Style Savvy’s Most Glaring Issue

I played and finished Style Savvy earlier this year, and I kind of loved it. If you’re unfamiliar, it is Nintendo’s aggressively-marketed fashion game for the DS where you play as a stylist and boutique manager. You buy clothes to stock your shop, and help customers find pieces that fit their style and preferences. For example, a customer will say something like, “I’m looking for a skirt that matches my quirky style!” Based on key words (like “quirky”), what the customer is wearing, and sometimes the person’s personality blurb, you can figure out what brand they like, and then it’s just a matter of picking the item they asked for from that brand. Although there are occasionally variations (for example, if a person is wearing all blue, they might buy something that isn’t their favorite brand, if it’s blue), that’s how it works.

Despite how the game (perhaps necessarily) simplifies fashion and style, I quite enjoyed it. There’s a focus on using clothes as a creative outlet and a mode of self-expression, an attitude similar to that of many folks in the style blogosphere. But the game has a glaring problem that cannot be overlooked: your character, and every single one of your customers, all look like this:

A screenshot from Style Savvy. On the right are five different necklaces to choose from, on the left is a female avatar shown from mid-thigh up. She has a tiny waist and narrow hips.

While there are a few NPCs that have unique character models (though they are all thin, also), every other character has the exact same size-zero body. Since this game is on the DS, it’s possible that there are technical reasons for this, but that’s not an excuse I accept. And it certainly explains why I don’t need to worry about buying clothes in different sizes. But thinking about it, it becomes kind of disturbing. It’s not just that everyone is thin, it’s that everyone is exactly the same.

But also, fashion is notoriously sizeist and fatphobic. It’s no coincidence that Pepsi’s “slim, attractive” new can debuted at Fashion Week. (Really, the entire “bodies” tag at SocImages is ample evidence.) And yet, while the target audience of the game may be fans and followers of high fashion, the game seems to evoke the sensibilities of the democratized online world of street-fashion blogging, with its emphasis on self-expression and experimentation. But the vast variety of bodies that make up this world are nowhere to be seen in Style Savvy. Where are the women like St├ęphanie (whose blog subheading is “Style is not a size but an attitude”), or the Fa(t)shion February crew?

(This is not to say that the fashion blogosphere is a happy shiny fully-inclusive space–far from it. The young and thin bloggers are the most likely to get well-paying advertisers and free designer clothing. But due to the nature of the internet, it is still far less exclusionary than the fashion industry and traditional press. It’s possible to carve out fat-positive and inclusive spaces, like the Fa(t)shion February project.)

Sometimes games present worlds that conflict with our own experiences, breaking our suspension of disbelief, and in that conflict we can tell something about the biases and assumptions that went into creating that world. The world of fashion in Style Savvy is comprised entirely of very thin people, which is simultaneously a discouragingly accurate depiction of high fashion and a completely unrealistic depiction of the broader realm of street fashion. In Style Savvy, clothes and makeup and hairstyles are all that separates one person from another, but in the real world, a person’s body can be, and often is, an intrinsic part of their style. It’s certainly always a consideration–fashion is part sculpture, where different fabrics and cuts can change a person’s proportions: clothing and body work together to create art. The game mouths the ideals of fashion as self-expression, but it falls flat when the actual physical self is taken entirely out of the equation. People are different, and those differences should be celebrated, not erased.

About Alex

Alex posts some of her sewing projects and cosplays on her Tumblr; you can also find her babbling about sewing and games and Parks and Recreation on Twitter.
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20 Responses to Style Savvy’s Most Glaring Issue

  1. Sooz says:

    This was something that bugged me about the game, yeah. Although I think having different sizes might make the game more complicated than intended (unless clothing was treated as a magical one-size-fits-all thing) it’d be great to have some better inclusion of body types. (Also would be totally awesome to be able to have a chubby main character.)

