January 2nd, 2006

Kirby is funny. No matter how badass he’s being, that’s hard to deny. Here’s a guy who eats his way through trouble. Everyone else has heavy artillery; at the end of the day all Kirby has is a giant, gaping mouth.

But Kirby isn’t only funny, he’s strange. A circular blob that sucks up enemies? In other situations, he’d be downright creepy. Lucky for him, he’s also adorable. We think, “Look at how cute you are in that hat!” and stop thinking, “Oh my God, what are you eating?”

However silly it may seem, Kirby’s approach to combat makes him quite unique. Normally, eating is a tactic only bad guys use: monsters, zombies, freaks. And eating your enemies to gain their powers — well that’s at the root of real-life cannibalism too. But real-life cannibals hardly receive a Kirby-esque reception, at least not these days.

Kirby might be getting away with it, but, as a culture, we don’t deal well with the thought of consumption. Little old ladies coo, “I could just eat you up!” and it sends shivers down our spines. As for eating as fighting, Kirby’s area of expertise, we’ve demonized the very idea. “Brains! Brains!” chants your typical zombie, drooling at the sight of tasty human flesh. Even phrases like “I will eat you alive” have entered our vernacular as markers of horrific conquest.

Why are we so weirded out by eating as fighting? There are lots of reasons, not the least among them the loss of selfhood boundaries implicit in the act of consumption. But it’s also a matter — surprise, surprise — of sex.

“Normal” fighting, in video games as in real-life, involves outward aggression. You wack someone with a sword; you shoot them with a bullet; you bunch them with your fist. You are invading their bodily integrity with an extensive of yourself; your integrity, on the other hand, stays totally intact. Weapons enter and create wounds, cuts, holes. This is penetration.

Eating, however, involves a wholly different approach. Instead of the self reaching out to harm the other, the self destroys the other by taking it inside itself. Bodily integrity is no longer the issue; consumption, not wholeness, becomes the mark of power.

How does this relate to sex? Simple: penetration and consumption are the two complementary opposites that make up the sexual act, involving, in the traditional sense, a man’s penis and a woman’s vagina. One penetrates, one consumes.

Thing is, though these are two equal parts of one moment, they’re not equal to us. For better or worse, we live in a male-dominated society — which is to say that the ideology of the male perspective has been accepted as the standard. We see things from the male perspective; the female is made other, strange.

Fighting is no exception. “Male” aggression is what we consider normal: penetration and destruction of bodily integrity. Penises really are weapons — not because they are used destructively per se, but because, in an ideological sense, weapons have literally been modeled from them.

Once we accept the “male” stance as the natural human stance, “female” aggression, or power in consumption, makes us very uneasy. Mythology is haunted by teeth-lined vaginas, by women who consume their lovers. Instead, we prefer to think of women as passive in the sex, of women being fucked, never women fucking. We see penetration as the act, and never consumption.

In order to calm our fear of “female” aggression, we’ve taken the power out of eating. We’ve coded it as benign. As for eating as fighting, it’s laughable. At the same time, though, it retains a certain amount of power — a power that reflects our own fear — in its otherness, its demonization. Consumption is grotesque, sick, bizarre, and so it is powerful.

That’s one of the keys to the Kirby attraction. He allows us to experience the culturally safe, silly representation of eating as fighting, and, simultaneously, to explore that funny feeling that maybe there’s more to sucking up enemies than there seems.

Tags: Blog

41 Responses to “Eating as Fighting: Consumption, Penetration, and Kirby”

  1. Brummbar Says:

    Aren’t you forgetting that Pac-Man, the first superstar video game character, “ate” for both hunger and combat?

  2. Brummbar Says:


    “Fighting is no exception. "Male" aggression is what we consider normal: penetration and destruction of bodily integrity. Penises really are weapons "” not because they are used destructively per se, but because, in an ideological sense, weapons have literally been modeled from them.”

    Paging Dr Freud!

    Bonnie… say what? Weapons have been modelled after penises? Which weapons, exactly? Or is anything cylindrical and/or longer than it is wide automatically a militarized phallus?

