Hegemony of Play: Banjo-Kazooie

Posted by MiaPoulos on Tuesday Mar 12, 2013 Under Gender, Race & Representation

Hegemony of Play is a term that was coined by Bernie DeKoven to define the stereotypes that games and “gamers” accept during gameplay. These hegemonies can be attributed to the large number for white and Asian male dominance in the many of the big-name publishing companies (Pearce 1). One popular game that has adopted many of these ideals is Banjo-Kazooie, published by Rare for the Nintendo 64.

Banjo-Kazooie is a game about the quest of a bear, Banjo, and his bird friend, Kazooie, overcoming a number of challenges, such as solving puzzles, jumping over obstacles, defeating opponents, and gathering objects, all in the efforts of saving Banjo’s sister from the evil witch, Gruntilda. Based on the visuals alone, Banjo has been anthropomorphized into the stereotypical broad shouldered, huge hands and feet, large chested alpha male, very similar to that of Sylvester Stalone. While at first one might think, “well, bears are large to begin with and this might just be a way to overemphasize the strength of bears” until we look at his sister, Tooty. She is about half the size of Banjo very petite, and was even given adorable-looking blonde pigtails. None of these emphasize any traits of a female bear.

Mumbo Jumbo is another character that plays a role in stereotypes, but instead of playing on gender, he represents the common idea of a religion, shamanism. Even his name is a display of what people think of shamans. Being a shaman, Mumbo is able to turn Banjo and Kazooie into other creature, such as a pumpkin, a bee, and a crocodile. He has a skull for a head adorned with feathers, a “wand” (also with a skull on top), and a tribal-esque skirt. He speaks with an accent that makes one think of a Caribbean man, with a strong deep voice.

Humba Wumba, a female native American sorcerer was added in the sequel to Banjo Kazooie, Banjo Tooie and rival to Mumbo Jumbo (Wikipedia). Unlike the other characters, Humba Wumba looks like a person. Also, as her name implies, she is a more sexual character in the game, wearing short shorts and a plaid button up tied in a country girl style. This type of sexy look is what takes Banjo Tooie into the same statistics as other games that have scantily dressed women. She is also an ideal for native Americans. She, like Mumbo Jumbo, uses her “native American powers” to transform Banjo and Kazooie into various creatures, which is a strong stereotype for native American healers.

Bottles the mole is another stereotype that a player comes across when playing Banjo Kazooie. He is a representation of what people assume a nerd looks like, with thick glasses making his eye grow extremely large and a checkered vest. He is also very good at making electronic equipment, such as bombs and other explosives. He also always tends to have the inside information, most likely the reason that he is a mole.

Another character that might not be so obvious is Gruntilda, the witch. It is typical in many Disney movies that strong, intelligent, independent women are portrayed as being ugly or evil. In Gruntilda’s case it’s both. She speaks in an annoying nasally voice, has a hideously long nose, covered in warts, is foul-tempered, and green all over. Beyond just her appearance, Gruntilda’s reason for abducting Tooty can also be perceived as being sexist. Her intention in taking Tooty is that she wants to take her beauty for herself. Gruntilda has built this elaborate machine in order to do this. This is interesting that she has used her intelligence in order to change her appearance instead of putting it to better use.

These extremely generic and obvious stereotypes might be contributed to the large number of males in the gaming industry. In this case, it might be that the creators were making these stereotypes on purpose as a joke since the names can sometimes be extremely apparent to who the character represents. It is safe to say, though, that Banjo-Kazooie shows many hegemonies of play that attribute to gender, race, and culture.

1. Fron, J., Fullerton, T., Morie, J. & Pearce, C. (aka Ludica) “The Hegemony of Play.” In Situated Play: Proceedings of Digital Games Research Association 2007 Conference. Tokyo, Japan, September 2007. http://lcc.gatech.edu/~cpearce3/PearcePubs/HegemonyOfPlayFINAL.pdf
2. Banjo Kazooie. Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banjo-Kazooie

Comments are closed.