Friday, October 1, 2010

The Great Debate: Peach vs. Zelda, and How They Represent Women

Introducing Princess Zelda and Princess Peach, the royal figureheads of the kingdom that is Nintendo. Though many video game ladies have come and gone, Peach and Zelda have been around for over 20 years, and, while other games have females that could be easily cut out of the story without hindering the game, either princess's removal would destroy almost every game in each of their series. If pitted against each other, however, who would win?

According to a survey found at GameSpy, Princess Zelda received 76% of the votes, while Peach only received 24%. Despite Zelda's whopping overkill of a win in this survey and others, though, Peach is more broadly known among non-gamers. Her triumph in popularity is easy to understand, however: a survey taken by Koichi Iwabuchi in the 1990s revealed that Mario was more recognizable to children than even Mickey Mouse. Disregarding popularity though, these two women share an amount of similarities and very stark differences in the way they represent women. Let's start with my own personal favorite, Princess Zelda.

Personality: Princess Zelda maintains an elegant and graceful appearance throughout her series, but there are various differences in her personality depending on her age. As a youngster in Ocarina of Time, a Gossip Stone says about her: "They say that, contrary to her elegant image, Princess Zelda of Hyrule Castle is actually a tomboy!" This is evidenced in other games, as well. In games such as The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass and The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks, for instance, she is spunky and not very elegant at all. In her more serious roles of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, however, she is serious and has an appearance "as if she’s wondering about something" (as her illustrator, Yusuke Nakano attempted to portray). Despite her demeanor, Zelda is always both intelligent and powerful; she has inherited the Hylian Royal Family's power, after all, as well as the Triforce of Wisdom.

Abilities: As a result of her powers bestowed upon her by her royal lineage, Princess Zelda has a broad spectrum of powers. In each game, she possesses the Triforce of Wisdom , which grants her additional powers. These powers include but are not limited to: prophetic abilities, banishing evil to other dimensions, opening barriers sealed by dark magic, providing others with a protective magical barrier, possessing Phantoms, creating and wielding Light Arrows, teleportation, telepathy, precognition, and communicating with spirits and dieties. Can you believe this woman has to be rescued every game?

Zelda's Alter Egos:

Tetra.Tetra is a pirate who debuts in The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. She helps Link throughout his quest by allowing him to use her pirate ship and suggesting ideas on how to progress in his adventure. Later, her identity is revealed to be Princess Zelda, a secret even she knew nothing of.
Sheik. Sheik's only appearances are in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Super Smash Bros., but that doesn't discount his/her importance. Seven years after our hero, Link, meets with young Princess Zelda, he is approached by Sheik, a member of the tribe Sheikah (who are essentially ninjas). Sheik guides Link on his quest by suggesting what temples to visit and teaching him songs that will help him teleport wherever he needs to go. Sheik has the ability to play the harp and teleport.

Now that we've discussed Zelda's contributions to her series, we may examine Princess Peach.

Personality: Princess Peach (also known as Princess Toadstool) has a very sweet nature. GameDaily described her as an “ideal woman that's as sweet as can be". However, she is also quite weak, as she is constantly targeted and kidnapped by Bowser. Unlike Zelda's kidnapping by Ganondorf and other baddies in attempt to steal her Triforce, Bowser simply wants to lure in Mario, his arch nemesis: Peach doesn't really benefit him in any other way.

Abilities: Most of her appearances seem to demonstrate Peach as having very little ability, except for an uncanny knack of being kidnapped. She does have a few special powers that appear in other Nintendo games outside of the Mario series. In Super Smash Bros., she can use her dress to fly. She also utilizes household weapons such as umbrellas or cooking pans to swat her enemies. However, Gamespy seems to differ on the opinion of Peach's usefulness. They claim in their article, Princess Peach: The Worst Woman in Videogames,that Peach has a very wide array of things she could do both to prevent herself from being kidnapped and to escape her confinement, but go on to say that "The woman is perfectly capable of defending herself.
But she doesn't. Because she's a lazy bum who won't do anything to protect herself except scream, 'Mario!' Why do something for yourself when there's a man waiting to do it? That wouldn't be very ladylike."

How do both of these ladies represent women? To an extent, both females are portraying a certain type of woman: sweet, refined, and elegant, which is an inaccurate representation of modern women, leading to them being unrelated to the females regarding them. Zelda, at the very least, has a certain wisdom and strength that would make her a positive role model. Though she is repeatedly kidnapped or turned to stone, she does what she can to help Link on his mission to save her and also the land of Hyrule in the process. As for Peach, one must strive to find anything redeeming about her--she's a weak character who either can't or won't fend for herself. She is the pinnacle of helplessness, and is therefore an unhealthy demonstration of what a woman "should" be according to the game's designers. Therefore, my assessment on these ladies is as follows: Zelda, good; Peach, bad.