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Dad hacks Donkey Kong for his daughter; Pauline now saves Mario (arstechnica.com)
365 points by shawndumas on Mar 10, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 125 comments

I will harp on about the importance of code literacy and open source / free software till the cows come home but this is the best example I know:

We would never vote up a article where "father writes bedtime story for daughter, Sleeping Prince rescued by Princess". Because it is commonplace because literacy is commonplace, as are pens and paper commonplace and as are the legal frameworks to be allowed to alter the published version.

In software world only the pen and paper analogy are commonplace. We need to change that

Why do people insist on foisting "software literacy" on the general populace? In terms of skills, financial planning, cooking, interpersonal skills are all more essential than reading and writing code.

The writing analogy is off anyways: not everyone can write very well. People would upvote -and buy- a children's story by, say, neil gaiman. This is not the equivalent of a throwaway story made up on the spot.

Everyone should learn to write. This should not be taken as "learn to write a novel." The practice of writing develops skills in articulating opinions, clarifying purpose, supporting with facts, and raising clear questions -- skills useful even if pen is never put to paper.

Similarly, "learning to code" is not to be taken as "be a programmer." Rather, learning to code is a means to developing skills in analyzing problems, establishing goals, breaking down big tasks into small tasks, understanding cause and effect, etc -- skills that are useful far beyond software. Learning to code isn't the only way to learn these skills, but it's a fun, easy, and accessible way to do all of them at the same time.

I think this might be an over-emphasis on writing and coding for both articulation and problems solving. Doing both won't provide "everyone" better results. There are many ways people approach communication and problem solving. To say writing and coding are the best or only ways to develop these skills is in my opinion very short sighted and limiting.

The upvote question is easy to answer -- this is Hacker News. Of course we upvote programming. And I agree with the point about writing. And I think we shouldn't read "everyone needs programming literacy" from hacking a ROM any more than we should read "everyone needs to know woodworking" from "here's a cool piece of furniture I built for my daughter."

But I will try to answer the question about foisting software literacy, since you seem to be questioning the larger trend. The question to ask here is, what do you think the skills economy will look like in 15 years? Looking casually at the trends, it's difficult to avoid the conclusion that software is eating the world. My friends in scientific research have either learned to code or are hobbled by their inability to do so. Financial institutions are increasingly just software companies with some domain expertise; I know finance people who can't get jobs because--to simplify a bit--they don't know SQL. Many non-technical office workers I know interact with a computer on some sort of programmatic level (e.g. Excel macros) and almost all of them would benefit enormously from programming literacy to help them in that. And all of that is trending upwards quickly; that's why programmers are in such high demand.

Cooking is great and an important personal skill, but it's only an essential skill for chefs, whereas if you can't code, you might become the equivalent of the guy who can't use email in today's office environment. So to me, it's a question of what the world's going to look like in the future, not a question of what's most practical around the house. Forecasting the future is hard and it's an interesting debate--there are all sorts of reasons software might be less important than we might guess, and of course software people are predisposed to think software will be super valuable. But I think it's the right way to frame the discussion: if software runs the world, you really need to know it. If it doesn't, you don't.

I'm not accusing you of this because I don't know you at all and your comment doesn't suggest it, but I hear a little bit of insider entitlement in a lot of programmers' arguments against increased software literacy. "I don't want all those other people jumping in and pretending they're software engineers too. The future belongs to the select few, which happens to include me. Leave software to the pros!" It's seems absurd to me that programmers don't want more people to understand the ins-and-outs of their profession...unless they feel threatened by such a thing. There's something very fishy about telling people who don't code, "Oh, yeah, don't do what I do. Learn to cook instead." Are you sure we're not just trying to keep all the marbles?

Personally I have no horse in the coding-skills race; I really enjoy problem solving and architecting systems more than writing the code itself. If there were lots of commodity coders, I could direct and manage them and enjoy myself plenty ;)

From the 'software is eating the world' perspective, I see increased use of software, but not increased production in unconventional areas. If you look at the progression of home computers, we've gone from booting directly into BASIC, to an iPad, where you really can't do any development. The slow march to 'appification', and the trend of taking away customization and development tools from consumer-grade products makes me think that while software is becoming more important, average people need (and want) to code less and less.

It's definitely a programmer's perspective to say that any knowledge industry (like finance) is just software + domain knowledge. Someone in that industry would approach it from the other end, and say that they can write a req and get some commodity software to solve their problem from some developer half-way around the world. This is where I think the industry is going: not universal programming literacy, but a more stratified culture where 'commodity' development is it's own discipline.

Consider the ease with which any consultant can knock together a CRUD Rails app with some business logic the client specifies. We've removed a ton of overhead and boilerplate, and lowered the barrier to entry tremendously. As time goes on, and development technology advances, I see software development/engineering and computer science diverging more and more. At some point, development might be an apprenticeship or more 'hands-on' education, to learn the existing patterns and practices.

