The following is a guest post from Kirby.
I’m a feminist, queer, white, cis-gendered woman who lives in Boston. I’m one of the co-founders of the Bitches of Destiny, a cabaret, performance art & burlesque troupe, and on the side I’m a software development project manager. I have a tumblr (http://thisdamnhouse.tumblr.com) and a blog (http://kirbybits.wordpress.com), and I read the entire internet every day.
Disclaimer: When playing games, I spend my time (and dollars) almost exclusively on casual games – online, on my iPhone, and on Facebook. Also, I’m a g-g-g-girl. The combination of these two things means it never occurred to me that I could/should/would ever identify as a “gamer” or someone who participates in video game culture. And yet, here we are.
Today I was poking around on Kongregate.com looking at new games, and came across Fairy Princess Escape, a game published by Games2Girls and described by them as, “a nice escape game designed for girls.” Let’s take a look at the title screen, shall we:
There are a few things here that are…I’m searching for a term like “red flag” but less severe, but I keep coming up with “pink flag” and that clearly is kind of the “problem”. I personally do not participate in the crusade against pink and purple for “girl” toys – I’d actually be much more interested in adding those colors to the spectrum of “boy” toys, if anything. I like pink, I like purple, and I think taking away the tools and props of performative femininity doesn’t serve anyone except people who already know they don’t want them (spoiler: I’m someone who wants them). And I’ll just leave this here: [giant discussion about (re)claiming feminine/gender performance for oneself and enjoying it on one’s own terms vs. long-term potentially subconscious cultural pressure to conform to gender standards]
Anyway! While “girl” is often used in games to refer to anyone female or anyone who is a woman (and if you don’t think those are different, google “sex vs. gender”, you’re welcome), “girl” is often used in the wider world to refer to juvenile or prepubescent women – i.e. this could in fact be a game designed for young girls! (She thought to herself, before playing.) And since I was once a girl, and I am currently a woman who likes “escape the room” games (ETRGs), and since at least this wasn’t another doll dress-up “game”, I figured I’d give it a whirl.
The game overall is cute and pretty simple – supporting my theory that this is not a game for “girls” but for actual girls. The art in the rooms has a cartoony feel that fits with the premise and assumed target age, with some cute nods to traditional fairytales (like a picture of the Evil Queen in the Fairy Princess’ prison cell):
The puzzles likewise have some aspects that could be perceived as “girly”, although if you play enough ETRGs, the puzzles and items are often so random, coins and gems and a fairy wand really don’t stand out as things created for a particular age or gender. The rooms and clues, while perhaps a little more in a “I think this is what little girls like” vein (horses, bright colors) than a more typical ETRG, are still nothing I would find out of place in even an ETRG designed for adults:
Further supporting my assumption that this is a game for little girls is the built-in hint system. If you get stumped (or, like me, wonder “what’s this button do?”), you can click on the “hint” button and a little pop-up will overtly point out exactly what you’re supposed to be doing or getting out of that particular game screen:
A little simplistic, but again – it’s an ETRG designed to be solveable by kids. I’ll even go so far as to say it’s a game aimed at little girls who are swept up in the Disney Princess-type little girlhood, who maybe like pretending they’re Tinkerbell, and who maybe covered themselves in glitter and tried to fly from a very high tree branch in their back yard when they were nine years old and were lucky not to break anything. (Hypothetically.)
…And as an adult woman with a Disney Princess past, I have to say it was fun to play a first-person point-of-view game that was overtly feminine in a way that wasn’t also designed to give male players an erection. There is no femininity-as-sexuality in the game (like high heeled shoes or cleavage-y outfits), it’s straight up girl stuff on the level of My Little Pony, not Bratz. However, nothing about the game play is really repelling to boys or men (aside from, perhaps, the title screen) – it’s a straight-forward (albeit very easy) ETR game, and it just so happens that you’re a princess trapped in a castle instead of an amnesiac man trapped in an abandoned hospital or something. It was nice to clearly be playing a girl with agency…kind of the game equivalent of reading a Young Adult novel.
Everything was going so well! …Until I beat the game and saw the win screen:
So instead of holding to the formula of an ETR game (which is generally either a cut scene or still image with the protagonist, y’know, escaping the room), I learned that while the game is called, and I thought I was playing, Fairy Princess Escape, it’s actually Fairy Princess Rescue. They actually went out of their way to make it explicit that the girl needs saving – and they’re delivering this message directly to young girls. That warm, fuzzy agency I was feeling while playing the game was gone, replaced by the all-too-familiar feeling of being forced to play a man. on a quest. to save a princess.
Post script: to anyone reading this thinking, “for the love of Jove, it’s only a 10-minute game for little girls!” EXACTLY. Instead of thinking that it was possible for a little girl to spend 10 minutes of her day feeling like she could role-play as a princess who is capable of solving her problems, I now have to throw this onto the truly massive pile of “you are an object to be rescued,” social conditioning that girls are already bombarded with. The sometimes-voiced assumption that, “girls can’t do ___” or “girls are bad at ___” is an assumption built on life experience lacking in girls who can ___ or are good at ___, often because girls grew up being told they couldn’t or would be bad at those things. (Vicious circle, look it up.) And this destructive set of expectations will continue until we figure out a way to deliver other messages to women and girls – which is much easier to do and more likely to happen 10 minutes a time, rather than expecting everything to just suddenly, spontaneously get better. And I thought I’d stumbled across something like that, on Kongregate of all places…and so it was extra disappointing to discover that nope, I shouldn’t have gotten my hopes up. Status is still tiresomely quo.