  3. Scott Jon Siegel Says:

    She’s saying “in an ideological sense.” It’s a weapon of violence that threatens penetration. Am I talking about a penis or a sword? Or a gun? Hell, I don’t even know.

  4. Bonnie Says:

    Brummbar, good call on Pacman – though he’s a bit less graphic, aye? Also, Scott’s got the idea on your second point.

  5. qDot Says:

    *nose bridge pinch*

    Welcome to Vore, Bonnie.

  6. Carl Says:

    I weep when I think about all the female scorpions who have been sucked into the male dominated realm of penetration based aggression by all those pro-stinger models in the glossy magazines.

  7. Brummbar Says:

    Speaking of… I have decided that the Pac-Man video game, and not a sedentary lifestyle combined with excessive caloric intake, is the reason I’m overweight.

    You see, Pac-Man conditioned me to think I must eat constantly or die. Pac-Man is an eating disorder simulator posing as a game!

    It’s not my fault; I’m a victim! Thanks, David Grossman!

    That aside, I’d suggest that early blunt impact items are far better examples of “weaponizing” the human body than any kind of penetration implement.

    When people first reached for weapons to augment their own abilities (which is all any technology really does), they would seek to enhance what they already knew.

    Blades and pointed weapons would come along later because human teeth and nails (our version of claws) are poor weapons – why would you want to recreate something mostly-useless as a weapon?

    Far more effective are your anatomical hard points: your closed fist, elbow, knee, ankle and ball of the foot, etc. (There is also grappling and strangulation, but that’s another topic). The earliest weapons, the ones which actually WERE surrogates for human anatomy, were the club and rock. Blunt impact all the way. Also keep in mind that clubs and rocks occur naturally, unlike manufactured items like blades. Also, since you use blunt impact weapons pretty much exactly as you use your own body, the learning curve is pretty flat.

  8. Brummbar Says:

    Also also… doesn’t the idea of sex as ‘male invades female’ depend on how you look at it? One might as well say that it’s a case of ‘female envelops male’ or something like that.

  9. MD² Says:

    “For better or worse, we live in a male-dominated society”

    I’d rather say we live in a society which considers itself dominated by males. The distinction may seem hair-spliting, I know, but has it’s importance I think.

    “One might as well say that it's a case of "~female envelops male' or something like that.”

    Not uncommon. First recent modern exemples that comes to my mind is from Neil Gaiman’s American Gods (The Queen of Sheba) and one (well two in fact) from the anime Wicked City. I’m sure my good friend the Japanese Porn Master could find half a dozen without thinking… may have to ask him. And then there’s loads of fairy tales hinting at something naughty like that (The oceanian “clam princess” is a pretty good exemple).
    But we’re confronted with the problem that sexually connoted consumption is at least as often (more I think, but I really need to get my hands on that thesis parsing a huge body of tales via Propp’s tools) on male’s side: it’s the wolf that eats the Little Red Hood, it’s the peasant that drinks the soup made from the Clam Princess, it’s the ogre that eats the children… (just remembered: loved how Katsuya Terada put sex back in the Saiyuki; the gourd scene could fit in our body of exemples…)

    “Also keep in mind that clubs and rocks occur naturally, unlike manufactured items like blades.”

    But then Brummbar you’d have to make the difference between real weapons and symbolic weapons emerging from them. The swords buried with bells near Japan’s kofun aren’t really usable as weapons, they’re too blunt, too breakable (plus, seen any temple bell in Japan ? I mean, implying that here we have a penis/vagina imagery may not be valid, but the point has to be addressed). The Oriflame, before it was a flag was a lance, and before a lance a tool not exactly usable as an actual weapon , not it’s role: it’s a solar/phallic symbol of authority (I’m rather on the solar side, but I’ve never been able to fully invalidate the phallic side’s arguments, and shouldn’t need). You could go on with the vajra, the chakram…
    I’m with you on that one, things explained via symbolism can generally find far more legit explanations in factual life (the reason Vikings were breaking the sword of their buried, anyone ? ^_^”), but that doesn’t invalidate symbolism, which can be added on top after. Or more probably at the same time: the form the response to facts is taking is a symbol itself of the socius (matrix/womb) that produced it before it is even acknowledged as a symbol by the very population that created it, recognising/choosing to see in it it’s own peculiar genius.