In short, development will become a commodity, but via an emerging class of commodity developers who can handle 95% of client requests. There will still be people who do hard things, and hack in their spare time, and they'll make things better for everyone. But they'll stay in the minority, and development will stay out of reach for people who aren't explicitly 'developers'.

Well here is someone "in the industry", who completely agrees with the need for coding literacy. I can program, but I'm not a "programmer" by any means, and it's clear to see in whatever client I work with (I'm a Big 4 Management Consultant, sorry), coding skills are becoming increasingly relevant. Macro skills are the tip of the iceberg, some industries such as investment banking and engineering practically require programming skills to find a job, as the previous poster stated. Sure they can write the requirements for an application, but mostly these are not applications, these are ad-hoc, on the fly, limited use models that need to be made and altered in time with market fluctuations or environmental conditions - far quicker than monolithic IT departments can respond (even with agile work teams).

I don't really care which way you phrase it, whether you see the programming as incidental or the job function as incidental is just a matter of perspective. The fact is, programming (or at least "soft" programming skills such as VB and SQL) are becoming increasingly essential for many of the top tier jobs in today's economy. Don't want to learn programming? No problem - I'll find a few million Indians who do.

>>. average people need (and want) to code less and less.

But this is exactly my point. I am sure I can pull Hansard from 1870 and find exactly the same words used to justify why we should not waste money teaching all those poor people to read and write.

>> ersonally I have no horse in the coding-skills race; I really enjoy problem solving and architecting systems more than writing the code itself. If there were lots of commodity coders, I could direct and manage them and enjoy myself plenty ;)

This idea totally failed at Microsoft in the eighties, why would it work any better now? I prefer thinking up ideas for articles than actually writing them - I can even go to textbroker and get some commodity writer to actually do the words - and guess what - it's rubbish.

Code is the design - if you are not writing the code you are not designing the systems. You might be doing nice artists impressions but its not design.

> Someone in that industry would approach it from the other end, and say that they can write a req and get some commodity software to solve their problem from some developer half-way around the world.

I agree that's how they'd like it to work. But in reality, their in-house teams have become more and more technology-oriented, and programming literacy has become a higher priority in hiring. An "analyst" used to be a clever kid with a finance degree; now they have a finance degree and are comfortable in VBA, SQL, and an analytics package. Badass programmer? No. Software literate? Yes.

> We've removed a ton of overhead and boilerplate, and lowered the barrier to entry tremendously.

Agreed (I'd caveat that by noting that we've also hugely increased our expectations for software functionality, but the point still stands). But note that all of these consultants who can knock out a CRUD Rails app still have to read and write code. What the lower barrier to entry means is that a bunch of people who previously couldn't do it now can, including potentially the business analyst who defined the requirements, assuming they have some basic software literacy.

That's going to quickly translate--is already translating--into the expectation that the analyst can actually write the code. Being able to actually code your solution to a problem makes you more productive, because your employer doesn't have to pay a consultant to accomplish that work, and because there isn't an extra layer of communication overhead. So businesses will begin demanding software literacy as they become more reliant on basic software development (or, depending on prevailing labor conditions, simply paying more for it), because it makes them more efficient. This is similar to how productivity technology (voicemail, email, software calendars) hasn't made secretaries' jobs easier, or turned them into a turnkey commodity; it has largely eliminated secretaries and replaced them with the expectation that you do that work yourself. Same with travel agents. Same with tax accountants. As the tools allow for more productivity, people are forced up the productivity ladder. Progress.

Being literate in software is different than being an expert software engineer, and fortunately for expert engineers, we can simply solve higher-level, or at least harder, problems, so this development is actually good for us. My view is consistent with your idea that there will be a bifurcation between hardcore developers building frameworks and a bunch people who know the basics and can use the tools. The only difference in our views, as far as I can tell, is that in mine, this army of "commodity" programmers fielding client requests will be the clients themselves, and not an outsourced stable of kinda-engineers. Those kinda-engineers will be employed at firms as business analysts, product managers, etc, because their computer literacy will be really valuable there.

Very well put - and the cooking analogy has resonance

I will never ever publish for money. WTF do i need to write for?

I will never ever work in finance. WTF do I need financial planning for?

Oh, I need to write because it is a common form of communication, whether or not I'm a writer.

Oh, I need to understand how to my money, even if I pay a guy to do my taxes, and help me plan my retirement, because I need to have basic abilities in budgeting, understanding consequences of my spending and so on.

So, why do we think people need basic code literacy? Well, because the more people that exist who aren't afraid of the computer, and who understand the basics of programming, the more people will be able to effectively use the tools that are available to them...

You know how we thought computers were pretty ubiquitous a few years ago, until everyone bought a smart phone and suddenly they are in even more places? And how that isn't the first time "ubiquitous computers" were in fact not even close? Yeah, since more people have computers than have hammers and cooking gear, perhaps we should promote a higher level of understanding of them than we have been.

