Suddenly, thanks to Pokemon Go, retro video games are all the rage and Nintendo is back! Kids and parents are having deep conversations about video game lore past and present. But should parents really tell their kids everything about their favorite video games growing up? In retrospect, here's some of the more awkward video game stereotypes you probably overlooked while playing games in the 80s or 90s.
Street Fighter: We could have an entire article just about this game. Dhalsim the skinny, pious Indian who blows fire from his mouth and uses yoga to beat bad guys? Balrog, the African American tough guy who of course boxes in Las Vegas? Do I even need to get into Japan's E. Honda? Newsflash Capcom, not all Japanese people are named after fuel-efficient and durable automobiles. M. Bison may only be the finalist in the World Warrior Tournament, but he'd win any Hitler or Mussolini lookalike contest hands down. Come on Capcom.
The Mario Brothers: Sure, who doesn't love these two? It's easy to get behind two working class Italian plumbers who look alike, need to wear their initials on their work uniform and get high off mushrooms. If that's not the American dream than I don't know what is. Isn't it also a tad convenient that these guys have been riding around in go karts for decades? Is Nintendo implying that the Mario Brothers have some sort of issue getting drivers licenses to drive real cars? Perhaps it's the aforementioned shroom addiction that keeps the plumbers on Rainbow Road (literally and figuratively) longer than they may like. I find it ironic and frankly a little insulting that neither of the Mario Brothers ever made it into the racing games with real cars like Rad Racer, F-Zero or RC Pro Am over the years. Shoot, if Hulk Hogan and Captain America can become bad guys then maybe a Mario and Luigi cameo in Grand Theft Auto could happen. There is a tad bit of poetic justice that the only way they seem to be able to graduate from a kart to a car is by stealing one.
Aladdin: Sure, I know Aladdin is a movie character, but this game was an SNES classic. Also, as amusing as it is to poke fun at video game stereotypes, they have nothing on Disney ones. I'm also 91.73 percent positive that most Arab men would take themselves being portrayed as people that wear white MC Hammer pants and cruise on flying magic carpets with attractive, partially clothed, veil-free spouses riding shotgun. As opposed to, you know, what the stereotypes concerning Arab men are nowadays.
Punch Out: Dammit Nintendo! Here's another franchise with multiple stereotypes. No German, French, Spanish, Indian, Turkish, Japanese, Californian, Canadian or African American is spared in this cult classic. Maybe they thought since they were making this game for 80s first-generation immigrants they'd try to relate to all of them. If you're Spanish then I'm sure you'll love Don Flamenco, a skinny and quick boxer quite in touch with his feminine side who dances the Flamenco with a rose in his mouth. Then there is Great Tiger, the Indian who gets mystical powers from a magic turban that he uses to win boxing matches. Does anyone else find it odd that Nintendo makes the French character in the game (Glass Joe) a wallflower who falls over in 1 punch? What are you trying to imply here Nintendo?
Contra: In many ways Contra is like a prequel to Independence Day. Two American guys down to the flat-tops, blond hair and 80s jeans that destroy an entire alien race...with a machine gun. Of course they are Americans! The aliens landed in New Zealand of all places, but oddly there are no Kiwis in sight to help these two amazing warriors. I mean, heaven forbid some people of other nationalities help these two good samaritans (who are probably in New Zealand for a Def Leppard concert) that find the time in their busy schedule to get rid of the alien problem without the help from anyone else.
Tecmo Bowl Bo Jackson: The most dominant video game athlete of our time. In 1989 I really thought video game Bo Jackson deserved to be on the cover of Sports Illustrated instead of the real Bo Jackson. It's hard not to detect some reverse racism here. Sure, Bo was one of the NFL's most dominant running backs in 1989, but going for 99 yard runs twice in the same play before scoring a touchdown? That freak athleticism was reserved for video game Bo. Him and video game Mike Tyson (one punch and he'd knock you down in Punch Out...which we've talked about already) did nothing but fuel stereotypes about both those guys being unstoppable in real life. Which probably didn't help them at all. Every time we saw Bo in real life we thought he'd run the ball in for a touchdown which of course isn't realistic...no wonder Michael Jordan wanted no part of NBA Jam.
Duck Hunt Dog - I'm not sure what to make of the annoying Duck Hunt Dog. Did the creators hate hunting dogs so much that they wanted everyone who played their games to feel the same way? Or, did they love hunting dogs, and give Duck Hunt Dog a ridiculous amount of confidence? Think about it! What other four-legged creature could laugh at a pissed off duck hunter who's carrying a loaded rifle and just missed a chance to shoot dinner... and survive? It's ok. I know you're wondering why the Duck Hunt Dog has been left off those inspiring LinkedIn memes you read every day. Me too.
Toads - It's quite clear that video game makers have an issue with toads. Take Star Fox's Slippy Toad for example. This nuisance of an amphibian is clearly the sidekick love child of Robin and Ralph Wiggum. Incidentally, Toad, the pubescent go-karter from the Mario Bros franchise who loves hugging curbs and never shuts up, isn't even actually a toad. Nintendo just decided to create a character that would unanimously win the award for most irritating human being on the planet...and then name him Toad. Seriously. If Toad had a Facebook account he'd be that person who likes their own comments.
Pokemon Go has really ramped up interest in retro video games and it makes perfect sense. Kids want to play with grown-up toys and grown-ups want to cling onto things that make them feel young. A fortune cookie once told me that those who are unaware of history are destined to repeat it.
Unless you've seen the stereotypes in retro video games. In that case ignorance is bliss.