Diagnosing Bad: Bowser

A strange thing happened the other day. I was relaxing in the medieval-style castle I live in, when all of a sudden a giant Koopa barged through the doors demanding to speak to someone named Peach. He looked very embarrassed when I told him that the woman he was looking for was probably in another castle. I offered to make him some tea before he left, and he sat down on the couch and began to talk.

Today’s Villain: Bowser

Background: The quintessential villain of the Mario games, Bowser can be a ferocious enemy, intent on kidnapping a woman he is slightly obsessed with, enslaving the Mushroom kingdom, and… taking care of his children.

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Diagnosis: Intermittent explosive disorder (312.34)/victim of the system

Explanation: One particularly striking feature about Bowser is that he doesn’t really purposefully hurt anyone, particularly in some of the older games. He kidnaps Peach and leaves his underlings to rule over his “conquered” worlds, he destroys property, and he throws temper tantrums when Mario tries to thwart his attempts at domination, but it seems like his emotions have run away with him. His emotions seem to explode out of him, resulting in harm and destruction, which are the key elements of IED.

After all, he has certainly demonstrated several discrete episodes of anger that result in destruction of property or aggressive attacks on other people, and often these episodes are objectively out of proportion to what is happening in the moment. A man coming to rescue a hostage does not give you permission to try and throw them into lava.

But here is the duality of Bowser. When left alone, he simply goes home with the princess. He even lies to Bowser, Jr., about Peach being his mom, becoming teary-eyed as he explains to his son that he doesn’t “have” a mother.

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Shigeru Miyamoto has said that the Koopalings are not Bowsers children, either, and that Bowser, Jr., is his only child. This is in spite of the fact that the Koopalings refer to Bowser as “Dad” and Bowser trusts them enough to help him conquer the kingdom and rule over parts of it. Is it possible Bowser adopted them? If that’s the case, why would a creature who, according to his Wiki page, is “pure evil” adopt children and care for them?

Well… one point to consider is that Baby Bowser in Super Mario Bros. 3 (I think that’s the one. It’s been a while), living in his castle, seems to be protected by Kamek and the full-grown, time-travelling Bowser, not a King Koopa dad or mom. What type of parent would let a little baby try and rule a kingdom, with only the help of an old wizard who, frankly, seems like he couldn’t care less?

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Yet he does some terrible things, has anger issues, and displays some very maladaptive behaviors when it comes to coping and functioning. He appears to have no regard for the mushroom kingdom, Peach, Mario, or anything, except for his children. He is willing to imprison subjects as blocks and subjugate a conquered kingdom to his will and power, all so he can acquire the one thing he wants. But why does he want to capture Peach? If he wants to conquer the Mushroom Kingdom, wouldn’t it be easier to, I don’t know, just kill her?

Yes, I’m saying poor Bowser doesn’t have any parents, was raised by a somewhat-distant foster parent (Kavek), and has a lot of anger toward the world. However, he tries to rise above his upbringing by being the parent to his children (and even himself, when needed) that he always wanted but never had. And by trying to get Peach to stay, he’d be able to provide his son with a mother, too.

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Of course, this doesn’t excuse his behaviors, because the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and Bowser does demonstrate some very explosive and harmful behaviors.

Just the (Real) Facts: As always, having a mental health diagnosis implies that the presented behaviors interfere with a person’s ability to perform activities of daily living (hold down a job, maintain relationships, etc.). Everyone has times when they get angry and say or do things they regret, and that have lasting consequences (perhaps if you get into a nasty fight and lose a friend or break up with someone), but to have IED, there must be several episodes, to the point where it consistently affects your ability to work or maintain relationships.

Now on to foster care. While not causative, research has shown that there is a very strong correlation between time spent in foster care and maladaptive behaviors and adaptive functioning deficits, and it’s been estimated that up to 80% of foster children display some sort of “acting out” behaviors in schools. But this can be mediated by the type of home the foster child is a part of.

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If the foster parents are accessible, supportive, and loving, however, children tend to have fewer problems, and the younger the child is when he or she is put into a family like this, the more likely they will be to develop healthy attachment skills, which trickles down into other social behaviors later. It’s possible that Bowser did not have this sort of attachment growing up, is resentful toward his situation, and so become one of the children who falls into the percentage of little ones who don’t fare well in the system.

But, in his own way, he’s trying to provide for his children what he wanted as a little koopaling.