That higher level of understanding really comes in the form of "advanced usage" or "basic coding skills" (because at some point they really start to blend). Why not cover computer programming at a basic level in childhood education. Shit, I bet that will be more useful than the sewing unit most kids still have to take.

Cars are also very prevalent, and surprisingly most of the people in my mandatory auto class in high school didn't give a shit. Just like the compulsory computing class they had to take.

How much programming knowledge is required to use a smartphone? This is the thing nobody in the software literacy camp seems to acknowledge: tightly integrated devices with walled-garden software ecosystems are the industry trend. Yes, some people in maths-heavy fields will need computing more and more: financial analysts, engineers. These people are already taking intro computing classes at the undergrad level (engineering computation is a prereq for mech eng where I study). But the average person with an iPhone isn't going to put up a hundred extra dollars to write an iPhone app to fix their own problems.

I think the longer you've been out of high school, especially if you're working or studying in an insular environment, you forget just how broad 'everybody' is. I know lots of people from my school who are now bricklayers, or auto mechanics, or grocery store clerks. Understanding a while loop has not substantially improved their quality of life, even though we had a kickass comp sci teacher. It's just not as relevant in daily life as we want to believe.

""Why do people insist on foisting "software literacy" on the general populace?""

Because under all that complication, there is a big secret, and that secret is that anything you can describe to another human being, you can describe to a computer. So what if, instead of not just learning to balance the books, teenagers are required to write a small accounting package to do it? Shouldn't competent literacy include the most significant literal tool the human race has ever created, the computer and the skills of its application, if after all, we've gotten as far as teaching kids to read and write, as well?

I get along fine with without cooking skills. Now, cooking skills plus time could in theory save me up to 7k per year if you ignore prep time, but programming skills are worth a lot more than that.

If you are buying food as healthy as home cooked, you are paying more than 7k.

> In terms of skills, financial planning, cooking, interpersonal skills are all more essential than reading and writing code.

Teach all that stuff too, it is not mutually exclusive.

"Why do people insist on foisting "software literacy" on the general populace?"

Because what 'we' do is the most important thing in the whole world goddammit, and if only everybody else was more like 'us', how much better would the world be! Imagine if only everybody else was exactly like us, that'd be true utopia!

That's a fairly silly analogy. Even for people that are code literate, modifying a ROM (that certainly was never intended to be modified by someone outside the original development team) isn't exactly as effortless or commonplace as changing a person's name in a bunch of sentences. I make a living programming, so I would consider myself code literate, but I've never modified a ROM, so I was at least a little impressed.

> We would never vote up a article where "father writes bedtime story for daughter, Sleeping Prince rescued by Princess". Because it is commonplace because literacy is commonplace, as are pens and paper commonplace and as are the legal frameworks to be allowed to alter the published version.

It's also _considerably_ easier.

It's only easier after twenty years training submersed in a super-literate society. The actual changes he made were minor, just in a format most of us are completely unfamiliar with. Had this been a JavaScript game I suspect it would have passed unremarked

(actually that's unfair - had it been a JavaScript game of the iconic status of donkey kong then it would still be here)

I think this is not necessarily the best comparison. It would be just as interesting if, for instance, a father found that all desks available were somehow inadequate for his daughter and made one for her from scratch, yet we don't go around telling people they should learn wood working. I think it would be better if more people could code but I think equating it with literacy is a bit silly.

I disagree with your analogy. We do go around telling people they should obtain basic competence in DIY tasks.

The 'makers' movement is pushing forward this importance in lots of places on the web and in the real world.

I think everyone should be able to understand how computers are programmed and the only way to do that is basic coding lessons.

hah :) so software is like interactive literature.

Exactly. I remember the days when Infocom called their text adventures interactive fiction.

People still write (and play!) interactive fiction. http://inform7.com/ and http://ifdb.tads.org/search?browse

It can be, with some games (Zork, GTA4, Bioshock) a lot more than others (Pong, Tetris, Tic-tac-toe, Chess). At the extreme end of games-as-literature is the Interactive Fiction world, which has been dealing with how the 'literature' and the 'game' aspects interact for decades now.


Read this essay for an introduction to the concepts:


I actually mean "interactive literature" in a broader sense :P which includes all software, not only games. you have textbooks too, not just novels, right? :)

We would never vote up a article where "father writes bedtime story for daughter

Yep. Because any idiot can do that. Your point?


The point was that because literacy is commonplace, then annindividual altering a published piece of writing for personal preferences (making it more suitable for a daughter) is also commonplace.

My contention is that code literacy should / will be at the point where a "trivial" change to existing published code will not get on the front page of HN because it is as commonplace as it's "English writing" equivalent

But is writing a good child story easier than swapping two sprite sets in a blob?

If all you were doing was changing the genders of the two main characters in another story, then yes.

