Dad genderswaps Donkey Kong for his five-year-old daughter

Mike Mika's five-year-old daughter wanted to play Donkey Kong as Princess Toadstool, so he hacked the ROM to effect the genderswap (see the Damsels in Distress episode of "Tropes vs Women in Video Games" for more). He's even posted a patch (ZIP) for the original ROM so you can play it yourself, or with your kids.

My three year old daughter and I play a lot of old games together. Her favorite is Donkey Kong. Two days ago, she asked me if she could play as the girl and save Mario. She's played as Princess Toadstool in Super Mario Bros. 2 and naturally just 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 am I supposed to do? Now I'm up at midnight hacking the ROM, replacing Mario with Pauline. I'm using the 2010 NES Donkey Kong ROM. I've redrawn Mario's frames and I swapped the palettes in the ROM. I replaced the M at the top with a P for Pauline. Thanks to Kevin Wilson for giving me the lead on the tools and advice.

Donkey Kong: Pauline Edition (via Waxy)

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  1. I remember someone mentioning something like this back in 1983. At the time I had a TRS-80 Model I and would read a magazine called 80 Micro.  They were reviewing a game that was basically a clone of Donkey Kong and basically questioned the gender roles (something to the effect of “why did the player have to always be rescuing a female?”).  THey also complained that said damsel greatly resembled a fire hydrant.

  2. This is wonderful; thanks. (Though for some reason my first thought was, “But how do we know the gorilla’s gender to begin with?”)

  3. Cool idea. 

    Next: Lara Croft reimagined as a male bodybuilder sporting hot pants and an improbably large bulge.

      1. Not really. Nathan Drake is shaped more or less like a normal (if fit) human being, and the only parts of his body that are usually exposed are his head and forearms.

        Larry Croft, on the other hand, would have ridiculous proportions and an outfit like something from the Folsom Street Fair.

          1. I was gonna say “he wasn’t intended as sexy eye candy,” but then again I’m not in that target demo.

            What say you, judges? (Meaning Antinous & Jerril)

        1. What’s truly annoying about that is that the original Tomb Raider Lara was… if not exactly plausible, then at least built like an athlete.  A ridiculously lithe and wasp-waisted athlete, sure, but at least consistent with her activities within the graphics limits of the time.  It’s after her success that she suddenly gained an extra two bra sizes.

    1. Next: Lara Croft reimagined as a male bodybuilder sporting hot pants and an improbably large bulge.

      I am also interested in your ideas and would like to subscribe to your newsletter.

      In b4 nude haxx.

  4. She’s 3 years old, can she really play video games at that age? I’d have though Donkey Kong would be quite demanding.

    1. Yes, I remember this as something I played at age 8 or so, and I couldn’t handle the mercilessly precise timing needed for jumping over barrels.  But then again, I’ve literally only just realised that those obstacles on level 2 aren’t custard pies, so I’m clearly an idiot.

      On a happier note, I think the girl character looks just like a child heroine from a Roald Dahl book, so that’s nice :)

      1. Matilda? I love Matilda. I also love Quentin Blake, who drew the best of Dahl’s illustrations. 

    2. I grew up with an NES, and I personally was playing games at the age of 3 alongside my older siblings. Donkey Kong is no harder than Mario Bros, and I was proficient at that and numerous other games.

      Although, even now, I still posit that Fester’s Quest is the most ridiculously difficult game in existence.

    3. If you want to be humbled, put a foot stool in front of your MAME cabinet and be gob smacked at what a 3 year old brain can handle.

    4.  I know a 3 year old who can beat me into the ground at Fruit Ninja.  So, yeah.  Never underestimate the power of a small child.

    5. There’s a whole market of video games targeted at 3 year olds. They aren’t very fast paced, but that’s because they’re nearly all edutainment games. You can’t have the letters whizzing past so fast that you can’t learn to read them ;)

      A 2mos old might be challenged to visually track things but a 3yr old has fully developed vision. Gross motor skills may be lacking, but you don’t need gross motor skills for video games, and Donkey Kong doesn’t exactly require much in the way of tiny precise movements. As long as you’re co-ordinated enough to mash the right button at the right time, you’re good to go… and little 3 year old fingers are perfectly capable of that as long as it’s not a ginormous X-Box controller ;)

      The only part of cognitive development that might not be up to snuff for something like Donkey Kong is the ability to focus her attention long enough (which will be aided by the graphics and sound fx) and patience with frustration (which teens are just as often lacking in ;)

      I’ve never been the controller-hurling type, but I know enough adults who are that I doubt she’s got much more of a handicap there than they do.

      1. No precise movements? Uh, the elevator level and the cement factory would beg to differ (and I own the machine and compared to the others in my collection it’s the one I’m worst at).

  5. It also warms me that people are around who can hack a ROM like this.

    I don’t know if “really bummed out” counts as “in distress”, but part of me also keeps seeing this as the game narrative made manifest between Dad and kid, with the game playing the role of gorilla :)

    1. Well, to be fair the thing is the tools to create & modify games nowadays are profoundly better than anything back in the day when these games were created. That said, there is a larger & more amazing thing here: Video game emulation on computers for games like this has existed since the mid-1990s. But it has taken 10+ years for someone to say, “Hey, let me do this specific thing to hack Donkey Kong to give it a new perspective.”

