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April 19
2013

The Gay Cult of Bowser

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Bowser-Throne-Wide
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“I mean, it’s not like I want to have sex with the guy. There’s just…something there, you know?”

The above is the paraphrased conclusion of many a conversation that started out normally with me and friends or acquaintances at conventions, conferences, or local area developer meet ups. The “guy” in question is the long running big bad of Nintendo’s trademarked plumber adventures, a reptile saurian with a penchant for abstract world construction and – apparently – a possessor of a subtle sexual prowess in the eyes of gay human dudes.

I don’t pretend to have enough of a sample size to venture into a scientifically valid study on the theory, but the sheer regularity of this two-drink-minimum confession is excuse enough for some unauthorized reverse engineering on a character that has more to him than eight world’s worth of contract negotiations. And to be clear, this character’s clout in the furry community is thoroughly established, but not our subject for today. I checked, re-affirmed the depths of Rule 34, and can no longer play Super Mario RPG because of it.

No, herein we shall dare to answer the question no one thought needed to be asked: why do so many people consider Bowser a sexualized character?

There's more going on here...

There’s more going on here…

We begin with the Goomba leader himself, Bowser (King Koopa if you’re nasty). Sexualized or not, Bowser’s duration in gamer’s minds is a result of repetition. The big guy appeared early on in NES-gen kids’ lives, and has been stomping and karting around as they all grew up and started having weird tingles all the time. The most recognizable game villain there is, Nintendo has crafted Bowser’s power-hungry ethos through a wide variety of media tactics.

The recurring end goal of all Super Mario Bros. games (regardless of how Wind Whistle-y players may get or how many Koopa kids they mangle, the end all baddie is always the turtle-dino king), encounters with Bowser play out an initially left-to-right framed affair, even so far as to pause momentarily on the spatial dynamic as the camera scrolls into the screen. In most Westernized media, the camera frame is split into uneven vertical thirds. The Western method of reading left to right decodes positions of power on said portions of the screen.

Mario, perpetually left-sided in his early adventures, is cast in a position of filmic weakness, that side of the screen viewed as inferior to the right-hand portion. His travels from left to right across a level can then be interpreted as a conquering of an initially more intimidating march of Bullet Bills and Piranha Plants. Bowser, eternally revealed on the right-hand side of the frame, is coded as the dominant adversary to overcome. Such a dynamic may or may not have been intentional on the part of the developers, and was common development tactic even before popularized by the plumber, but it helped make up for the fact that the supposedly titanic Bowser was only a few pixels taller than Mario’s mushroom-ed up state.

bowser_on_throne

As technology evolved, cinematic teams and sequencers were able to give a much more evocative size difference between the foes. Bowser’s entrance in Super Mario 64 came with ground-rumbling footsteps and a major growth spurt. Super Mario Galaxy would tilt the camera up to a pitiful low-angle to show off a planet-sized Bowser, and Bowser’s Inside Story made the koopa fat, fit and several stories tall, all while shrinking down the plumbers into digestives for a Magic School Bus adventure in end-boss bowels. As caricatured and comedic as it was, we’ve been more intimate with Bowser than most subjects in romance sims.

Every promotional image of the guy has his bulky frame spilling out of go-karts or roaring over a tennis court, rotund but strong. Built like a brick warp-pipe house, complete with downward glares and defiant sneers. We know Bowser is all about power and control, and Nintendo knows how to sell us that. But an undercurrent of gay gamers and industry professionals don’t harbor confused sexualized awareness of every game villain with a decent cutscene behind him.

HAHA! Now that I have Peach I can...uh...

HAHA! Now that I have Peach I can…uh…

The answer may then lie with where so many sexual deconstructions of the Mushroom Kingdom begin, Princess Peach. The parasol-wielding MacGuffin’s long-term relationship with Mario and Bowser has been fodder for a wide variety of long-running gags: from a metaphor to Mario’s blue balls to a family friendly endorsement of proto-bestiality. Why else would this bro Bowser continually entrap a female, other than to have shell-rocking sex with her, amirite?