Reposting and responding to a dead comment by lexarchy:


>This is a clever hack, but I question the motives of both the father and Ars Technica. Must we erase—or invert—all aspects of yin and yang, simply to appease the gods of equality?

You may have heard the French phrase vive la différence, which translates as "long live the difference", but do you know what it refers to? It means "let's celebrate the differences between the sexes." Nowadays it seems we are only allowed to celebrate their sameness, or their inversion. This makes me sad.

Vive la différence!


This kind of put into words an odd feeling I was having about the whole "war of the sexes" vibe that this seems to generate. I'm not sure the motives of the father or the site need questioned at all - it's a thoughtful gift to his daughter, and a very clever hack at that. Certainly worth covering in any case.

What I don't understand is how one of the most common storytelling tropes in history (we're talking Shakespeare and then some) has suddenly become uncool to use, or why we're making a harmless part of videogame history a political and social justice issue.

I think it’s pretty normal if you are tired of the constant portrayal of women as weak, helpless and passive in certain media.

What’s so wrong with calling out lazy storytelling based on dumb stereotypes? How can you even have a problem with that?

I also like how you just declare something harmless. Why, exactly? It’s a part of video game history that lives on and is anything but harmless.

Calling out crap is wrong – why exactly? Or is the portrayal of women as weak, helpless and passive – especially in a world where this is a popular stereotype – not crap?

Nobody wants to burn cartridges or rewrite history or ban old games. People (for the most part) don’t even demonize anyone for this or blame anyone for acting maliciously. Is pointing something out (or privately doing something about it) really such a big deal?

I really don’t get contrarians like you. Your arguments make no sense at all. (Except if you believe that women really are naturally weak, helpless and passive, i.e. hold sexist beliefs.)

>What’s so wrong with calling out lazy storytelling based on dumb stereotypes?

What exactly do you hope to accomplish by calling out arguably "lazy storytelling" (more like a homage to King Kong if some stories are to be believed) 32 years later?

It's like complaining about racism in the early Bugs Bunny cartoons. What exactly are you hoping to accomplish other than a gripe? Damn Nintendo for using a common story trope three decades ago!

What does this teach anyone? How horrible Nintendo is? What?

>I really don’t get contrarians like you. Your arguments make no sense at all. (Except if you believe that women really are naturally weak, helpless and passive, i.e. hold sexist beliefs.)

This was utterly unnecessary. If I'm a "contrarian", you are someone who searches for things to be offended by.

Uhm, you do know that the trope lives on in Mario games? You are aware of that?

Also, looking at history can be interesting and illustrative.

You are aware that the particular character hasn't appeared in a game since?

You are aware that the trope you're referring to has been subverted, inverted, and toyed with just about every way possible by the very same company?

Are you talking about Pauline? Because she was just in a game two years ago.[0]

The trope, however, has been employed in every core Mario game, most recently in New Super Mario Bros. U.[1]

[0]: http://www.mariowiki.com/Mario_vs._Donkey_Kong:_Mini-Land_Ma...!

[1]: http://www.mariowiki.com/New_Super_Mario_Bros._U

I certainly am. What has that to do with the comment I made?!

Also, I am not aware of any serious attempts inside the Mario franchise to seriously subvert or invert the trope.

I see an endless history of portraying women as weak, helpless and passive. Sad, really.

Let's see.. Pretty sure Peach has her own game on which the entire concept is getting the Mario Bros. out of trouble (the name is eluding me right now, it's on the DS).

She's personally helped save the world more than once (Paper Mario 2 comes to mind).

There are other female characters too.. Timpani from Super Paper Mario has a huge dynamic with the primary antagonist of the game.

And if you look outside of that particular franchise, you'd be remiss not to look at Samus Aran (minus one almost universally panned game with an outsourced plot), arguably the poster child for strong female leads in video games.

Super Princess Peach is quite possibly the worst game to use as an example of an inversion of the trope. Peach's main power is essentially four mood swings called "Vibes"[0]: Joy, Rage, Gloom, and Calm. Granted, Japan isn't known for being very women-friendly[1], but that doesn't mean we should excuse Nintendo for making Peach's debut gameplay center around her being "emotional".

[0]: http://www.mariowiki.com/Super_Princess_Peach#Peach.27s_.22V...

[1]: http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_GenderGap_Report_2012.pdf page 9, Japan #101

Finding a tiny handful of female protagonists really doesn't change the fact that video games are pretty much a sausage festival, where women are typically presented as helpless prizes to be won or rescued.

Despite what the high-budget video game developers think, video games are not played exclusively by guys. Girls play them too. And maybe we'd like to have some fantasies where someone like us gets to kick ass and save the world, or at least the day, too.

If you're unhappy with the games that exist today, perhaps you could make one that suits your creative desires? (That is essentially how all of the existing games came to be.)

