Dad Hacks Donkey Kong for Daughter, Accidentally Sparks Gender Debate

Mike Mika has been designing games for years, applying his talents and love for the world of gaming to every console from the Atari 2600 all the way up to the Xbox 360. So its no surprise that this virtual media mastermind lives in a household where gaming is a way of life. Mika’s two children have been rased on the classics, and while his son displays only a passing interest in video games, his 3 year old daughter shows signs of following in her father’s footsteps. Via Wired:

Recently, she took a fancy to Ron Gilbert’s new puzzle adventure game The Cave. While she prefers not to play, she insists that I do and then she bosses me around in the game. She’s confident enough, however, to play some of the older arcade games. She’s not too shabby with Pac-Man; her favorite version is Pac-Man Arrangement.

But out of all of the older games, she most enjoys playing Donkey Kong. Maybe it was because it was the first game we really played together, or the fact that she watched the King of Kong documentary with me one afternoon from start to finish. Maybe it’s because Mario looks just like her Grandpa. Whatever the case, we’ve been playing Donkey Kong together for a while. She’s not very good at it, but insists on playing it over and over again until she finally hands me the joystick in total frustration.

It was his daughter’s innocent curiosity that would end up thrusting Mika into the middle of a controversy he had no intention of setting off. One day she asked to play as the girl, exclaiming that she wanted to save Mario. Mika gently explained to his daughter that you couldn’t play as Pauline in this game, and left it at that. But the question kept nagging at him. So the next day he decided to hack Donkey Kong.

Using Tile Layer Pro, Mika restructured Pauline’s character from within the game, designing and animating her from the ground up to to match the functions Mario’s character was able to enact. As he worked he posted updates of his progress on facebook, hoping that some of his game design colleagues would get a kick out of his whimsical side project. When he was finished he threw a quick video up on YouTube, shared it with some of his friends, and called it finished.

Soon the video ended up on reddit, and a fierce debate began to take form, all unbeknownst to Mika, who was content with his daughter’s excitement as the true reward for his hard work. Feminist Frequency wrote on video game tropes and how they reinforce archaic gender roles, citing Mika’s work as a reversal of the norm that provokes thought on the issue. Backlash from the anti-feminists was immediate, as views on the video exploded and the comment thread turned into a full scale war, with feedback ranging from enthusiastic endorsements to death threats against Mika and his daughter. Despite all this, Mika keeps his head up knowing he made his daughter happy and, even if it was unintentional, made some people think about the differences we perceive between men and women.

My kids are awesome. They are too young to understand any of the things people are saying. And after all, it’s the internet. It comes with the territory. It got me thinking about Metroid. If the internet was more prevalent back when thousands of boys discovered that, all along, they were playing as a woman, maybe Nintendo would have gotten just as much hate mail?

Having kids is incredible. And having a daughter is something special. I get the opportunity to see the world through her eyes. And if this experience has taught me anything, it’s that the world could be just a bit more accommodating. And that if something as innocuous as having Mario be saved by Pauline brings out the crazy, maybe we aren’t as mature in our view of gender roles as we should be.

I didn’t set out to push a feminist agenda, or try to make a statement. I just wanted to keep that little grin lit up on my daughter’s face every time we sit down to play games together.



  • Tony Russo

    I’m confused: Eric do you have any idea what the other side of the argument here is? Or did it merely amount to death threats.
    That isn’t much of a “debate” in my book.

    • NickPeterson

      Tony Russo  Over the past few years, people have been debating whether or not the industry should step out of it’s comfort zone and start creating games for a wider audience. The other side of the argument basically amounts to the fact that people don’t like change.

  • Blake J. Graham

    Feminist arguments aside: this is adorable.

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