But, due to Nintendo’s OCD PR cleanliness, Bowser’s possession of Peach is officially cast as a more platonic reward than anything else. Read as much as you want into Bowser Jr.’s matriarchal affection in Super Mario Sunshine, the most this responsibility-less leader seems to do is float and write expository letters. Her confectionary abilities seem to be the closest thing to her key asset as a captive for Bowser, the boss taunting Mario in Galaxy 2 with a galactic slice he’s going to force Peach to craft him before he ditches the plumber to once again go up against his armies. She is a tool to interact with Mario, an ice breaker more than a person. She can hardly be a dictator’s trophy wife while elbows-deep in flour. If cake really is a vaginal metaphor here, then a) it’s the most inconsistent adult gag in video games and b) Peach is really messed up down there.

If conquest really is Bowser’s end goal, why taunt the singular individual proven to dismantle your offenses before you mount your first strike? Mario would obviously leave any Peach-less armies alone, no one can craft eight themed blitzkriegs without some interference from the one guy everyone hires to stop you. Does the single dad with a sweet tooth just like to make short, plump men sweat? Or is Bowser just an intensely problematic glutton for punishment?

To personify any sort of psychology onto this video game character (and if you’ve never done so, you need to drink with more people offline) results in a depressing diagnosis of cyclical self-defeat. A leader both intensely capable and ambitious, able to amount global front line offensives in all weather and spatial conditions, yet always deploying both his troops and (more importantly) himself with fatal, sometimes glowing, weak points.

Oh no Mario, I feel over AGAIN!

Oh no Mario, I fell over AGAIN!

The guy obviously learns, albeit slowly. We – as Mario – destroy eight bridges under him, a few years later the guy is outfitted in a pre-Robotnik aircraft; a few years after we destroy that we’re flinging him – via his own stubby rear appendage – into his own defensive perimeter. We have been confronted with this ever-aggressive alpha-dood Bowser, and given the means to punish him from the behemoth himself. This kind of role reversal jock fantasy, this subversion of male-dominated societal imagery, still sits as its own sub-genre behind the back curtain next to the military on military videos. The kidnapping of Peach is a purposeful method of urging punishment from Mario, and thus the player. Bowser’s been a naughty boy, better grab him by the tail and fling him around some more.

And yet, the big lug survives the lava pits and is back, begging for more, constantly compensating for his defeats through enlargements and body augmentations, later even dragging his children into his battles. The more self-reflexive – read: Paper – the Mario game, the more likely a delusional Bowser will show up to play comic relief.

This isn’t being vigilant; this is defining your own existence through the defeat and humiliation of an adversary too busy with doctoring and mini-game partying to consider you more than a repetitive nuisance. In building a two-decades-plus career around recursive, ever-changing weak spots, Nintendo has written Bowser into a self-loathing mess of a corner.

Whom we are left with after this long, heavily meta-textual spelunking is a big, dominant alpha male disguising a perpetually agonized masochist. The versatile possibilities of such a caricature seems particularly attractive to the gay gamers and game makers naïve enough to let me buy them a drink. A jock with the self-image problems of a nerd, a power-top sympathy lay; the kind of binary internal conflict that inspires empathy in most, an “I can fix him!” nurturing instinct in many. Could be why a significant percentage of people that inspired this silliness refer to the nine-to-fourteen-hundred-foot tall scaled monstrosity as “cute.” After all, what’s more adorable than a pudgy mid-section from too many deserts?

Also, guy sports some serious fetish wear.

Also, guy sports some serious fetish wear.