    It’s nearly 5 A.M here, I hope I’m still somewhat making sense. Back later.

  10. Bonnie Says:

    qDot, you never cease to confuse me.

    Carl, are those sarcastic tears?

    Brummbar and MD^2, I think both of you are right – that weapons start with what’s easy, familiar, and reflective, but evolve, literally and symbolically, into more complex items. This far down the line, it gets hard to talk about actual stages of development; it almost all becomes metaphorical.

    Also also"¦ doesn't the idea of sex as "~male invades female' depend on how you look at it? One might as well say that it's a case of "~female envelops male' or something like that.

    Silly Brummbar, that’s exactly my point :-).

    As MD^2 points out, anime is ripe with this stuff. I’m thinking expanding bodies in Akira, or the total destruction of bodily integrity in tentacle porn…

  11. Patrick Dugan Says:

    Why was it in Evangelion that whenever an Eva would get free will, it would immediately start to cannibalize the nearest angel, or vice versa?

    Or is that a rhetorical question?

  12. James Schend Says:

    Ok, I can’t read this crap anymore. Bubye.

  13. Brummbar Says:

    I guess that’s one less coprologist to worry about.

  14. Bonnie Says:

    Bye, James! (Thanks, Brummbar.)

    Patrick, such a good question, and I am such a sucker for an Eva discussion :-). I would say it’s because free will represents an explosive loss of ego boundaries (Think last two episodes, floating through choice/white space); the boundless selfhood, no longer contained or restrained, reaches out to consume other selfhoods, to destroy the ego boundaries of others. The way that, once instrumentality starts, it’s one big flood. Of course, once a self loses boundaries, it’s hard to define it as a self anymore, and therefore hard to define “others.” So, in that sense, I guess it is a rhetorical question.

  15. Ivan Says:

    Sweet Jesus, you are good. A quick survey of my gamer mind says that I’ve not (IIRC) met a single boss that actually consumed me as a player, and only a very select few that chewed on me. The most common is the tongue lash – which is extensive in nature as well. I could make a technical argument here, but that’s beside the point. Instead, I’d wager that it is some subconscious barrier that says to developers that it is not OK to let an enemy be so close+personal with the avatar – the extension of the player.

    Hey, extension of the player. Can I take this argument to a ridiculous length and say that “the player playing the game is making a penile stab at the virtual world”? :P

  16. Patrick Dugan Says:

    That would explain alot about the nature of most of the games we’ve seen, even the brillaint SotC and Psychonauts featured cocky male protagonists with a magic sword and psychic projectic abilities, respectively.

    BTW, in Yoshi’s Island, there is a boss, a frog I believe, who eats Yoshi. The battle takes place inside its stomach.

  17. Brummbar Says:

    The first person to compare using the original Atari joystick with male self-gratification wins the collected works of Judith Butler. (Translated into English).

  18. MD² Says:

    “I've not (IIRC) met a single boss that actually consumed me as a player, and only a very select few that chewed on me.”

    Resident Evil (that’s the whole point of the game) ? R-type (Which reminds me, Bonnie you ought youself to play R-type Final on PS2, Last stage B – if I remember well- was made for you; a perfect self-conscious take on the shoot-em up as sexual metaphor)? If you add swallowed to consumed, then: Chrono Trigger, Devil May Cry, Kingdom Heart (yup, the Pinocchio stage), Final Fantasy 6, bean beaten to Yoshi Island… And I’m sure if only I could go and look at my 8 bit back catalogue I could add at least half a dozen more in both categories.
    Also I think it’s quite often that you’ll see the avatar getting ingested, but it will more rarely get totaly consumed. Maybe because it implies a stronger sense of death ?

