Queelez will surely be pleased as punch to know that this rant was partially inspired by my reading the script for Man of La Mancha a few weeks ago.
So I know Mario's not exactly known for his RPGs, but he's been in a few, so I figure he's fair game. But I do admit that today's rant is more on Mario in the general sense than on his roles in RPGs. Still and all, I reckon it's only a minor breach in protocol.
So, Mario. We all know him. Hell, EVERYONE knows him. He's been widely-recognized and immensely popular internationally since his days on the NES, and most of us here have grown up playing and loving several of his classic games.
The thing, though, is that we've grown up playing the games. We're not 8-year-olds running for bridge-destroying axes, drifting through the air thanks to magical capes or raccoon tails, and hopping through magical paintings into whole new worlds. Our impressions of things we watch and play, and our understandings of characters and plots and so on, have grown with us, so the way we see and identify with iconic characters such as Mario also have changed accordingly.
Normally, this is fine, and even can give us some interesting new insight into old characters. However, there are a great many individuals out there, particularly amongst game-players and internet-users, who never mentally mature past the age of 14. These are the great intellectuals who, for example, spend their time postulating that The Legend of Zelda series's Link's motivation for his heroism is the hopes that he's going to get some from Zelda. They take something they've known since they were kids, and force their mature-yet-immature perspectives onto it, warping and perverting it into something that the original purely child-friendly and simplistic product never intended.
Now, before I go on, I should note that I don't necessarily mean to make a stand against the very concept of applying sexual tones to the stories and characters that one encounters. I'd be just a little bit hypocritical if I did. You can do so many times in a way that manages to bring about interesting truths and perspectives about characters that one hadn't considered before. Although rare, there are several sexually-explicit fanfics out there that tell a story or explore the characters within them in a thoroughly good way, for example. And I've had some unexpectedly interesting conversations in the past about, for another example, whether Kain in FF4 might actually be bisexual, and in love with both Rosa and Cecil. More on that in another rant, perhaps.
So yes. It's not that sex is an EVIL AND BAD subject that you will BURN IN HELL for applying to video games and the like. It can be an interesting tool for further exploring a character or theme.
And even if you're not using the subject for such lofty goals, it can sometimes be good for a chuckle. I mean, going back to my original example of The Legend of Zelda, I can't exactly pretend that I haven't, in some of my past columns here, poked fun at just how odd but funny some of the series's characters are in the sexual sense--as I've mentioned, Impa, Zelda/Sheik, and Link from Ocarina of Time could practically throw their own traditionally in-terrible-taste gay parade by themselves, with the ways they look.
But using themes of sex to explore a character or underscore a theme, or to get a few laughs at a clever jibe, has its time and place. The characters you can explore well in such a way are complex ones that we encounter in games made for teens and adults, with themes of more maturity than something just made for kids. Even if it started out as being a kids thing, the Legend of Zelda series has matured and grown with its fans, and is now a complex enough entity that it can appeal to adults and children in more than just the "Find a princess and save her" way the original did.
See, Mario just isn't like that. The Mario series has never made the slightest pretense of growing up with us. Oh, the graphics and look improve as time goes on, yes, but it's always to the same effect of having Mario be a cartoony, goofy-looking little dude who hops around, gains super powers that are childlike in how simple they are (flying thanks to a magical cape, bouncing around better thanks to a big spring, and the ever simple act of just getting bigger). His villain is the same as he ever was: a big, scary-looking turtle monster with spikes and claws, who is ornery for the sake of being so. His objective is most often always the same: save the princess and stop the bad guy. On the occasions where he swaps this objective for an alternate one, the new one is almost always just as simple. Unlike other series which have grown up with us to take on complex and often darker tones as we mature enough to appreciate them (The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, Sonic the Hedgehog, etc), Mario stays as wholesome and immature as ever.
This is why it annoys me when the adolescent-minded individuals I mentioned earlier apply their singular focus on sex to him. There are a lot of people who seriously are convinced that Mario is getting it on with Peach, and that's at least a significant part of why he goes through such trials for her all the time.
Guys, seriously. Let's look at the characters and face facts here. Mario is not getting any from Peach. Mario doesn't CARE about getting any from Peach. As he scurries from one painting and world and galaxy to another to save her, it's not on his mind. This is a man who, at the end of a game, is occasionally fortunate enough to be rewarded with a single chaste kiss from the person he just spent hours getting blown up, eaten, smashed, electrocuted, fried, frozen, sliced, drowned and...um...falling-down-bottomeless-pits'ed for. And each time, he gives every indication of being completely content, even ecstatic, at this seemingly tiny reward. And it doesn't seem likely that he's putting on some happy facade while seething at her ingratitude underneath because, well...it's Mario. This guy ain't exactly a master of deception or complex emotion.
And, as an afterthought, Peach isn't leading him on, either. Again, that's a concept of a mindset foreign to that of the series. She's chaste and innocent, and in her mind, cakes and kisses are obviously as good a reward for something as anything could be. I mean, look at her. It's Peach. She ain't exactly a master of deception or complex emotion, herself.
Mario isn't doing it for sex, or even sexual love. He's being a hero countless times, uncomplaining and ever eager, because that's simply what he is: a hero. He does the right thing because it's the right thing to do. He saves his princess with no expectation or even desire for reward because that's what he wants to do, what he knows is RIGHT to do. He may love her, but it's a pure, chivalrous love, reverent enough of the object of his affections that her small shows of simple affection for him are more than enough reward for all he does. Not that he can't treat her as an equal and even competitor in those many games like Mario Party or Mario Kart, but his general treatment of her is with chivalrous respect.
That's why, in my mind, Mario's a true knight, more of one now than almost any other video game character in their current form to be found. Sure, he's goofy through and through, from his looks to his style to the battles he fights, but the core essence is the same regardless of outer appearances: He fights for what's right, no questions asked, no personal motives needed, and he cherishes the object of his affections with devout chivalry and unquestioning loyalty. He's a simple character, always has been, always will be, and that simplistic nature is what makes his heroism noteworthy, even inspiring, on the level of other such iconic heroes as Superman and Captain America.