And it is straddling this line which allows Bowser to live out a non-canonical sex life that Leisure Suit Larry ruins sheets dreaming of. Mechanically, he’s shown off as the dominant Omega in the Mario universe, respectable in the sheer magnitude of his ambitions and often his own body size. Dig a little deeper, and we have a cyclically un-satisfied loner only sated through the thrill of defeat. Bowser’s a cake-loving, plumber-hating, emotional-fetish onion. And despite the Big N’s best intentions, many people can get behind, or on top of, that.

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About Gavin Greene

(Writer) GavinGreene.exe was installed in December of 1987, and has been gaming ever since his motor skills have allowed. In addition to making them pretty words here, he operates as Production Coordinator at Phoenix Online Studios, and News Editor at Elder Geek. You can follow his inane babbling over on Twitter (@GameDevGav).

16 Responses

  1. This makes Bowser sound a bit like Wreck-it Ralph. Though I think a pixelized John C. Reilly with giant fists speaks to some different fetishes. I’ll bet Felix can fix him.

  2. avatar Perish_Song says:

    Bowser is obviously a female. Think about it. She could “kidnap” anyone in the mushroom kingdom, but always takes Peach. She doesn’t go out of his way to “kidnap” Daisy, knowing how much of a tom boy daisy is. Peach obviously having manicured nails, and waxed eyebrows is the perfect choice for getting fashion tips, and having sleep overs.
    Bowser, while still rough around the edges has cleaned up somewhat, less jagged pixelated eyebrows that would still make groucho marx blush, and has even smiled a time or two in recent games. You’d kidnap your girl too for a slumber party after having all those babies, and with having dating issues on account of flaming halitosis.
    Still after every drunken night of random bar hookups, who better to understand, than the princess of the mushroom kingdom (oh yes, everyone concerns themselves of how all of the koopalings, and koopa troops are born, but nobody wonders where them mushrooms pop out from? Peach has some explaining to do.)
    Overall, the very bitter, very angry, and often misunderstood “king” of the mushroom kingdom is actually a very husky, beastly looking queen, and Mario should be ashamed of himself jumping on the head of a woman. For shame.

  3. avatar koen says:

    omg bowsers a dyke!

  4. avatar Radmage says:

    I’d prefer DK any day ;)

  5. avatar Nofrickenway says:

    You’ve got to be kidding me, right?
    You’ve taken one of the most basic archtypical villains from my childhood and sexualized him in a gay format. Really?
    I know this the internet, and I know the Rules 4chan put down but this is just fucking ridiculous. Bowzer is a riff on the the age old battle of Dragon possessing a Princess with Mario as the Knight that has to save her. The only reason things don’t conclude as they should with Peach either being eaten or Mario killing Bowzer is because it was a game designed for children in the 80′s with the weakest of backstories and they don’t do it now because it would mean ending their longest running conflict/cash cow.
    I can understand wanting to find kinship and meaning in the world with your particular world view/orientation, but this is a fucking stretch bro.
    There is no subtext here. This isn’t like Disney where the creators slip in adult subtext here and there. If anything this is proof that there aren’t enough gay role-models in gaming and to make up for that you invent some for your own purposes. Which is just a hair better than the furries.
    I can’t believe Bennet suggested I read this drivel.

    • avatar KaiserNeko says:

      I think you’re missing the point here, actually.

      This isn’t the author suggesting that the creators slipped gay subtext in over time, nor is the article trying to imply that there is anything inherently sexual about the character in his creation.

      It’s that, over the years, certain gay fans have been taking away subtext from it that, while perhaps not intentional, allows them to build an a kinship to Bowser. It’s not about finding the true meaning of Bowser or revealing the subtlety of the creators, but about studying a phenomenon in the gay community of creating one’s own personal interpretation of the character.

      • avatar Nofrickenway says:

        But how is that any less off putting?
        Fans of all kinds of fandoms flinch at horror when they find out some ones made porn out of their favorite characters or shows, how is this any different?

