At The Quill To Live, we’re no strangers to butts. Or buts. So it’s only fitting that I supported video game critic Laura Kate Dale’s Things I Learned From Mario’s Butt. The book is an exquisite fit for coffee tables, and if you’re a gamer or butt enthusiast, it makes for a fun read.
Things I Learned From Mario’s Butt explores some of gaming’s most iconic derrieres, from Mario to Bowser to obscure characters like Vyse from Skies of Arcadia. The book bills itself as “A series of gaming butt critiques,” and it largely hits the mark. Dale handles most of the criticism herself, but other gaming personalities (Justin McElroy, Greg Miller, and others) join for guest essays. Most of the butts within get a few paragraphs of text. But some of the essays from creators eschew the criticism format and instead explore the larger meaning of rear-ends in game design. It’s good, butt-based fun all reinforced by Zack Flavin’s cartoonish renderings of classic bums (his depiction of Geralt of Rivia is my personal favorite).
It’s best to read Things I Learned with a specific mindset. Go into it with a smile on your face, ready to revel in bountiful gamified booty. This isn’t a thesis on butts in gaming, nor is it a takedown of the industry. That stuff is better off elsewhere (and much needed, given recent reports about Blizzard, Fullbright, and countless other studios plagued by rampant sexism and harassment). Here, Dale gives us the space to enjoy gaming butts and their myriad purposes.
Some butts serve as storytelling devices. Others shed light on otherwise-opaque backstories. Yet others simply exist to look good. Dale makes her criticisms fun and accessible. But what I enjoyed most is that she struck a delicate balance between explaining where certain butts originated and actually reviewing them. I love games, but I haven’t played everything under the sun. Even when I scratched my head, wondering who or what a character was, Dale guided me through the experience with ease.
Instead of a ho-hum bum exploration, Dale’s tome adopts the mindset of a lifelong nerd that will almost certainly strike a chord with fantasy and sci-fi fans. We’re not exploring the aesthetics of butts here. We’re learning why these butts are the way they are and what function they serve. What can these butts tell us about the worlds in which they exist? Luigi’s butt shows off his jumping prowess, and it’s slightly more toned than his red-capped sibling’s because Luigi has to work not just for his jumping and running, but for his time in the spotlight. Skull Kid? He flaunts his back-end even under the influence of Majora’s Mask, telling players there’s a childish spirit trapped beneath the mask’s evil. These snippets and analyses (though sometimes they can be a stretch) are fun meanderings into video game lore that most fans probably haven’t considered.
Under a microscope, some of the book’s (ahem) cracks begin to show. A missing punctuation mark here, a typo there, or Sheik’s name being misspelled (it’s ‘Shiek” in the book). Little quibbles, but worth mentioning so you don’t expect a flawless masterpiece. This book exists to make the reader smile, and it mostly accomplishes that goal.
I supported Things I Learned From Mario’s Butt on Unbound when it was first announced, but not at a high enough level to actually submit a butt for review. Two lucky supporters did, and now I’m kicking myself for not being one of them. I would’ve loved to see an analysis of Sly Cooper’s rear-end, mainly for its help in balancing the thieving raccoon as he sneaks along rooftops. Second, the perennially underlooked and underestimated pariah of the Mario-verse. The video game royalty without a crown. The ever-denied but consistently deserving purple pariah…WALUIGI. Sad though I am for his exclusion, perhaps Dale will release a follow-up in the coming years and finally give the WAAAA his due.
No review score here, because it just feels silly. If you like games and want a few laughs, Things I Learned From Mario’s Butt might be for you.