By Aaron Wilson
After three decades of rescuing princesses, video game icon Super Mario is now dressing like one.
Super Mario Odyssey for the Nintendo Switch is the latest game in the best-selling franchise. It features the famous plumber trading in his overalls for an assortment of costumes—one of which is a white bridal gown that comes with a tiara, veil, and set of earnings.
This isn’t the Nintendo Switch’s first game to feature a cross-dressing character. The system’s launch title, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, requires Link, the male character, to go undercover as a female to complete a mission. Players can then choose to dress Link as a woman at any other point in the game.
These games’ popularity means players around the world—many of them children—are experimenting in virtual cross-dressing with some of the world’s most recognizable characters.
My son and daughter—who are six-year-old twins—own both of these games. They are well crafted, and we’ve enjoyed playing them together as a family.
However, we recently stumbled upon these cross-dressing scenes and are working to address them with our kids.
Here are three lessons my wife and I are learning as we walk our kids through complex themes tucked into kid-friendly video games.
Have eyes on what your kids are playing
When I was growing up, our family had one screen in our house—a stationary TV positioned in the middle of the living room.
By contrast, the appeal of the Nintendo Switch and many modern devices is their portability. Without oversight, our kids can now take screens—and games—anywhere they want.
It’s important for parents to have an idea of what their kids are interacting with and what roles they’re virtually assuming through video games.
This can be accomplished by thoroughly reviewing games before purchasing them, requiring games to be played in a high-traffic area of the home, and (my personal favorite) playing games with your kids as a way of bonding.
Rather than tossing these games into the trash at the first sign of something that doesn’t square with God’s standards, my wife and I are trying to use these scenes as opportunities to teach.
Walking kids through moral issues as they encounter them in games, movies, online videos, and other media outlets helps them grow in the spiritual skill of discernment.
Deuteronomy 6:7 calls on parents to talk to their kids about God’s rules while they sit, walk, lie down, and get up.
In the digital age, we might also extend this command to talking to kids as they explore virtual worlds like Mario’s Mushroom Kingdom.
Don’t let sin become a joke
Some of the dialogue surrounding the cross-dressing scenes of these two Nintendo titles suggests the game designers included them as gags to get a laugh.
As my wife and I walk our kids through these scenes, we want to help them understand the importance of God’s design and stress the seriousness of His standards.
At the same time, we want to help our kids learn how to address topics of sexuality in a way that demonstrates love and respect to others.
It’s not uncommon for kids today to witness a classmate dress as a girl one day and a boy the next. When that happens, I don’t want my kids to chuckle and point.
I want them to have the spiritual maturity to process such issues with grace and truth. As odd as it sounds, training for this can take place holding a video game controller.
Hitting pause—taking time to discuss
To be clear, Nintendo’s Super Mario Odyssey and Breath of the Wild games don’t feature cross-dressing as a major theme.
The opportunity to dress male characters in women’s clothing is more of a side quest or bonus feature to unlock in these games.
But for me, that’s all the more reason to pay attention to what my kids are playing.
As complex themes quietly creep into my kids’ games, I want to be ready to hit pause and help them sort through these issues within a biblical framework.
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AARON WILSON (@AaronBWilson26) is associate editor for Facts & Trends.