The Representation of Fat Characters in Retro Video Games

[ In a conversation on Twitter with @KivaBay, she challenged me to write about the representation of fat characters in retro video games. Here is my attempt. ]


Quick: Name the first fat character in a retro video game that you can think of.

For many, this may not be an easy task. When we look to old video games for representation, the result is often a sad landscape of narrow-minded sameness. If finding a relatable player-character is important to you, then hopefully you are a thin young white boy with a kidnapped girlfriend. Or maybe you could be a spaceship.

The first character I could think of that is intentionally portrayed as being Definitely Larger Than The Mainstream Beauty Standard was actually Ursula, the final boss from Capcom’s adaptation of Disney’s The Little Mermaid. Of course, this does not count – the tentacled sea witch does not originate from the gamingverse, much like choosing Wolverine as your favorite video game character hardly has any merit if we are trying to examine the medium with any critical seriousness.

The first real contender I thought of was King Hippo.


And what an interesting entry. In the action boxing thriller Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out! (NES), Hippo is treated as the most obviously out-of-shape boxer, although his actual fightin’ chops outweigh (no pun intended?) many of the lesser match-ups. The key to knocking him down for the count involves a degrading sight gag, complete with dropped shorts and a distended-gut-as-weak-spot routine. The whole style of the match is a bit off-kilter from the norm (granted, the other opponents include teleporters and on-the-nose stereotypes), but at least all of the other boxers have a listed weight – for King Hippo’s profile, his weight is listed as “???”.

Not the most encouraging portrait for a role model, eh?

As we will see, overweight people in classic games tend to be treated as something more akin to sideshow freaks than true flesh-and-blood people of equal value and worth. Although I am not setting out to comprehensively catalogue every single big-boned person that was ever drawn with a few more pixels than the rest, I think any reasonable person would understand that the era we typically associate with “retro video games” was not exactly a fat-friendly culture.

Even when a non-player character was portrayed as helpful, on the side of “good,” we deal with problematic portrayals. Past the crack in the wall of the Pyramid of Power in The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (SNES) lies someone who grants our hero, Link, some help to defeat the nefarious Ganon.


And what is this helpful character’s name? … well, she is not given a name, but is known as The Fat Fairy. You may hear of a friendlier rendition, The Cursed Fairy. This moniker is explained in her dialogue, “I know I don’t quite have the figure of a faerie. Ganon’s cruel power is to blame!”

Right. Her large figure is written as the result of cruelty. Consider how twisted this is: From a villain so powerful that mass murder is not out of the question, what is his chosen course of wrath? Making someone overweight. This is, apparently, an ultimate evil. After all, “the figure of a faerie,” that of a good and noble, enchanted and elegant persona, must be thin.

When you scour video gaming’s past to find fat-people characters, your brain begins to go to some strange, maybe even regrettable places. You find yourself wondering things, things like: Is Wendy O. Koopa fat? Are Gorons fat? Do we want them to ‘count’ in our tally here? Are we keeping score? Should we?


Here’s a weird one: In Mega Bomberman for the Sega Genesis (it goes by other names for other systems), in multiplayer mode you can select from different bombing characters. One of them is Big Bomber who, in the instruction booklet, has his A.I. personality described: “Rushes to find and grab all the items he can.” He is also depicted holding a knife and fork. In the actual gameplay, such knife and fork cannot be found.


Y’know, I don’t even know about Karnov. Is he short and stocky? Is he tall and muscular? Does he have well-cut abs, or a bit of a paunch? Am I playing as a statuesque figure of the masculine ideal, or some drunken bar-brawling Everyman? Is he a circus strongboy or an emissary of the gods?


One thing I do know: Eventually, video games did go beyond the starfields of ancient space battles and into the realms of player-characters. Pac-Man can be cited as the first recognizable gaming mascot, and thus ushered in an era of increasingly complex characterizations.

Then we even begin to see games explore this idea of physical weight in their characters, an idea of heaviness. Not just in appearance, but even as to how their heft is programmed into the physics rules of the game at hand.


In fighting games, larger combatants like the sumo wrestler E Honda tend to be less agile. In Super Mario Kart, the bigger drivers Donkey Kong and Bowser cause their vehicles to have slower acceleration than the others, although with a higher top speed. However, my favorite implementation of weight in an old-school videogame has to be Ice Hockey.

