Luigi has been forever ridiculed as the fragile, awkward brother of Mario. If you look closer, however, he is actually an exemplary portrait of modern masculinity—feeling, and knowing it’s okay to not be the best as long as you’re doing your best. In this video, we explore the history of Luigi and how he became exactly the kind of man we need today.
Luigi has forever been ridiculed as the fragile, awkward brother to Mario because for a long time in our culture, being soft, or strange, has been seen as unmanly. But if you look closer, Luigi is actually an exemplary representation of masculinity today.
Traditional masculinity centers around denying emotion and being the alpha. We see this personified in Mario, who equates success with how fast he can get ahead and how many times he can “get the girl.” He doesn’t care who he hurts in the process and doesn’t even value family, as demonstrated by his poor treatment of Luigi.
Meanwhile, modern masculinity centers on many of the principles Luigi embodies—namely that it is important to feel, and it’s okay to not be the best, as long as you’re doing your best. Luigi doesn’t hide when he’s terrified; he’s not afraid to be vulnerable.
Mario: “Now we gotta go back and rescue her.” Luigi: “Well then we better go now, before I get scared just thinking about it.” - Super Mario World 1x13
Yet despite his fear, he’s still up to the task of body-slamming ghosts. Even with the odds stacked against him, he presses forward to try to save his friends and family. No matter how defenseless and pathetic Nintendo has sometimes tried to make Luigi, he still exudes true male strength because he’s confident in who he is—sensitive, trembling, and all. Here’s our take on Luigi, a portrait of modern masculinity:
Luigi: “Everyone know about Mario and how he’s so great at car racing and tennis and golf and baseball and soccer and painting and practicing medicine. But nobody ever make a game about Luigi’s charity work.” - “Luigi Finally Snaps” (2009)
Player Two: Awkward Origins
Mario and Luigi weren’t always so different. They’re twins, after all, and at the beginning they were identical. Luigi was originally conceived of as just “Green Mario.” He was a carbon copy, the same in every way but name and color. In his early days, Luigi was destined to fail by his very design—he didn’t offer anything new to the game. The logic goes like this: Since Mario is always Player 1, and Player 1 is considered “the best,” Player 2 is automatically worse. It’s a position notoriously reserved for younger siblings and annoying friends.
Luigi: “Mario wait.”
Luigi: “How come you always get to go first?”
Mario: “This again?” - “Luigi Finally Snaps” (2009)
Despite his catchphrase affirmation, “I’mma Luigi! Number one,” Luigi’s association with 2nd player made him the inferior one, even though his gameplay was indistinguishable from Mario’s. Eventually, Nintendo saw this as an opportunity to set Luigi apart. They made him taller and able to jump higher.
Mario: “You see that block up there? You bash it Luigi, you’re taller.” - Super Mario World 1x13
The controls were awkward at first, as is anything new, but It wasn’t just the controls that players found awkward, it was Luigi himself. Nintendo leaned into this and started intentionally making Luigi seem like a bumbling coward, poking fun at him. It appeared that Luigi’s given role was to be constantly humiliated.
Mama Luigi: The Caring Man
Once Mario and Luigi got their own unique personas, Mario began reacting to Luigi’s effeminacy, and not in a positive way. In an episode of the Super Mario World television series, Luigi rescues baby Yoshi from certain death and brings him to safety. Yoshi, being a baby, thinks Luigi is his mom. When Yoshi says that in front of Mario, Luigi instantly tries to shut him up to avoid getting mocked by his brother.
Being seen as nurturing is grounds for ridicule in the world of traditional masculinity. But by the end of the episode, Luigi starts to embrace who he is and stands up for himself. The episode closes out by fast-forwarding to present day where Luigi is tucking grown-up Yoshi into bed.
Luigi: “Goodnight Yoshi.”
Yoshi: “Goodnight Mama Luigi.” - Super Mario World 1x13
Luigi owns his role as his caretaker, regardless of what is being said about him. Even when Mario isn’t verbally mocking Luigi for having a softer side, he disregards his brother’s kind gestures and shows general disrespect. Stepping over people for personal gain is one of the staples of traditional masculinity. In this mindset, helping others is a sign of weakness, especially if it means they get ahead and you don’t. But already back in 1991, Luigi doesn’t deny who he is. He takes second fiddle in stride and lives by his heart instead of by gendered expectations.
Luigi: “What’s the matter baby, are you hungry?” - Super Mario World 1x13
Luigi Player One
Even though Luigi was introduced as a character in the Mario Bros arcade game in 1983, he didn’t get his own game until 2001 when Nintendo released “Luigi’s Mansion”—unless of course, you count “Mario is Missing,” an educational game where Luigi forces players to learn about geography and history… or “Luigi’s Hammer Toss” from 1990, which was less of a game, and more of an embarrassment trapped in a novelty watch.
As you can imagine, neither of these was a boon to his masculine image. Luigi was never cast as the main player in any Nintendo platformer because the masses, and the company, deemed him too weak and dorky.
Mom: “Be a dear and take your brother Luigi with you?”
Mario: “Ugh cmon mom he’s such a baby.”
Mom: “He just wants to save the Princess too.”
