The Dad Hall of Fame has just inducted a new member.
In an effort to please his daughter, Mike Mika has turned the damsel-in-distress trope so common in video games on its head. As he explains in an editorial for Wired, Mika and his 3-year-old daughter, Ellis, frequently bond over video games. The toddler favors the more classic games like Pac-Man, and she developed a penchant for playing Super Mario Bros. 2 as the character Princess Toadstool. This would explain why when she started playing Donkey Kong she asked, “How can I play as the girl? I want to save Mario!”
Mika had to explain to his daughter that playing as the Princess was not an option in this particular game, which proved to be rather upsetting for Ellis. Just like any father, Mika wanted to put a smile on Ellis’ face. Luckily, Mike Mika is an experienced game programmer. And so, he began his journey of hacking Donkey Kong so that the damsel is no longer in distress.
He worked for hours and hours, long into the morning, and if programming processes and lingo make sense to you, definitely check out his Wired piece, where he explains himself succinctly.
Mika posted his work to his Facebook, figuring his fellow gaming friends would enjoy it. The response was enthusiastic and some began tweeting and posting on Reddit about it. Mika explains that he wasn’t paying attention to how popular his version of the game was getting, he was too busy playing it with his daughter.
Soon, he couldn’t ignore how much of a sensation the video of his game was getting. He had unwittingly, and unintentionally, made a feminist statement with his hack. The damsel-in-distress trope is pervasive throughout the video game industry, and is carefully discussed in the video series Tropes vs. Women. The damsel-in-distress trope is just about as old as storytelling itself. In it, a male protagonist must go on a journey to rescue a female, and when he succeeds, he is rewarded with the female. Women in video games are rarely given the opportunity to be the protagonist of their story, but usually are objects to be won.
This isn’t the first time a father hacked a video game for his daughter. Mike Hoye switched the pronouns in The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker so that Link, the protagonist, was a girl. It might be nice for there to be more female protagonists in video games, so dads don’t have to keep hacking them.