I'm afraid I'm too busy making the comic books I want to see in the world. (http://egypt.urnash.com/rita/)

> Let's see.. Pretty sure Peach has her own game

Peach had one game, outside the franchise mainline (hell outside the franchise) 8 years ago. There have been 6 mainline Mario platformers since (and there was a 7th the same year as SSP) (though one of the 6 was the 25th anniversary re-release of AllStars) and in all of them the plot was the same "Peach gets kidnapped, mario goes and saves her"

Yes, the Princess Peach game where she has to cry to save Mario. Vomit.

You know, subverting the trope a little bit (sometimes) is maybe nice, certainly, however, not enough when you use it all the fucking time, to this day.

I'm sorry Karunamon, but nintendo has not being kind to peach. Check out super princess peach for her big game!

She navigates the levels by running, jumping, hitting blocks, amicably respecting other life, and having super-powered mood swings.

Actually I lied about one of those, she murders everything in sight of course. So that's a plus.

First, women are smaller and weaker than men, on average, and there's nothing wrong with that. Sometimes reality has a conservative bias, you know? (But it would be more accurate to say that traditional ideas often have some basis in reality.)

Second, I don't see why you have to demean all the men and women who are weak and passive. Their lives are perfectly worthwhile too, and they have something to contribute other than brawn and testosterone.

Third, boys embraced video games as a pastime when most girls thought it was stupid crap for loser nerds. I think it's great that many more girls are into video games now, and that all the big companies want to make money by selling video games to girls. But don't act as if the large back catalog of boy-oriented games is some sort of social injustice. When the first GI Joe doll for boys (aka "action figure") came out, did people start whining because almost all existing dolls were designed for girls? No.

Fourth, there are many girls (but also boys) that would be better served by something other than a simple sprite swap on the same action game idea. But your ridiculously limited ideas of what's good and valuable (big, strong, person! Death to enemies! Woe be the weak!) would leave them high and dry.

1) Its not the physically smaller or weaker part that is the problem - how often really do women need men to come rescue them? Is it any more than men needing women to rescue them? Why then are most of the video games, even the puzzle based ones where brains not brawn are the deciding factor, all about saving the women? It seems to me that there is certainly a curious imbalance there.

2) Strawman - parent is not demeaning the "weak and passive" so much as pointing out that a lot of video games present a wide variety of male types, but only the weak and passive female type. This is strange. The women I know seem to fall on a scale ranging from weak and passive to "alpha as fuck", just like the men.

3) Goalpost moving, true scotsman, and strawman rolled up into one: There is no argument here about orienting the games toward a gender, only the portrayal of genders within the games. If you think they are the same, then there is perhaps something else going on as well... basically there is some sort of assumption that games oriented towards boys should only portray men strongly. Which is weird, because how the hell would it appeal less to boys if some of the characters were strong women?

4) Actually a good point. Unfortunately mixed up in some sort of strawman - you are angry that people would like to see strong female characters in action games, so you are accusing the parent of only wanting action gams for kids - which is not evident in that post - and therefore hurting the chance for girls (who apparently can't like action games) to get good games for them. (I'm guessing that your conservative basis in reality suggests that means they need games about vacuuming, cooking and ponies).

(going to continue the above structured 4 bullet points)

1) Stories are today more homogeneous then ever before. People used to joke that you could set your clock to a james bond movies, and know what plot, what characters and what events will unfold. Then other movies copied it, and they too could be set to that same clock. Asking for originality is what we consumers should do but it is not what sends money to the bank if you are a producer. I would not know how we even could began fixing this.

2) video games do not present a wide variety of male types. Since when did you see a undecisive, meek, emotional erratic male protagonist? How often is he a gear of wars massive hulk made of 99% muscles, with so low base sounding voice that he likely has a serious sickness in the throat? How often doesnt he act like an emotionalless robot, creating a flood of corpses and steals anything that's not nailed down?

3) while I am not a game developer, I doubt that having strong women would lower the numbers of sales to boys. I don't see anyone arguing this. I do however think that the industry is lazy, and is not going to change their products if they don't have to. Movie producers and game producers are in this aspect very similar, and focus on what ever sold the most yesterday. In media, only books tend to have reached a level of diversity that we as a society is happy with.

4) I don't think the commenter is angry. That would imply intent in a very few written lines. I also think you are missing the point. Stories are complicated, and good stories require more than simple resprite work or pronounce changes. This goes same for making games that present role models for boys as well as girls.

Stories are today more homogeneous then ever before.

They are? On what do you base that?

Anecdotal evidence on movies and games :). Mostly based on reviews.

StarCraft II was one of the most silliest examples of this. The characters are one-dimensional to the point of being laughable. This is a game which had almost unlimited budget, and they just fail horrible at having an original story. I dare people to watch the cinematics say that the male roles are typical of the human male population.

But the more telling part, is that I would have to dig into the indy scene if I even wanted a bit originality in the story. I can't find a single AAA game that have original and well fleshed out characters, and a interesting story. At best, one would have to look at the walking dead which copies that from the TV-show.

