The character “Birdo” premiered in the Mario-verse in 1988 in the Nintendo game Super Mario Bros. 2. She is a pink dinosaur-like creature of the same species as Yoshi, steed sidekick to protagonist Mario. Sources such as The Advocate have described her as one of the first trans characters in the video game industry, but there’s an obvious problem with this characterization.
While many fans identify with her, the Nintendo company has yet to fully embrace Birdo as trans. The company instead has waffled on how to treat her character — sometimes depicted using “she”; other times “it”; always unaccepted — her depiction underlines a contentious issue in both fandoms and media consumption alike:
What types of representation are valid?
Do you call out Nintendo’s transphobic characterization for what it is, or do you accept the interpretation of her fans?
And how does this rewriting of history shape the video game community’s collective understanding of queer history?
The initial portrayal of Birdo’s transness was complicated. She was initially not in a Mario game at all, but the 1987 Nintendo game Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic or Dream Factory: Heart-Pounding Panic. It took place in an Arabian setting and was a promotional game for the characters of a carnivalesque event in Japan called Yume Kōjō ‘87.
That previous year in 1986, Nintendo of America had rejected a prototype of Super Mario Bros. 2 (later called Super Mario: The Lost Levels) because they thought it would be too hard for Americans to play. Doki Doki Panic was easier and met many of the series requirements. So with some minor modifications, they reskinned the game with classic Mario characters and released it in 1988 as Super Mario Bros. 2 for American audiences. Characters such as Shy Guy, Birdo, Pokeys, and Bob-ombs were initially designed for Doki Doki Panic and were kept in the sequel for the sake of convenience.
In the game, Birdo was a minor boss who fired eggs at the player. The manual for the Japanese version refers to her as Catherine, a man who thinks of himself as female, and the name Catherine is still used in Japanese descriptions to this day. The manual for Super Mario…