  19. Casey Gatti Says:

    I’m playing the new Mario Bros. Superstar Sage on the DS and the entire party gets eaten by a purple dino. The fellow Yoshis have just rolled a large boulder into his gut to open some space for my team to SQUEEZE through. I’m just wondering where we’ll exit :P
    Back to the topic…All I have to say is WOW to your article. It definitely portrays a very interesting analytical breakdown of Kirby’s character/control/impression dymanics.

  20. Ivan Says:

    >Resident Evil (that's the whole point of the game)
    Haven’t played a lot of the other games you mentioned, but I’m sure you’re right there. :) I just wanted to make a distinction between biting and chewing – by chewing I mean complete in-mouth chewing. Perhaps my distinction has to do with lips (or in the parlance of the article, labia) rather than teeth.

  21. Bonnie Says:

    Thanks for any and all compliments, guys. I’m always glad to strike up a conversation.

    Ivan: Hey, extension of the player. Can I take this argument to a ridiculous length and say that "the player playing the game is making a penile stab at the virtual world"? :P I think you could totally say that. Of course, if I said that, I’d be called a dirty man-hating feminist :-).

    Brummbar, what if I think Judith Butler is stuffy and old-fashioned? Can I take What’s Behind Door #2 instead?

    As for the whole ingestion/no ingestion conversation, I think that there are a number of games where player avatars are ingested by enemies, but that 1) this type of aggression is much rarer than “phallic” aggression, 2) that even this ingestion is usually, as Ivan and MD^2 have mentioned, not a total or graphically accurate consumption, and that 3) when mouth-related attacks do occur (or even just the threat of consumption) it’s always on the part of the enemy, usually some manner of monster — or, in this vein of thought, the demonized “feminine.”

    Also, I think you’re right, Ivan, that developers would think it both inappropriate and unsettling for an avatar’s, and therefore a player’s, selfhood to be dissolved in consumption. At least, when our avatar falls to the ground dead, we have a sense of the definiteness of our in-game bodies.

    Casey, best of luck coming out of that dinosaur. There was once a Magic School Bus like that. Such things never end well ;-).

  22. Brummbar Says:

    “Brummbar, what if I think Judith Butler is stuffy and old-fashioned? Can I take What's Behind Door #2 instead?”

    Butler’s books actually repel X-rays and UV radiation, so I’d hang on to them.

  23. qDot Says:

    *shakes his head* When I say something cryptic, it’s usually in hopes that you’ll google it or at least do some sort of research ( I realize this is not something bloggers usually have to do).

    Here, lemme get you started.


  24. Bonnie Says:

    No worries, q, googling was done – well, sort of, more like people googling. I asked a number of sexy friends, and was told, more or less, that it’s being attracted to the idea of something eating something else. Seems though that eating, and being attracted to the idea of eating, are somewhat separate issues. Also, the idea of being attracted to being the eater/ate, or watching the eating… again, somehow separate.

  25. Andy Evanko Says:

    I read this article a few days ago and something just dawned on me. If Kirby’s like the vagina, would that makes Meta-Knight like the penis? He does attack with a sword…huh.

    Well, that’s more of a joke, but still. :D

  26. Bonnie Says:

    Jokes usually make good points. It’s true, Kirby sucks up enemies only to take over their more traditional powers: swords, flames, etc. I suppose it’s hard to eat all the time :-).

  27. gina Says:

    Quick question: Ever since I saw the Bourne Ultimatum movies I’ve been hooked on Krav Maga. I live in the middle of nowhere Kansas, and there isn’t a Krav Maga training center for miles. I’m looking to learn krav maga online: Are there any good krav maga training sites around?

  28. Casey Says:

    If you haven’t seen it yet, you have to see how Kirby is portrayed in The Escapist Magazine’s “There Will Be Brawl.” Kirby is a couple episodes in, but it’s worth it.


  29. Jake Says:

    I always did like the kirby games. Probably one of the funnest games Ive ever played on the gameboy.

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