Ice Hockey is a relatively simple, early sports sim for the NES console. The key to its potential for tactical depth and memorability is that it lets you pick the weight of each member of your four-athlete squad. Each position has three options, described perhaps as Skinny Guy, Medium Guy, and Fat Guy.


Their differences are not merely in appearance, though: The Skinny Guy skates faster and wins more face-offs, but has weak shots. Medium Guy is an all-around average specimen. Then there is the Fat Guy, who moves the slowest, but bowls over those of lesser weight and hits the hardest shots by far. Basically: Fat Guy is the best. My own preference is two Big, one Medium, one Small for my picks.

I considered some other examples of fat characters in retro video games. Helga is a provocative one; she is the sole female entrant in ClayFighter, a Viking operette who quite literally throws her body around as an attacking style.


Then I considered Wario, which quickly led me to realize an example that I will summarize in an image and let readers draw their own conclusions on:


Honorable mentions: Bear Hugger, Big the Cat, Krew, Fatman, Dr. Robotnik, CJ, Snorlax, Chang Koehan, and Heavy Weapons Guy who, interestingly enough, was not really as much of a “fat guy” in the original Team Fortress.

Looking to the past can help inform our future choices. I am no expert in intersectional issues, but I think at least that there is value in opening a dialogue – especially in areas a community has barely handled before. Even if just to think and consider, I would love to see the retro gaming community open up for conversation. Questions like these may be a decent start.

  • What are some other examples of fat characters in retro video games that I have missed?
  • How important is it to you that your game’s protagonist look like you?
  • Does it make you feel uncomfortable to play as a fat character?
  • How else has representation played out in gaming’s past?
  • What differentiates good representation from bad representation?
  • How can you support someone who may feel like their body is labeled negatively by others?

Thanks for reading.

What do you think of this post?
  • Hop! 

About NintendoLegend

Eric Bailey is Top Frog of He also blogs at You can follow him on Twitter, @Nintendo_Legend.


  1. Speaking from the experience of being extremely overweight (I’m heavier than anyone else I’ve ever known) this doesn’t bother me at all. The representation of fat people in games is fairly low, I’ll grant you that – however, in games most people are fairly active, especially the players character. Activity is tiring, fat people tend to not be too active. Games are at odds, generally with the fact that overweight people aren’t usually outside being all active and mobile like in a game world

    I am disappointed by myself, not because I’m fat, but because what that entails. Not being able to go out for fear of being mocked by strangers – being unable to do things normal people can do, and do fairly quickly. For example it takes me a long-ass time to take a shower, and by the end of it I’m usually exhausted/sweatier than when I went in. I’m not disgusted by fat people though unlike some people, and generally get along with anyone when meeting them for the first time. I actually, at one point lost a LOT of weight on a really good diet but afterwards fell back into bad habits and put it all back on again. I didn’t mean to go off on a tangent there, I just wanted to let anyone reading know where I was coming from in my response.

    Your E.Honda example was the first character I thought of, but his representation is fairly positive (mainly because Sumo wrestlers have a specific routine of what they eat to achieve their body type, rather than it just being out of neglect of their own health) Honda’s a happy guy, strong and is just as viable an option as skinny characters like Dhalsim or Chun Li. His overall speed isn’t a weakness due to his strength being so high.

    In the end though, I reckon that like any form of representation in video games, it should be about the person – their personality – not their outward appearance. A well written character, regardless of where they’re from, gender, sexual orientation or even body size definitely trumps a character put in there just for the sake of having a group of people represented. To be honest I’m getting exhausted with all these different groups complaining that they don’t see enough X-sexuality of the Y-demographic from Z-location – Games are art. I’d rather let the artists have a vision – its cool to see diversity, but not if it stemmed from complaining – and as a result, costing the artists innovation and creativity. Let representation happen naturally, instead of it being shoehorned in to save face and appease. We’ve seen many examples of games getting it right, the medium is maturing – maybe not as fast as some people demand of it, but it’s getting better.

  2. I dont know if it’s important, but in Saint’s Row 3 and 4 i made a fat character that resembles me.

  3. The first one I thought of was King Hippo. I was surprised you didn’t bring up the fact that he seems to be named after a hippopotamus.