Movies... pre-2000, we had a bunch of james bond copies. After that, we got the expendable? The new die hard? Any of the teenage vampire movies?

The one with good story and good character looks to be mostly remakes of older movies or comic/book made-movie, or animations. Wreck-It Ralph is a clear example of good characters.

It's not that most current AAA games or movies are good, it's just that I think we tend to see past ones with rose colored glasses, and to compare best of "the past" (decades) with "the present" (a few years), which is clearly unbalanced.

I was never a big fan of playing games for their stories or characters; I value gameplay over almost everything, preferring mindless fun (e.g. Metal Slug) or multiplayer games, but Portal 1 & 2 are certainly better than most of the big budget games I remember playing.

As for movies since the 2000, sure you have crap like those, but you also have decent movies like (from the top of my head) the Coen brothers', the Eternal Sunshine, Mulholland Drive, Children of Men or Crash. Were the previous decades much better? I don't think so.

Assassin's Creed.

I think it was pretty clear that I was not talking about muscle strength, you know. (And if you want to get down that route, I’m willing to bet that in general, overweight plumbers have less jumping ability than fit women.)

Also, I’m a shy introvert and I certainly do not want to demean anyone who is also that – I don’t think I did, actually. There is nothing wrong with shy and introverted characters, even weak characters or passive ones. That is not the problem. Those characters can all happily exist. The problem is that those characters tend to overwhelmingly be women.

In that light, I believe you misinterpreted me completely. I want better storytelling and more complex characters. I have really no problem with that. I do not want video games to again and again and again pick up on the same old lazy stereotype of women as being passive and weak. That’s it.

Nintendo's Metroid franchise has already been mentioned, and then there's the Zelda franchise (where despite the fact that the main character is male, Zelda is actually a strong character who tends to be a victim of circumstances beyond anyone's ability to control, and in some instances fights shoulder-to-shoulder with the protagonist), and others outside of Nintendo as well (Tomb Raider?). It may seem like a larger problem than it actually is if you only pay attention to the examples that bother you.

Zelda? Zelda?!

You are ridiculous in bringing that up as a positive example. I’m baffled. Also, Tomb Raider has quite the problematic history (that the new game luckily avoids).

Obviously, counter-examples do exist. It has been getting better. All that is true.

But we aren’t there yet.

> I'm baffled.

I explained myself.

Yes I'm sure in a videogame it's very important it be informed by reality. You know, in a video game where the antagonist is a giant ape throwing barrels at you.

Why, whenever someone does something simple like this, does someone feel it sooo important to come and remind us about how on average women have blah blah blah properties.

I am responding to arrrg's comment, not to TFA.

instead of focusing on groups why not focus on individuals. women as a group maybe have specific characteristics, but when was the last time you had to deal with women as a group? you deal with individuals, so why not focus on individuals?

I'm sure i could find a woman that's stronger than you, in that circumstance, it doesn't matter that men as a group are on average stronger than women as a group.

Down with the sexists who believe that humans exhibit sexual dimorphism!

Yes, let's be realistic here. Men are a lot more likely to end up in situations where they'll have to save someone from a giant gorilla. To put sexual dimorphism into question by suggesting that a woman could as well save a man from the giant gorilla is a slap in the face of biology! That would be unrealistic and unfair to men, women and giant gorillas alike.

If you'll take his word at face value, the father didn't really have any motives aside from making his daughter happy.

"My three year old daughter and I play a lot of old games. Her favorite is Donkey Kong. Two days ago, she asked if she could play as the girl and save Mario. She's played as Peach in Super Mario Bros. 2 and naturally assumed she could do the same in Donkey Kong. I told her we couldn't in that particular Mario game, she seemed really bummed out by that. So what else can I do? I'm up at midnight hacking the ROM, replacing Mario with Pauline."

> If you'll take his word at face value, the father didn't really have any motives aside from making his daughter happy.

But the author is dead, so we're bound to analyze this in terms of Theory and come to actual conclusions.


(Whether I'm being sarcastic is entirely up to you.)

> (Whether I'm being sarcastic is entirely up to you.)

This is the best part of the comment, even if there was a voice echoing in my head "What was the author's intention in writing that sentence?"

> This kind of put into words an odd feeling I was having about the whole "war of the sexes" vibe

What vibe?

> we're making a harmless part of videogame history a political and social justice issue

Who is doing that?

> What I don't understand is how one of the most common storytelling tropes in history (we're talking Shakespeare and then some) has suddenly become uncool to use

What are you trying to say?

I thought I read a story about a dad who wanted to make a game fun for his daughter. I read the article, I read it again, yep, it's a story about a dad making changes to a game for his daughter. What story did you read?

>What vibe?

Have you read this comment thread?

>Who is doing that?

Have you read this comment thread?

>What are you trying to say?

That I don't understand some of the discussions (their purpose or mindset) the story is generating. I have no issue whatsoever with the story itself.

