The A.V. Club ran the headline, “Luigi Definitely Has a Dick, and It’s 3.7 Inches Flaccid.” Kotaku said, “Bowser Is Only Four Feet Tall, Judging by Luigi’s Penis.” And Uproxx declaimed: “The Internet Has Figured Out the Exact Length of Luigi’s Penis, Much to Nintendo’s Chagrin”
Oh, to have such epistemic certainty. Luigi doesn’t have a penis—or at least there’s no evidence to suggest he does. The burden of proof falls on the party making the positive claim, and what evidence exists here is hardly conclusive or even compelling.
Let’s review it: The evidence is a promotional screenshot from the upcoming game Mario Tennis Aces, in which various characters, including Mario and Luigi, a ghost, and a ball and chain with teeth, play tennis. Here’s an image from a post by Tumblr user fortooate that seems to have set off the controversy:
Looking at the close up of the crotch, we can see something, but what that something is, isn’t clear. A turn of cloth? Perhaps. A convex form? Maybe. A penis? Wishful thinking. Looking for a penis in Luigi’s tennis shorts is like looking for the Virgin Mary in a piece of toast or insisting that cloud really does look like a dinosaur with a saddle. The mathematical marking therein has the air of scientific rigor, as much pseudoscientific and conspiratorial line-drawing does, but it only makes sense if we accept the axiom of Luigi’s penis as evidently true.
There is some evidence that Luigi’s brother, Mario, has something resembling human genitalia. In a 1988 comic by Kazuki Motoyama, Mario is seen pantsless with two lines that are likely to be interpreted as such. Assuming that comic counts as Mario canon—a debatable assumption—the lack of detail is still far from conclusive. Still, even if we assume that yes, Mario has a penis, it does not necessarily mean Luigi, ipso facto, has one too. Luigi, after all, is a being made of pixels, not the flesh-and-blood Italian plumber he is meant to resemble. It is possible that Luigi has genitals, but who is to say they do not resemble those of a duck’s? Or perhaps a male octopus, whose genitals reside in one its many arms?
As Jacob Brogan noted in his analysis of Mario’s nipples for Slate, “Mario lives in a world peopled almost entirely by animate mushrooms and sentient turtles. Mario may look human, but how do we know that we’re not simply projecting on him, imposing our own anthropocentric expectations of what a hero should be?”
I propose that Luigi and friends live in a timeless phantasia, in which events pass in and out of space and time simultaneously. If concepts like time are fluid in this world, and they evidently are, as both Luigi and a baby version of himself can race go-karts against one another at the same time, then who is to say other concepts like birth, death, and sex must correspond to our own? We are presented with no evidence these creatures excrete or have sex for purposes of reproduction or pleasure (and as the Super Nintendo classic Yoshi’s Island illustrates, babies are delivered via stork), and so one must remain skeptical—pictures of a lump in his crotch highlighted on a Tumblr notwithstanding—until further evidence accumulates.
The better question might be why we are so obsessed with the bodies of these characters in the first place. Video games are made entirely of numbers but are not obviously so. Perhaps that tension between the human world and the digital one that encourages us to fixate on quantities when we play them: the highest scores, the fastest speed runs, and this week, for some reason, on the exact length of Luigi’s penis. Mario characters in particular possess a sterility and genial blandness that invites curiosity. These figures reveal so little of their bodily selves to us, so we are left to strip them bare, scrutinize their nipples, and mentally rip off their pants to determine whether they are akin to a smooth-crotched Ken doll. When characters are scrubbed this clean of any sexuality, any whiff of it demands our immediate and obsessive quantitative attention.
I must also consider that it’s me that’s uncomfortable. That maybe I’m terrified by the prospect of the sexuality of a beloved childhood character? Perhaps I’m the dogmatic one, and it’s not only obvious but right and true that Luigi has a penis. Maybe that this small and frivolous bulge is worth (figuratively!) grasping onto in a bleak and fallen world, not because it is true, but because it is fun and a rare source of light amid an ever-encroaching darkness…?
No. Of course not. That bulge is almost certainly not a penis. No matter how much you or I wish it to be.