    Unlike the above commenter and more people than I’d like to see online, I do understand why people complain “that they don’t see enough X-sexuality of the Y-demographic from Z-location.” Sure, games are art and artists have a right to their artistic vision. That’s not the problem. I keep hearing “if people want those characters, why don’t they make their own games/stories/etc.” The thing is, some people do, but you have to admit that the industry is set up to make it very difficult for these people to even have a chance to make their game or see it succeed. I’m certain lots of people do bother trying because of this as well. Hell, when you have these large corporations and developers deciding to not have a female character or a non-white character because they think it’ll ruin it for white dude gamers, you couldn’t have a clearer indication that the system is rigged.

    Anyway, even as a cishet white guy who is often described as scrawny, I still understand why these people are asking for better representation. French is my mother tongue, but I’m Acadian, not French or Québécois. I e never heard my language spoken or written in any video game until a couple years ago when I discovered some guy making an Acadian RPG. My reaction to seeing French the way I speak/write it was incredible. It just felt so wonderful to see myself, my people, in a video game. I was honestly surprised by how emotional it made me. My ancestors came from France over 400 years ago and I still get annoyed by the ridiculous French-bashing jokes.

    Because of all this, I can only imagine how women and any minority group feels when they find a game they enjoy that also happens to have not only someone like them in it, but someone like them not portrayed as a joke or stereotype. And as for fat characters in gaming, and even obese people in real life, what you’ve written has made me think and realize that they really seem to be the last group of people the majority of people have no problem mocking and belittling. It’s fine the the above commenter says that this doesn’t bother them at all, it seems the rest of the comment shows this isn’t true when they said they fear going out in public, lest they get mocked. I think the “fat video game character-as-joke” trope is part of that problem. Imagine if games, movies, tv, etc., didn’t portray overweight folks as jokes, slobs, useless, human garbage, pathetic, etc. Could non-obese people possibly start treating those who for whatever reason happen to not be as thin with more respect, or at least stop disrespecting them solely because of their weight? If all you see in every medium is “look at that fat guy. Let’s push him and make him fall. Let’s laugh at him and insult him. Haha. What a loser,” maybe so many people wouldn’t feel that this is perfectly acceptable behaviour in real life. Maybe if nuanced, well-written characters, playable characters, who just happen to be fat started showing up in games, some people who happen to not be super thin would get MORE enjoyment out of them. It worked with me and something as simple as language. I got to feel like I was really playing myself in the game. It wasn’t even some high fantasy or scifi RPG. Just a regular goes who goes to high school and has regular, every day life stuff for quests and it left me feeling wonderful. I want everyone to feel that way. I want everyone to feel that way so much and so often that they no longer react like I did to one game because they have so many options to play through a story as a gay black woman from Brazil or a transgender man from Burkina Faso. I don’t understand why anyone wouldn’t want this. Damn, I just made up those two examples on the spot and now totally want to play those two people’s stories.

    To make a much-longer-then-I-expected rant come to an end here, we keep calling games art, but then calling them just for fun, only to explain that they’re meant to provide a means to escape reality or a way to feel powerful and I just don’t see how they can’t be all of those things. I’m 5’7. I want to be able to create a short basketball player and still be able to slam dunk at basketball. I want to play an RPG where the main character is Acadian and French people aren’t called frogs, cowards, etc. the way I was growing up. I want to play a game where I’m a black man who isn’t a criminal. I want to play a game where I experience complex moral dilemmas and have to make difficult choices with real, in-game consequences, as a woman who isn’t basically a sex object for male gamers to stare at. I want games to let me feel powerful, let me escape my reality, let me experience life, even if only a small part of it in one specific way, as someone who isn’t like me. Art can be fun, escapism, and teach you things about yourself and others. With indie games, we’re starting to see the latter two in gaming for the first time, and I hope it spreads.

    • The very basic thing I understand about representation is this: Even if, *even if* it *did not matter* to *me* one bit, it *matters to other people.* So if I actually say it does not matter *at all,* then I am willfully believing that my apathy is significant but their care is not — to believe that games should not be more inclusive, I would have to have no compassion, no empathy at all. I would have to look at other human beings and say, “Hey, I matter, but you don’t. My feelings matter, but yours don’t. I actually believe this.”