I don't know the father's motives aside from the article, but I have a 4yo daughter and try to do whatever I can to encourage her to have, "I can change/fix that" as her first instinct when she runs into obstacles or problems. Whether there's a "war of the sexes" or not, boys are encouraged to hack way more than girls, so I'm more concerned about my daughters getting encouragement than my son (hypothetically... He's 1 so I don't really know yet).

So I saw the article in that light: a father wanted to hack donkey kong so that he could show his daughter that hacking donkey kong to make the princess the hero is a totally normal thing that she should expect to learn to do as she gets older. Maybe I'm projecting too much onto the story.

I don't know. I have two young daughters and they would want to be the girl character - just because. They're too small to know or care about social injustice. Sometimes, people are just having fun.

Between any two people there is such an enormous difference that I'm not very sympathetic to this argument.

Let's just celebrate the real differences, and not lazily use gender/sex as a shorthand for particular social roles.

"Father does nice thing for daughter. Internet embroiled in controversy over this bold act of political activism"

Sometimes one gets tired of the same old stories, lazily retold by deep-pocketed corporations as an easy gimmick to make money.

The deep-pocketed corporations always win in the end, but in the cracks, something different can flourish.

Donkey Kong was written by Shigeru Miyamoto, a junior developer who came from a product design background.

How's that for deep-pocketed corporation? :-)

Miyamoto certainly wrote the story behind the game, but he had help with the rest...


we're making a harmless part of videogame history a political and social justice issue

Who's "we"?

Also, I know how the three year old feels, i.e. how sad I am when I have to play role playing games or multiplayer games as male!

Well one of the problems is that nearly all the stories follow that trope. What's wrong with expanding the number of stories we can tell? Why do we have to have the same story all the time?

(Additionally, it's debateable if the dearth of females saving males in a genre is "harmless").

Donkey Kong was highlighted as one of the first examples of Nintendo's overuse* of the "Damsel in Distress" trope in the first episode of Anita Sarkeesian's series on the portrayal of women in video games: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X6p5AZp7r_Q

Very cool to see a parent help try to correct that for their kid as they introduce them to video games.

*changed wording for clarity

Overused? This is the first Nintendo game that ever used that trope. Mario wasn't even called Mario before this point, and there was no princess. It was just Jumpman (renamed to Mario starting with this very game, who got his name from one of Nintendo's landlords at the time), Pauline (who got her name from the wife of an employee, but just "Lady" in the J version), and Donkey Kong.

I'm not sure what you're taking exception to: I said it was one of the first examples (wasn't sure if it was the first, so thanks for clarifying that).

While in the video Sarkeesian goes through its overuse in general as mturmon mentioned, Nintendo did go on to overuse it themselves, with Donkey Kong being the first of many times Nintendo went to that well. The linked video goes through several examples.

It's kind of hard to overuse something the first time you do it...

That said, I think that the "overuse" and the reasons for it in this case is in the mind of the beholder. Are we just calling this into question because it's now hip to call anything and everything to question on the grounds of some percieved slight to gender "equality"? Or are we having a larger conversation about the overuse of specific tropes in general in media?

I didn't say Nintendo, at the time Donkey Kong was created, had already overused the "damsel in distress" trope. What I said was of the set of games Nintendo has developed or published in the past 30-odd years that ostensibly demonstrate their overuse of the "damsel in distress" trope, Donkey Kong was the first.

Ah, gotcha. I just misread the first sentence.

Ah, I can see how it could be misread. I adjusted the wording from "Nintendo overusing" to "Nintendo's overuse of" to clarify that.

Overused in the sense of storytelling more generally, not Nintendo in particular.

Although they have certainly overused it since, Nintendo's two main franchises (Mario and Zelda) are "Damsel-in-distress" based.

I would argue that Zelda I is "explore this cool world"-based, with a bit of "damsel-in-distress" and "evil overlord" and "find the magical macguffin" bolted on.

Yes. Overused. This is one example of dozens from the Mario franchise that use this trope. Further, Nintento has pushd mario harder than most other franchises.

I really don't understand how you take issue because this game was the first, it seems disingenuous. It's like me saying "this is the first example of a digital computer. Digital computers changed, even revolutionized the world", and you saying "that was the first computer, it added some stuff it didn't revoultionize anything". Pure, unadulterated, disingenuous crap.

It's a very abstract game that simply takes imagery from the classic King Kong movie.

At this point trying to read more into it is a tad paranoid IMO.

This has nothing to do with paranoia. Because it's not about what Nintendo meant to say, it's about what effect it actually has.

Actions (and speech is a type of action) do not exist in some magic circle where a good intention protects them from doing harm.

That's a nice link. (A little bit of "gotcha" media critique in that series, but generally well-deserved gotcha's -- her Lego two-parter is also worth a watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CrmRxGLn0Bk)

Before watching that, I had not known that Nintendo tried to get the rights to the Popeye characters for video game purposes (see around 6:30 in the linked video). Besides the obvious King Kong character parallel, there is also a loose parallel to Popeye (Maiden = Olive Oyl, Mario = Popeye, Ape = Bluto).

