I think villains get a bad rap. They are often blamed for the destruction of anything from a small town to the entire universe. They are constantly being attacked by would-be heroes who are out to make a name for themselves by taking down some perceived threat. But villains are not always bad; they are just misunderstood.
Take the most iconic of all video game villains: Bowser.
Let’s start with what we do know about him. For one, he is of the Koopa species and, by all accounts, most likely the ruler of a kingdom. He also has an army made up of other Koopa, Goomba, and other species depending on the game. He is big, often aggressive in person, and generally seems to prefer force over diplomacy. His standard modus operandi is to kidnap women, often Princess Peach.
It is believed that both his species’ name, Koopa (Daimaō Kuppa in Japanese), and derivation of their looks comes from kappa — water sprites from Japanese folklore that were said to live in rivers and lakes. These spirits were known for all kinds of mischief up to and including attacking horses and eating children. However, it is the tales of kappa attacking and raping women that add a truly dangerous element to their mythology.
I’ve now painted Bowser as even worse than you might have thought. He might be a rapist! However, that was never his plan. He could have done that easily. Mario, in Super Mario Bros., does not enter the story until after the kidnapping has happened and Bowser had the Princess for some time. If all Bowser wanted was quick sex, there was no real reason to kidnap her at all.
My first explanation for Bowser's behavior is that he wants a legacy … more children. His species could be dying out — Mario kills most of them! — and all he wants is for his people to survive. His plan might be to rape her — dressed up in the game as “wants to marry her” — but he does not want her body; he wants his children.
Even that theory has holes, though. For example, aren’t Princess Peach and Bowser different species? By the very definition of a species, they are genetically incompatible. If Bowser wanted her for just children, there would need to be some modification of either her or him. As it stands, his plan seems to include using her for something else.
This theory seems more plausible. As the totalitarian ruler of a vast army, he would need to continually prove his worthiness as a leader. With a "survival of the fittest" system in place, Bowser would need to act to prove his worth.
It could very well be that Bowser just wants Princess Peach as a trophy. Look, he reached out and struck terror in a neighboring kingdom with one move! Once that move is done, though, he would need to keep that trophy around as a reminder and take care of her. Princess Peach might have been treated very well in his castle.
Once Bowser is defeated at the end of Super Mario Bros., Princess Peach does not seem harmed at all. She even expresses thanks and offers to send Mario on another quest. Is she trying to get rid of him and stay there? She even uses the term “we.” Very suspicious.
His plan is to marry her. That’s it. But what does that mean?
It might mean that his kingdom would take over hers with the least bloodshed possible. Instead of armies fighting other armies and lots of death and destruction, their two kingdoms could be brought together through one wedding. In fact, it was not uncommon in many cultures to arrange marriages as non-aggression treaties.
It might be the case that the Koopa Kingdom and the Toadstool Kingdom had a secret pact. During times of great distress, it might have made sense for a weaker kingdom to ally with a stronger one and, in the process, promise one of its royal daughters to that stronger kingdom.
Bowser might have come for this bride, left with her, and then the Toadstool Kingdom cried foul after the fact. All it would take was the rumor of kidnapping as a pretext to slur the Koopa Kingdom and start a war. Then Mario comes along and sets off to right a perceived wrong.
Bowser is not the bad guy. Sure, yes, he takes actions that seem bad, but he just wants what is good for his people. Whether that be more children, the respect of his warriors, or peace between his and the neighboring kingdoms, he seems to take matters into his own claws to get the job done. He’s just a concerned ruler who cares deeply for his people.