      And, no, that doesn’t mean every cause is worth rooting for; someone can have an utterly insane, awful, hateful, murderous, terrible Thing They Want and I do not have to support it or condone it. But… having more characters in video games? Having more selections available? Seeing different kinds of heroes? That… that does not harm me. I do not even see the downside.

      It’s crazy to me to think of how many people would be upset if, in the next Legend of Zelda game, Link was an older black girl. People would be violently, horrifyingly angry about it — because they believe their pearl-clutching perception of the character is somehow more sacred than actual people and their experiences. It’s this bizarre, backwards thing. But even worse, even all the mainstream characters remain identical, they will jump through the most ridiculous hoops of argument to try and illustrate how it would be bad to include more types of people in games, or whatever roles.

      Just be honest: You’re racist. You’re sexist. Etc. There’s no rational reason you would oppose seeing more kinds of characters. There is not. For you to think “But, but I might have to play as someone who doesn’t look like me!” should, *should* in an ideal world be a sympathetic wake-up call, like a 2×4 slapping you in the face, as to why you should, I dunno, realize that maybe other human beings matter as much as you do, along with their wants for thei–

      Aye, but yeah, appeals to reason don’t exactly tend to have a sweeping effectiveness across the vast wasteland of a humanity that cannot be bothered. I dunno.

      Thanks for your insightful comment, friend.

      On a more lighthearted note: … do you know who Spud Webb is?

  4. 1) I didn’t say I didn’t understand the situation/problem. I said I’m exhausted of seeing it. There’s no problem with wanting to be represented – these things are immediately available in games where you can create your own character. It becomes a problem when people complain to the point of actively wanting developers to change the creative vision on a project. If they do end up changing their design documents to accommodate these complaints it stifles creativity in favour of calming and appeasing, rather than letting the project go the way the creators desire it. It’s like demanding Konami to make a fat version of Solid Snake, because we as fat people “want to be represented”. Or “Can you make Ryu bisexual, please?” Even though we’ll never ever see him have sex (outside of some seedy fan-art sites) – the criticism is coming from a place of wanting to be represented – and that’s fine – but the request itself utterly misses the point in the character and the interpersonal relationships they have within the written canon of the game’s universe. It’s easy to write these pre-established characters off as not bring real, or “I don’t care about their story” and thus writing them off as blank slates for which players can ascribe anything they feel like to, but being able to make your own character in games like The Elder Scrolls/Fallout or Mass Effect/Dragon Age, and follow whichever romantic relationship you want is available to whomever wants to pursue it – (not hugely at the moment, but games are getting more and more customizable all the time.) It doesn’t need to be in EVERY single game, especially when it retroactively screws the canon or lore/characters/story that people who love the games care so much about. Not all developers are hateful, bigoted and spiteful jerkwads… some really DO have a creative vision and want to pursue it – and they should be free to, just as groups of people are free to criticize or laud those games.

    Now there is the related sociological situation where products are all created for target demographics but that’s not only games… That’s everything. Literally EVERYTHING. If you can buy it, it was designed and thought up in a think tank and made to make money. It’s horrible, but capitalism’s biggest problem is that everything is secondary to making more money than you currently have. That’s business for ya.

    2) “Not having a problem with it” was in regards to fat people being underrepresented in video games. I don’t have a problem with how fat people are presented in games and the lack of representation doesn’t bother me either.

    Food for thought; Every character in a game is gender neutral unless their genitalia is modeled in-game. So feel free to call Ken a woman, or Vega a man. Until you specifically see them naked, they could have anything down there.

    • “1) I didn’t say” — I didn’t address you?

      “It becomes a problem when people complain to the point of actively wanting developers to change the creative vision on a project.” — Honest, honest question: How is any amount of desire a problem? How is it bad, inherently, by itself, just to want something to change?

      “It’s like demanding Konami to make a fat version of Solid Snake, because we as fat people “want to be represented”.” — Why would that be an issue?

      “Or “Can you make Ryu bisexual, please?”” — Why would that be a problem?

      “but the request itself utterly misses the point in the character and the interpersonal relationships they have within the written canon of the game’s universe.” — Then why not expand on the types of characters, interpersonal relationships, written canons, and universes we see? What would be the actual harm in that?