      Which is all to say I am impressed this dad did this. But I am embarrassed for the whole MAME/ROM dumping community for not thinking of this long ago.

  6. The saddest part of “Tropes vs Women” was seeing those old games remade into modern games-content unchanged. So this is a welcome reversal!

    1. Precisely. Also, the protagonist wasn’t technically Mario but rather Jumpman. So, either Jumpman and Mario are different people who happen to look similar, or Pauline is his ex.

    2. Quote from the video’s page: “She’s played as Princess Toadstool in Super Mario Bros. 2 and naturally just assumed she could do the same in Donkey Kong.”

      So, the girl indeed wanted to play as Toadstool, or so her father says.

  7. Good for him.  If I had daughters I’d wish I had the skills to do the same.

    So have the relentless threats, hostility, rape threats and shaming campaigns started yet?  Because reverse sexism etcetera male gamer douchebag wanker butthurt?  Has anyone made a game of him getting beaten up or otherwise harmed?  The breathless repetition of half-remembered smears and discrediting rumours?  The apologists who pretend there is some half measure where maybe the rape threateners have a point because rumours?

    Oh, right, he’s a male.  Nevermind.  His choices are not likely to be attacked by the apparently enormous group of male gamer assholes who exist only to be threatened by uppity women.  Carry on.

  8. Neat! This is the first time I’ve actually seen the fabled pie/concrete factory stage. Also, very considerate of Pauline to grab Mario’s parasol and purse for him on the way.

  9. Is this a violation of the DMCA?  I would hate to learn the little tyke had been shipped off to Guantanamo.

  10. “Now I’m up at midnight hacking the ROM, replacing Mario with Pauline.” – at ease, soldier, at ease.  :) 

  11. Next up: QBeth. Then 10 years later she’ll be playing Duchess Nuke’m and in 15 years Leasure Suit Larisse.

  12. Anyone have any luck on selecting the right version of the ROM for this?  I’ve gone through about 10 different copies and versions I have and none match the desired checksum.

    1. Finally located… Google “Here’s my mirror of the ROM, as well as 100 fun corruptions” and grab the single .nes file linked from the resulting forum post.

      1. I don’t know if one of you fixed it, but the link worked for me and immediately started my torrent software.

  13. The title works even better if you read Donkey Kong as the name of the monkey, not the name of the game.

    >so he hacked the ROM to effect the genderswap (see the Damsels in Distress episode of “Tropes vs Women in Video Games” for more).

    For more of what?

    1.  Even more so if you accept the implication that he replaced the monkey with a sprite of his daughter.

      And the link to the Damsels in Distress episode is made due to the fact that Donkey Kong is mentioned as one of the formative instances of the damsel in distress trope being used in video games.

      1. >Even more so if you accept the implication that he replaced the monkey with a sprite of his daughter
        Actually, that’s what I implied.

        And the link to the Damsels in Distress episode is made due to the fact that Donkey Kong is mentioned as one of the formative instances of the damsel in distress trope being used in video games.
        How does this relate to genderswap?

        1. …because Donkey Kong is one of the formative instances of the damsel in distress trope being used in video games. And this dad reversed that trope. I’m not sure what you’re not getting?

          1. Read the sentence again:
            so he hacked the ROM to effect the genderswap (see the Damsels in Distress episode of “Tropes vs Women in Video Games” for more).

            Thinking logically, “more” would mean “more genderswap”/”more hacking involving genderswap”. But the video isn’t about it.
            Mike Mika didn’t want to break the “Damsel in Distress” trope, and neither did his daughter. She just wanted to play a different game, or to play a game differently: “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. “.

            So it’s sad for me to see that agenda still being pushed on Mike’s behalf. Sarkeesian’s video got enough exposure on BoingBoing, this one just feels tacked on.

          2. His daughter believed that she lived in a world where the genders are treated equally in video games. Her father, wanting to keep that smile on her face, changed the world so as not to disappoint her. 

            If you don’t see how that relates to the link to the tropes vs. women video, I pity you.

          3. 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.

            Gormless.  He doesn’t seem to have even the most marginal grasp of cause and effect.

  14. Gender politics is fucking insanely confusing.

    Are we supposed to celebrate the de-masculization of Donkey Kong… or are we supposed to be outraged at the presumption that girls have to (and likewise boys *cannot*) like umbrellas, purses, and pink shit?

    I get the idea we’re supposed to be all “OMG this is awesome girl empowering” but all I see is the reinforcement of the same old gender stereotypes.

    What, girls can’t wear suspenders and like hammers?

    (looks at top of page)

    Uh huh.

    1. His daughter likes Princess Toadstool, aka Princess Peach. She is routinely shown as wielding an umbrella, so it makes perfect sense to add in an umbrella, to maintain the theme. Any true Nintendo fan would recognize this immediately. Also, the hammers are still hammers, the umbrella replaces another collectible for points.

      And making the sprite wear suspenders would have taken substantially more art investment. Pixel art is harder than it looks. 

      I’m not for the pinkification of all girl-themed things, but he’s basing this on both existing art and an existing character. Most of the theme shifts make sense for the princess we already know, and its possible he incorporated some of his daughter’s personal tastes as well.

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