the day. But it would be nice to at least have a couple of female characters in each category (i.e. lightweight, heavyweight, etc).

      And it would also be nice if there were a couple of females who weren’t human and/or princessy too.

      Candy Kong and Tiny/Dixie Kong could also be possible additions…I’m not sure about Candy’s popularity, but I know Dixie is apparently pretty popular amongst DK fans.
      Pauline (Mario’s girlfriend from the original Donkey Kong arcade game) could also be an option. She isn’t a princess either!
      Bring back Toadette and Birdo! (And while we’re at it, bring back Dry Bones. I don’t know if Dry Bones is male or female, but he/she was an awesome character).
      A random, but possibly funny addition could be the mother penguin from Super Mario 64. She definitely left a memorable mark on gamers back in the day.

      • Kat says:

        Yeah, I wouldn’t want to keep characters out of a game just for the purpose of maintaining a 1:1 ratio. But Nintendo has more than enough options to fill each weight class with at least one choice of female character.

        I have fond memories of Dixie Kong. She saved a camping trip in the summer of ’98 when it rained all week long. Pauline would be a neat addition, too. I mean, we already have Donkey Kong in the game, so why not?

        Mama Penguin should be added in only under the condition that they use the sound effect from the game. Just reading your sentence made me start hearing her squawking in my head. It’s too bad Nintendo kind of dropped the Double Dash mechanic; she and the baby penguin could have been a cute team.

  5. Clayton Hughes says:

    There’s been plenty of discussion about this already, but I thought numbers would be interesting.

    (I didn’t want to say male/female: is masculine/feminine an appropriate word choice here?)

    4 Obviously Masculine Humans (Mario, Luigi, Wario, Metal Mario)
    3 Obviously Feminine Humans (Peach, Rosalina, Daisy)
    2 Mostly-Masculine Mostly-Humans (Toad, Shy Guy–only due to its name. By any other name he’d be in the completely neutral category)
    1 Feminine Animal (Honey Queen)
    2 Masculine Monsters (DK, Bowser)
    4 Animals that could go any way (Lakitu, Yoshi, Koopa, Wiggler)

    If I were calling it, I’d say 5-6 masculine charecters, 4 feminine characters, and 6-7 neutral characters.

Comments are closed.