      “It doesn’t need to be in EVERY single game, ” — Of course not. Is it? Is this an issue?

      “Not all developers are hateful, bigoted and spiteful jerkwads… some really DO have a creative vision and want to pursue it” — Sure, and nobody’s stopping them. But… if someone had a creative vision for a more diverse character, what would be the issue? Do you only see it as objectionable if the vision for a character doesn’t match your own specific desires for one?

      “and they should be free to,” — Are they not? Why should these creators be free to make one set of character types, but not… any other? Why not see it from the angle of, hey, they’re free to diversify as well? If they wanted to that, would you see an issue?

      “It’s horrible, but capitalism’s biggest problem is that everything is secondary to making more money than you currently have. That’s business for ya.” — It’s true that marketing is aimed at a target audience. Why not aim for a bigger audience? Or, if you say it’s ‘horrible,’ why stand for it? Do you really think it’s horrible, or…?

      “I don’t have a problem with how fat people are presented in games and the lack of representation doesn’t bother me either.” — So if someone else *did* care, would you say that the validity of your feelings outweighs theirs?

      Why protest a good thing that other people like and want that does not harm you? Literally, what is the reasoning?

      • Haha, I thought Prime’s reply was to me. Now I can’t tell. Visually, it looks like a third comment, not a reply to anyone. Anyway, here was my reply to the reply to one of us.

        Hey, first of all, sorry. I was trying really hard to not make this an “I’m calling you out!” thing, so if you felt that way, it was not my intention. You just wrote some stuff that made me think and made some arguments I’ve seen before or arguments that I perceived like some I’ve seen.

        For your first point, the complaining doesn’t bother me at all. I just see it as people being vocal about what they want in games. I might not personally sign a petition to have Ryu be officially bi, to continue with your example, but I’d think it would be cool if Capcom came out and did it. Even if they don’t, someone out there might see the petition, see how many people signed, and decided to have a bi character in their game. That looks like something you used as a silly example having a positive impact to me.

        For your second point, I inderstood what you meant. I just tried to show that what you don’t have a problem with perpetuates/validates how people treat fat people in real life, which is something you admitted does have a negative impact on your life. Plus, it’s great that it doesn’t bother you, but I’m sure it bothers a lot of people, and that’s the problem.

        Finally, I don’t think being able to assume every character is gender-neutral unless their gender is explicitly stated is good enough. Same with every white character actually being black but suffering from extreme vitiligo. It’s not a serious or acceptable way to make people feel represented.

      • I’m not protesting – I don’t see any problem with anything you responded with – I’m simply explaining that developers are people too with their own ideas and creativity and shouldn’t feel forced into doing something just because people demanded it – they could if they want to, and I’d also have no problem with it if they did. But they shouldn’t be automatically labeled as bigoted if they decide to not represent something.

        That’s the last I’ll say on the subject, I get the feeling that because I’m showing a side of the argument which favors creative freedom first and foremost I’m being looked at as part of the problem when in actuality, I have no problem with representation in the slightest.

        • I have nothing against creative freedom. I think some people in gaming get labelled as bigoted when they justify their creative decisions for bigoted or, at the very least, completely ridiculous reasons like “Link is a character. He can’t be a girl!,” when it’s totally fine for him to be a wolf for some reason, or when an RPG has an all male party because “it makes it more approachable for players.” It’s justifications like those that makes the sexism word start getting thrown around.

          • Here’s my biggest issue with this.

            Nobody’s willing to accept “because we don’t want to” as an answer for some reason. It’s THEIR game series. Always has been. I am so sick of seeing people crack to the pressure of SJW bullshit because it never stops. As soon as they give in, the floodgates open.

            “So why can’t Link be a transgendered, gay lightbulb in a kilt?”

            Because that’s not what the creator wanted to do and it’s not what Link is. Deal with it.

            Refusing to make Link a girl is not sexism and people who think it is are idiots.

            • Maybe i’m being a bit cynical, but when you’re dealing monsters the size of Metal Gear Solid or Zelda, i’m not sure how far “what the creator wanted” comes into it. There’s too much money involved, too many livelihoods on the line for their really to be much room for movement once these colossal series’ are set in stone.