Mario: “He’s a f*cking dork ma, everybody makes fun of him!” - “Luigi’s Day Out” (2014)
That was from a 2014 fan-made video called “Luigi’s Day Out” making fun of Luigi’s sensitivity, which today has over 27 million views on YouTube.
No one saw Luigi as a leader. If he was included in a platformer game at all, he was the sidekick. He wasn’t trusted to be adventurous and brave. Even as the protagonist in his own games, he was either an educator or a time-waster (no pun intended), and didn’t have to confront the excitement and danger that Mario is known to face.
In light of all this, when Nintendo debuted “Luigi’s Mansion” on the Gamecube as the franchise’s launch title in 2001, it upset Mario fans around the world. They had come to expect an action-packed platformer with Mario as the plumber protagonist to go along with their fancy new gaming systems. But what they got instead was, at face value, just a terrified sidekick running around a mansion crying with a vacuum.
Not only was the gameplay completely different from anything the Mario franchise previously released, but Nintendo also didn’t put out a Mario-led game on the Gamecube until “Super Mario Sunshine” debuted in 2002. The playtime for “Luigi’s Mansion” was noticeably shorter than the multi-world landscapes in a typical Mario platformer, and the puzzles were relatively simple. Fans of the franchise felt robbed.
But from that point until the release of “Luigi’s Mansion 3” on the Nintendo Switch, the public opinion of Luigi has softened… just a bit. This is due to a few key factors:
“This shallow, emotionally disconnected approach to masculinity is so outdated and out of touch with the demands of modern society.” - “#Manrebranded: Why Modern Masculinity Is Fundamentally Flawed.” (2017)
Our society has a lust for nostalgia content, no matter how ill-received the material was originally received (except for you, Luigi’s Hammer Toss).
Technology has advanced to transform Luigi’s once-clunky graphics and controls into beautiful, unique environments and movements.
The general acceptance of non-traditional gender roles and the fluid nature of masculinity allow us to empathize with and support Luigi’s behaviors which were once ridiculed for deviating from the norm.
This is not to say that Luigi is widely accepted as the face of the “New Man.” He isn’t even in the starting roster of “Super Smash Bros 64.” To add insult to injury, when you do unlock his character, he’s introduced as “the eternal understudy.” Although that dates back to 1999, his recent promotional pictures for 2018’s “Smash Ultimate” aren’t doing his image any favors either. He’s still the butt of the joke, and the joke is just that he’s weird, he’s frail, and he’s unmanly.
A Great Guy
Luigi has taken all of this abuse in stride. His gentle disposition keeps him from getting angry and lets him stay focused on the task at hand, which almost always involves helping someone else. On Nintendo’s official website, Luigi’s bio describes him as “a great guy.” And he is! But in typical Nintendo fashion, there’s more to that sentence: “but he’s not exactly brave—and he’s really scared of ghosts!” As if that’s such a preposterous thing to be afraid of.
It’s also common knowledge that saying someone’s “great, but…” is just an insult in a bad disguise. Nintendo goes on to say, “Like his big brother, though, he’s quick to lend his hand to those in trouble.” Of course, any praise toward Luigi has to be couched in praise of Mario. This bio is so petty that it sounds like Mario wrote it himself and had Peach edit it to skew kinder. Mario might as well be this guy:
Evil Craig: “You know who we hate? Luigi! Here’s why! … He’s a giant p*ssy-boy. He has just slowly devolved into a bumbling idiot.” - “15 Reasons Why We Hate the Nintendo 3DS” (2015)
Luigi is generous and helpful. When he defeats King Boo at the Last Resort hotel, the building collapses on its own, and all of the ghosts he had collected are released. Luigi not only befriends the ghosts; he also helps them rebuild their hotel. By contrast, when Mario conquers a castle, he intentionally blows it up, along with everyone inside. Luigi has the moral high ground on that one.
And here, Luigi has just saved Mario from spending eternity inside a painting. When Luigi tries to get them out of danger, Mario says no and wants to go his own way, then leaves without Luigi! And instead of Luigi getting angry, he’s just like, “okay!” It would be easy for Luigi to hold a grudge against Mario for all of his machismo, aggression, and manipulation, but he is instead kind and forgiving.
Masculinity doesn’t have to be synonymous with aggression and repression. As we’ve seen through Luigi’s gentle nature, his expression of love, and his abundant fear, manliness is what you make it.
Teenage Boy: “At the end of the day it’s just about being who you are and not what people are trying to force you to be.” - Modern Masculinity 1x4
The core of masculine strength is truly confidence. In traditional masculinity, confidence means not letting emotion trip you up on your path to the top. In modern masculinity, confidence means being comfortable showing your emotions and letting them help you reach your goals.
Teenage Boy: “I don’t care who it is, if I want to show emotion, I’ll cry. I’ll cry if I want to cry. But some people feel like they can’t do that.” - Modern Masculinity 1x4
Luigi’s history teaches an important lesson: people will ridicule you for being yourself, and try to define you in ways that marginalize your worth. Instead of using that as a justification to be malicious back, use it as an opportunity to be caring and compassionate—even if it’s only to yourself.