  2. I am so grateful for you reviewing this/this type of game. I would never buy one like this unseen because that “no, no, nothing TOO GIRLY!” reflex is still lurking, and I wouldn’t want to read what your average games review site has to say about similar because I’d assume there’d be some ‘lol, girls’ commentary to anger and repel me.

    But it turns out that, though I surely share your dislike of the identical character models, it’s actually something I could while away some lazy hours with pretty keenly. Thanks.

    • Alex says:

      You’re most welcome! I thought it would be a game that would interest some of our readers, and you’re right about the coverage these sorts of games get on the regular review sites.

      Aside from what I wrote about, the game is pretty enjoyable. In addition to all the fashion stuff, there are some recurring characters, and sometimes they will just barge into your shop to tell you random things. The stories are so random and weird (there’s one about how the reporter character grew up on a peanut farm?!) I had to laugh. It’s a very polished game, too.

  3. Jayle Enn says:

    Is it bad of me for wanting to imagine this game as a dystopian nightmare, where everyone really is identical, and self-expression is only possible through the purchase and display of goods from a boutique clothing store?

    • Sunatic says:

      So I’m not the only one who ponders stuff like this. I noticed that in the FB game Cityville the citizens never step out of their houses unless there is stuff to buy in the stores; and then they swarm to the shops like woah. Can’t help but draw the conclusion that there is nothing else in their lifes but spending money. XD What a capitalist dystopia that game is…

      • Alex says:

        Seriously. Emily Short has a great column about how these sorts of sim games send deeply cynical and upsetting messages about life through their mechanics. An excellent read and definitely something to be aware of if you ever end up designing a game like this!

        • Ohma says:

          Ha ha ha, yeah, I’ve noticed that too. Though at least in The Sims (in part I’m assuming due to the designers not wanting to restrict what you put in your doll house) there isn’t much difference in how good an object is once you pass the least expensive items (which are also usually barely functional or actually trash). Like, the most expensive beds in TS2 were only better than the (significantly wider selection of) mid range beds in game terms by a few points which at most would shave about half an hour off your sims time asleep at most (valuable, but not so much so that you would usually feel compelled to nab the most expensive bed if you liked the one you had just fine). Maxis is unusual in the sim market though since they tend to treat their games more like toys than games where you’re intended to accomplish a goal (I can’t think of another game where a cheat code for more money was printed in the manual) which I think helps them *narrowly* avoid falling into the rampant consumerism.

          the way sims expansions are handled on the other hand i’ve always thought was a *bit* on the sleazy side, though it’s at least pretty easy to wait a few weeks and get a copy from amazon for a reasonable price :D

  4. Champagne Ivy says:

    I’m sorry but as someone who’s made art for videogames it frustrates me immensely when people just handwave away the very real technical/resource issues involved in making varied body types.

    I haven’t played the game, but I’m assuming most of the unique art in the game is clothing.
    Making clothes for fatter characters could be nearly doubling the number of 3d models in the game if that’s the case.

    The clothing textures in the game are extremely low resolution. Using the same textures on fatter characters would stretch and distort those textures way beyond an acceptable level. Huge, blocky pixels everywhere. The only way around that would be to make unique textures for the fatter characters.

    So, that’s extra development time for the artists, extra quality assurance, and a whole lot of extra data to cram onto a DS cart.

    In theory, I totally support what you’re saying, but I think it’s impossible to discuss the issue without owning up to the fact that multiple body types or adding a gender is one of the costliest things you can add to a videogame’s development. For a game like this, completing it in the same development time with additional body types might mean halving the number of outfits. For a game like this, is that worth it? Does it add as much to the gamer’s enjoyment as those additional outfits would have?

    • Alex says:

      What I’m talking about here is what message the game sends because it only features extremely thin women. So it doesn’t matter to me WHY it does so, except to give the developers the benefit of the doubt that it’s because of technical limitations and not because they are people who think all women should actually be a size zero. But regardless of the reason, the game still depicts a world where the only people are extremely thin, and that sends certain messages.