It's nice to see the difference between someone who sees something wrong and actually does something about it just because and someone who asks the Internet for money and deliver a video 9 months later.

Also, for something that took 9 months and loads of money, there isn't really anything new there that hasn't been said before.

I agree that the first of the Tropes vs. Women laid out some pretty standard feminist theory applied to game culture, but if she's not rocking the boat by doing so, why all the death and rape threats?

Also, the idea that criticism or commentary is inaction compared to creating the content or media being commented on is a fairly common anti-intellectual meme that really has an awkward place in comments thread of an article.

"It would be nice to see someone who hears about something interesting and actually writes an article about it rather than someone who writes a comment in the thread attached to that posted article."

Cool hack, great dad, etc.

However, I can't help but point out that one of the most popular video games of the moment, Tomb Raider, has a female protagonist, and hordes (brutish, sexist hordes!) of male gamers are playing it without issue.

Maybe it's not such a bad thing to learn to play as a character that is not exactly like you.

Guys have to play as a lady about, what? Maybe 2% of the time.

Girls have to play as a guy about, oooh, 90% of the time.

For woman, playing as a character like themselves is a really refreshing change.

(Numbers are pulled out of my ass based on years of playing games; the missing 8% are games with multiple character options that include a woman. If you're lucky there may even be two or three female characters to choose from out of a cast of about a dozen!)

Ever played an MMORPG?

No, I'm pretty sure that I'd fall into one to the exclusion of all else if I did. So I forgot about them. They are pretty much the only genre that actually offers female options on a regular, equal basis.

I was mostly thinking about solo experiences. Which are... well, how many solo games can YOU think of that only offer a male character versus ones that only offer a female character or offer a selection to choose from? And how many that offer a selection have a lot more guys than gals?

Maybe it's not such a bad thing to learn to play as a character that is not exactly like you.

Perhaps, but most male gamers don't have to do that a lot. Most playable characters are male. If "learning how to play as someone different" is a good thing, we should radically increase the number of female characters so men can play as women more, right? right?

(I'm being sarcastic, I think there should be more choice for everyone)

Tomb Raider has it's own history with sexism. Nearly no athletic women have a chest like Lara Croft. And I am not referring to chest muscles, which are relevant to an action hero.

I'm talking about the new TR that just came out. Many things have changed since the original.

One thing that certainly changed is that more women are buying video games - potential clients, that might dislike to control the anatomic equivalent of a sex doll.

My ex-wife does. (She loved Tomb Raider, too.)


Reminds me of the "Dad gives Link a sex change" story from last year for Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker.


My first thought on this was, "Awesome!" And then my second thought was, "Could this guy go to jail for that?"

It's so sad that a guy doing something as innocent as this could be faced with fines or prison because our legal system is so screwed up.

How could this be illegal? He's not redistributing the work.

If dumping the ROM required him to work around something considered "copy protection" by the manufacturer, he could go to jail for DMCA violation.

In the land of the free, at least.

This is a ROM for an arcade game. It's highly unlikely to be much DRM. Additionally he might not be in the USA.

Anti-circumvention measures are baked into laws in may territories.


While the ROM might not have much DRM some cases suggest that tools for ripping ROMs, and tools that allow playing of modified ROMs on a console, are probably illegal. (See, for example, the MrModChips cases in the UK.)

I'm going to break out of hacker mind and say that this guy should get the Nerd Dad of the year award.

I like the implication in the hack that the pink umbrella and handbag now belong to Mario. Two hits against gender stereotypes!

He seems to have moved the location of the first hammer too. :/

Dad of all/only girls here. Dying to get a hold of this rom. Hoping the author will post it and that Nintendo won't give him a hard time about his homebrew, considering the attention it is bringing Donkey Kong and Nintendo.

I believe posting the ROM would be ilegal. To share ROM mods, people usually share patches that can be applied with a certain program (like a binary diff, I'd assume).

About bloody time. I am so sick of female characters having no agency.

Seriously no guy is going to be upset if the beautiful girl knows how to shoot a gun. Resident Evil was/is a monster succes.

Does anyone know what tool you use to do such thing?

It's mentioned in the article; Tile Layer Pro: http://www.zophar.net/utilities/graphutil/tile-layer-pro.htm...

Cool hack, happy daughter. What's not to like? Oh, hello patriarchy. Now I understand sinfest better.

I like how she is collecting her stuff along the way to help out Mario.

Neat. A very thoughtful gift.

Great dad

Better, she should save Donkey Kong from Mario, to address the real issue of animals enslaved by people. The reverse doesn't really happen.

No, no, you have Donkey Kong save Mario from Pauline! Wait....

Add a Braid-like twist ending and I think you've got something!

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