Have I made you feel bad for all the times you dumped Bowser into lava? Do you think he’s a victim of the system, or just mean through and through? I still have the list from last time, but do you have more villain suggestions for me? Let me know in the comments!

Thanks for stopping by, and I’ll see you soon!
~ Athena

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  1. True that he may be the product of a bad upbringing, but boy does he ever look angry the various times I’ve had to take him down. I don’t feel particularly bad from launching him into lava all those times, but given the fact that he emerges time and freaken’ time again to steal away my main squeeze makes me think he’s at least a little immune to extreme heat.

    Let’s not go off base and turn this into a discussion about turtles and their fireproof shells, as that would dodge the original question. There are plenty of villains out there who are truly evil – I don’t think Bowser’s one of them. I think he just craves the attention!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I always wondered… Bowser breathes fire, so he must not really be *harmed* by flames, right? If they’re inside him and everything, then he should be pretty immune to heat.

      Oh, wait. Sorry (haha). I’d agree that Bowser just wants *something* from Peach and/or Mario, and just has a poor way of asking for it! I suppose attention-seeking behaviors can also result from a poor upbringing as well….


  2. Bowser certainly has his soft spot.I think he’s mean, but he’s not as bad as some other villains out there. I mean come on, the guy takes time out of his day to participate in social events with Mario and the crew in playing soccer, tennis, go karting etc. Let’s not forget he teamed up with Mario in Mario RPG. Only game where I see him just not holding back with the beat downs is something like Smash brothers, but no ones nice in that game when you think about it. Even Jigglypuff is terrifying!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. True. I don’t think he’s Evil with a capital E, mostly because his character is fleshed out a bit and we can see other sides to him. A guy who tees off with his so-called nemesis can’t be all bad, right? And I forgot about that in Mario RPG!

      Omg Jigglypuff is horrifying in Smash Brothers.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. There’s been plenty of times where he’s fought with the good guys. Maybe the big man just needs a good therapist, to help him sort some things out. Then, after he kidnaps the princess and Mario comes storming up to rescue her, rather than fighting over an open pit of lava, they can just talk about their feelings and come to a compromise.

      I’d buy that game.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. You live in a medieval-style castle AND you got to have tea with Bowser!? I’m incredibly jealous…

    Thanks for expertly diagnosing my all-time favourite Mario character, Dr. Goddess of Wisdom. 😀 Morality aside, I have always admired his tenacity, and I can relate to his anger issues too. Plus he looks really badass. I play as him in Mario Kart all the time, haha.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re welcome to visit any time! Interesting characters stop by sometimes….

      Thanks for the suggestion! Bowser definitely is tenacious if nothing else, and I like his look, too! I do think he’s quite misunderstood, especially how he’s portrayed now.

      Ah, you play as one of the heavies, huh? I’m so awful (all the time cough) when I use the heavier characters. I’m jealous and bow to your talent.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yay! I’ll see if Lightning wants to go sometime too, haha.

        I do like playing as the heavies, but I’m actually terrible at winning with, well, anyone. I just enjoy sending Peachy flying off the track. Take that, princess! Bwahahaha!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. #JusticeForBowser

    Jokes aside, this was an excellent article. Maybe it is because I’ve always thought poor King Koopa was a victim of circumstante, too. And the ads for the Switch’s parental control are further proof that he is a good dad: 😛

    Funnily enough, not too long ago I saw a theory about Bowser acting out of resentment/anger at either being imprisoned. It is a bit odd that this whole theory stems from his spikey shackles, but it is worth pondering, considering that some of those official Nintendo comics mentioned Bowser’s dad was a known criminal (sometimes appearing on Kingdom’s Most Wanted, naturally).

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Great read! I love to read break down a of famous character like this in a light that we rarely get to see. I own the psychology of Star Wars and found myself understanding more about different psychological effects through that book then in my college courses.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! And, wow, yeah Star Wars is full of great character “issues” to delve into, isn’t it? Is the book really that good? That’s awesome. I saw it in a bookstore but sometimes those “Psychology of…” and “Philosophy of…” books can be pretty hit-or-miss.


  6. Yes! Love this so much! For all the “bad” things Bowser does, the fact that he takes care of 8 (though I only really consider 7 of them) children who might not even be his own as a single parent says something about his personality. Yes, he’s raising them to do questionable things, but he takes good care of them. He gives them wands and watches over their Switch playtimes. Haha.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. This is great! I love it and it gave me the idea I needed to finally finish my Memoirs of A Villain: Bowser post. Great concept and I would love to read more of these diagnosises!

    -Luna 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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