      I mean, I’m not trying to tell the developers how to make the game better, I’m talking about social issues that are brought up by how the game portrays fashion. (We covered this in the comments on the post about Battlefield Bad Company 2, which is why I linked to that post.)

      Due warning: further comments about technical limitations are considered off-topic and will be deleted.

    • Cuppycake says:

      You know what though? I’m sick of hearing that excuse. The only reason that excuse holds up at ALL is because considering the social and moral issues of a game is always something extra, something ‘tacked on’. I make games for a living too, and I know we wouldn’t launch a Facebook game without the ability to invite friends. I know that you wouldn’t make an FPS game without the ability to adjust the mode to have an easy setting for those who (like me) suck at shooters. I know that you wouldn’t make an MMORPG without the ability to chat to other people. And goddammit, when are we going to make social implications something REQUIRED to consider as a base core feature in our game?

      Acting like worrying about having strong female characters and a variety of body types is EXTRA work above and outside the original product specifications IS the problem here. Until we stop thinking that women of different shapes and sizes (and people of different colors, orientations, etc.) are something extraneous to the budget – we’re not going to ever get anywhere. I respect the need to meet your budget, but if you can’t afford to make clothing for characters who aren’t thin and idealized then your budget wasn’t big enough to start with.

      • Champagne Ivy says:

        I should have summarized my end point better because I’m not trying to present it as an excuse, I’m just saying when we argue for it, we should acknowledge that there are technical limitations but that it is worth it despite that. I just don’t like seeing it treated as a non-issue. So many times I see people talking about adding in more body types/genders like it would take near-zero effort on the development side and I think it damages the superior argument that even though it’s difficult, it is worth it.

        I agree though, that in a game like this that is marketed mainly to young girls, having the only body type be that thin is potentially harmful.

      • Rakaziel says:

        Congratulations Cuppycake, those are words worth carving in a gold plate and knocking a number of game developers’ faces into.
        I agree with you completely and that we even still have this problem in the older media (though to a smaller degree, which is a glint of hope) only makes it worse.

        What makes me even angrier in this paticular game is that it could have been esily fixed with a few character morphs and clothing morphs, no new geometry, which would have even left room for randomization and with morph parameter sensitive procedural textures that would have been overlayed over the base textures to break up the big pixels on bigber bodies.

        It even gave me an idea for an addon or alternate game in that direction if you plan something in that direction. I send you a PM on facebook.

    • Rakaziel says:

      These problems could be fixed to some degree. If the body has enough polygons you can change and even randomize the body shape with morphs and use the same morphs on the clothes. a possible solution for the clothes fabric would be a procedural texture for the fabric that gets scaled according to body size, using some of the morph parameters as basis, and gets overlayed over the orginal texture to break up the bigger pixels.

      It still would eat more processing power but it work and the additional effort would be comparbly small.

      • Ikkin says:

        That certainly seems to work well on consoles, but I’d have to wonder whether the DS is technically-advanced enough to pull it off.

        Which doesn’t excuse the solitary extraordinarily-thin body shape, of course. I think a better compromise, assuming that the DS can’t do morphs and procedural textures easily enough for it to be feasible, would be to choose a body shape that isn’t immediately recognizable as a size-0 woman. It’s still not optimal, but I could see there being less body image issues if the characters were done in something like a “chibi” style that’s less idealized to begin with (and, if they played their cards right, they’d be able to use the same body shape for both genders, too!).

  5. FarisScherwiz says:

    I liked the game, but I totally agree. Everyone looks the same and it’s kind of off-putting. They obviously could make different types, the fashion show presenter and the one male character are different. It seems less like technical problems and more of the dev team just ignoring different body types in general, which is unfortunate. It’s especially sad when you consider the game was really inclusive of all sorts of different fashions.

    Sad to know that Japan has the same “be super skinny/the same” expectation too.

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