              Creative freedom is only freedom if THERE is the option to go down another path. Bailey hit the nail on the head further up. Could the unlucky team that has to work on the next MGS title use their creative freedom to make Snake a middle aged black woman? Between the marketing department and twitter FURY that isn’t ever going to happen.

            • Seriously, if all you want to do is construct strawmen (no one is asking for Link, the trans-Scot gay lightbulb, dude, chill) and call anyone who disagrees with you an idiot, you’re probably better off doing so elsewhere. What you’re doing is a perfect way to kill a discussion or debate, which was the exact opposite goal of the post you’re commenting on. And before you come back with “the evil SJWs do/have called me worse on Twitter/Facebook/Youtube/etc., Skirmish Frogs isn’t those places. If someone does that here, please let us know.

  5. Not so long ago mrs FatNick ended up in hospital because of her weight. The terrible thing was that this didn’t happen because she had a condition caused by pulling a couple of extra pounds – it happened because multiple doctors were unable to look past those pounds in order to correctly work out what was wrong with her (all was fine in the end!)

    Thank you for writing this Bailey. As a healthy and reasonably athletic person, its nice to see someone stand up for the…err…bigger guy for a change.

  6. Also: another honorary mention – Earl from Toejam and Earl! As their abilities mirror each other, the player has no handicap if they opt to play as the larger alien (though i’d wager this was more to do with design simplicity than anything else)

    • Oh my gosh, my Nintendo bias is showing… [ Great example — and even if it is ‘just’ design simplicity, I think that’s saying something in itself. 😀 Thanks. ]

  7. Almost every fat character in video games I can think of, new or retro, is represented quite negatively. They end up being the butt of the jokes, or seen as gross. And the fact that we have to consider non-humans like Gorons as representation of fat characters in games in pretty sad.

    In terms of gaming protagonists, it would not make me uncomfortable to play as someone fat. For pre-created characters I’m not super concerned that the character look like me (though, let’s be real, if it’s not a white man it’s likely a red headed white woman so I don’t have it too bad). I’d love to see a larger variety of characters though, whether it’s gender, race, sexuality or body type. More, different stories are good.

    Someone above mentioned that a well written character is the most important. Sure, but there’s no reason that the well-written character can’t be something outside the norm. And again, let’s be real, how many characters in video games are actually that well developed and written? It’s not really fair that a character who is black or gay or trans or fat and not terribly well developed is seen as being “just for the sake of representation” while game developers have been giving us poorly written white guys as characters for ages and it’s just accepted as the norm.

  8. An interesting article. I’ve never really thought about it before, but now that you mention, there really are relatively few fat people in retro video games.

    The only I can think of that you missed is Pokey/Porky from Earthbound and Mother 3. However, that’s not really a very flattering portrayal, as he is the secondary antagonist of Earthbound, and the main in Mother 3 (trying to destroy the world for fun). It also doesn’t help that he’s supposed to look like a pig (hence the name Porky), so obviously the designers were trying to make him fat in a negative way.

  9. I’m always creating fat characters like in most of every game’s character creation I’ve played. It’s kinda cute and makes me smile or laugh when playing.

  10. I like this. When discussing representation, very few people venture outside the realm of gender/race/sexuality, when in reality, there are many other ways people can be represented in media. And even in those realms, discussions of gender means “add more women,” discussions of race means “add more black people,” and discussions of sexuality means “add more gay people.” Not only does LGBT not equate exclusively to “gay,” it is a truncated acronym that has a bajillion more letters to it which people seem to ignore. And there are other types of representation, too. Weight/size is just one. It’s sad that no one ever really talks about them. There are so many more ways to see yourself represented. One example, during E3, I saw a person who was one of those “it doesn’t matter” types absolutely lose it over being able to play as a badass redhead girl in Horizon: Zero Dawn.

    Fat people generally get the short end of the stick. Not only is their representation sparse, when they are represented, it’s always bad. Fat characters in games are either the butt of a joke, or a bad stereotype. Even the non-human characters are like this too. There’s a fat shyguy in Paper Mario, named Gourmet Guy, who does nothing but want to eat. Fable actually had your character go back and forth between fat and skinny based on how much junk you ate. And for modern games that have character customization, not many allow you to make a fat character.

    I would not be uncomfortable playing as a fat character, but I would be uncomfortable playing as a fat stereotype. Although, I guess this would be true of any bad representation.

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