        I can fully understand wanting to find kinship with a character you admire. Be it King Arthur, Ang, or Pinkie Pie. But the line I draw is when you start to apply a sexual preference to an entity that has none and needs none. I get that the author isn’t doing that, that he is simply reporting on what he’s found in his community. But as some one that was sent here to view a sample writing I had to sit back from my chair and wonder why this is encouraged or made light of?

        I get the “this is the internet srs bizness!!11″ We’re debating the merits of a fictional man-turtle-dinosaur that kidnaps a princess, it’s ridiculous. But really? Where do you draw the line? Does the fact that Princess Toadstool spends more time in a dungeon than on the throne mean she’s into BDSM? Does the fact that Ness’ weapon of choice is a bat mean he has penis size insecurities?

        How strapped for kinship and fraternity do you have to be to look at a creature like Bowzer and say, “yeah, that’s the man I like?” Are you truly out of role-models in 3D that you have to fantasize with King Koopa?

        Oh, and there’s a difference between hate and criticism. At no point have I said it was wrong to be gay, have gay feelings, or orientations. I took issue with people turning a character of my youth into a gay icon. Clearly I am sheltered and this is common in certain circles I have kept, and will keep completely out of.

        • avatar Visitor says:

          “I took issue with people turning a character of my youth into a gay icon.”

          This sums up the real issue you have with this. It’s simply down to the fact that you don’t like the way some people enjoy this particular character because you liked it as a kid. To this, I offer the response, “so what?”. So what if some people enjoy this character in a sexual way and you don’t?

          You might be a huge fan of having ketchup on a burger since you were a kid, but does that mean you should get upset and defensive when you see someone enjoying ketchup on a hotdog, just because they’re enjoying something you’ve liked for a long time in a different way?

          • avatar Nofrickenway says:

            You’re likening condiment preference to homo-erotic beastiality.
            I take issue with it because unlike various sauces for a food stuff the character in question was never intended to be sexualized. That’s apples to oranges. This isn’t a different strokes for different folks argument here. Take the Rocky Horror Picture show, very gay cast representation with gay overtones and themes. I can get sexualizing that. Or Hairspray, even the new one with Travolta as the mom, I could very easily see you apply gay subtext to a man dressing up as an overweight mother with body image issues. That I can conceive as a direct connection.

            But not this. Call me closed minded, call me old fasioned, so be it. But some where down in my gut I know this is wrong. Or at least headed in the wrong direction.

        • avatar MrNiceGuy says:

          Unsurprisingly with how most fetishes come about, taking things from your youth or even just things that are very familiar in general is one of the most common fetishes there is. You do understand how many cheap porno versions of major movies there are right? It being a game only means that it has a slightly different audience.

    • avatar Keith says:

      I completely agree.

    • avatar Nexus says:

      Ugh!
      Your anti-furry bias is clearly showing.
      No one is asking you like things that you don’t like. But don’t go loading off your prejudices on other people.

  6. avatar Michael says:

    Here I thought I was the only one to think Bowser was cute. Glad I’m not the only looney. XD I think it is his outer tough guy and having the inner softy that makes him attractive. I do want to fix him! Plus, him having a ton of cash is a huge bonus! No, his never wearing anything but bondage gear and muscles is the real bonus. ;)

    Also, Nofrickenway; I don’t think the Author “sexualized Bowser”. He was talking about others that did. And there are a Lot of them. And it was done long, long before this article. You’re insulting a very large amount of people with a single post and considering this was just supposed to be a fun article, your hate sticks out like a sore thumb. If you can’t say anything nice, go somewhere else.

  7. avatar GaymerConnect says:

    This article is amazing – seriously, really well written <3

  8. avatar Zach says:

    If you’re worried about the whole dragon-princess-castle thing being sexualized – don’t worry, that whole story was implicitly about sex in the first place. And a pretty retrogressive view of it, to boot.

    Is it any surprise that a person might find a character with some personality and agency in the story more interesting than someone who mainly suffers the indignity of acting as the mcguffin?

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