It is easy enough to dismiss Princess Peach as a mere token female character in Nintendo’s robust Mario franchise, outnumbered and overshadowed by the more dynamic and exciting male characters all around her. Originally, when she debuted in 1985’s Super Mario Bros., the whole point of her existence was to be rescued by men, making her a classic example of the “damsel in distress” trope. But Peach also drove a mean go-kart as a playable character in Nintendo’s Mario Kart games, and in so doing, she became a perhaps unlikely but nevertheless important queer icon.
Writer John Walker describes his longstanding affection for and affinity with Princess Peach in a heartfelt new article at Fusion. Growing up, Walker always selected Peach as his Mario Kart racer instead of Mario, Bowser, or Donkey Kong, and it wasn’t because of her speed and agility, though she possessed both. Instead, Walker says, he “liked playing as a girl.” For him, Princess Peach was “a 64-bit hodgepodge of feminine signifiers and white beauty ideals.”
According to Walker’s article, several other Mario Kart characters served as potential queer role models. Take Mario’s brother, Luigi, for instance. Growing up, writer Vidal Wu felt that the famous sibling was “at least a little queer in my head. The fact that Daisy was created as a romantic love interest [for him] very late… kinda made me clue-in to his queerness.” And Anthony Smith opines that cuddly dinosaur Yoshi, who lays eggs despite being male, is “super queer. His intention was never really to get to the end of the game. It was just about being really fun and helpful and bringing joy and then peace-ing.” Stories like these show how strongly children identify with video game characters and project themselves onto these digital avatars. It may not have been Nintendo’s goal to create an LGBT-friendly video game franchise with Mario Kart 64, but that is exactly what they ended up doing.
[Note: Fusion, like The A.V. Club, is owned by Univision Communications.]