Wind-up Knight: An entertaining iOS game with questionable elements

 

While confronted with a few plane trips and long delays at the airport a couple of weeks ago, I browsed the App Store and downloaded a game for my iPad.  Wind-up Knight is an “endless runner” style iOS game with really high quality 3D side-scrolling graphics in which the player controls a little armored knight through a series of challenging-yet-not-frustrating levels.  I can’t deny the fact that the gameplay is fantastic — it’s intuitive, looks beautiful, runs smoothly, and kept me entertained long enough to make me forget that I was freezing and bored in the airport.  However, I ran into a bit of a conundrum.

The game’s loading screens are “Pretty Princess Primers” – tips intended for would-be princesses to groom themselves into the perfect princesses.  Now, before I continue, keep in mind that I’m not actually sure if these are intended to be a joke or not.  While I was busy getting offended and being flabbergasted, my fiance was asking me if I was sure the game wasn’t being intentionally misogynistic in an effort to tell a message.  The thing is, I’m not sure it matters.  The way they are presented is matter-of-fact; white text on black screen with no other context.  If there was some kind of subversion of sexist norms going on, it kind of went right over my head.  But some of them were so ridiculous that they have to be a joke, right?

 

A black screen with white text saying "Pretty Princess Primer Tip #4. A Princess cannot be respected unless she dresses as if she respects herself."

 

For someone who is well-read and knowledgable about concepts like this, I could kind of see the shallow humor in it. But I’m going to make a huge assumption about people — I don’t think the majority of people understand the complicated elements of rape culture, and I don’t think this loading screen is doing any education.  It kind of looks like something you’d see in a late night Twitter hashtag about #thingswomenshoulddo.  Here is a sample of some other loading screens from the game:

 

Pretty Princess Primer Tip #8, Catering to the comfort of men, especially Princes, will give you immense personal satisfaction.

 

Learning masculine skills such as fencing or carriage repair can make a Princess more desirable later in life.

 

Be prepared for meetings with men. Take a 15 minute break beforehand and double-check your hair.

 

Always wear dresses or skirts.

 

These screens made me feel uncomfortable.  I’m not sure what exactly the message is here, other than life as a princess seems like it would surely suck.  But the sad thing is, there are analogous serious “tips” in trashy magazines with real-life, non-princess women as the target audience.  ”16 sexy tips for being desirable late in life” sounds like a headline from a Cosmo.  For some women, this stuff isn’t a joke.  I’m just not sure what the intention was and it all but ruined what was one of the better iPad games I have played.  Thoughts, Border House readers?

 

 

 

21 thoughts on “Wind-up Knight: An entertaining iOS game with questionable elements”

  1. Seems like hipster ironic retro sexism to me. You know that I know that you know that I know that you know that I know it’s sexist and that’s why it’s funny, and if you think that’s offensive then that means you don’t get it or whatever it is this sort of thing is suppsoed to go!

  2. Ugh. Satire is only satire if the audience gets it; this may be satire for some of us, as it’s just too bare-faced to seem serious, but I’m not sure it has that satirical effect for the wider population (I chuckled as I read them, not out of glee but out of nervous despair; it feels too terrible to be true, though of course many other things have turned out true nonetheless).

    I have a pet theory that satire works when it creates a distance between the audience and the object of satire by exaggeration or unusual juxtaposition, in order to give the audience the perspective needed to see the object as absurd; I don’t really see any satirical distance here, (though of course I haven’t played it).

    If the developers really wanted to do satire (which is by no means clear, I think), they should have gone for something a little less subtle. Especially with the white-on-black, matter-of-fact tone, it’s hard to know whether this comes off as satire to people who don’t actively look for these things.

    Question/confusion – why on Earth are there princess tips in the first place, satirical or not? I can’t wrap my head around that, since it seems the player is playing a male rescuing a female. What audience does the game presume – male, female or ambiguous? What role does the “princess” play? The whole fact these screens exists seems very strange to me.

    1. Yeah, I don’t get it either. As described it doesn’t seem to make sense. Unless there’s a BIG REVEAL at the end of the game that the wind-up knight is actually the princess who got fed up with all of these primers? That doesn’t seem impossible, given the question mark on “Rescue the princess?” on the title screen.

  3. I dunno, to me it seems obviously satirical. It seems to be poking fun at princess tropes as a whole and what kind of “rules” that weird society might have for princesses.

    Whether or not that succeeds is up to the rest of you. But from my straight/white/male perspective it comes off that way.

  4. I’ve played this game – never took at anything but satire. But I’m a man. I thought the one about masculine skills was particularly funny.

  5. Just seeing those tips now, I am not laughing. It is far too close to real advice you can find for women right now in various places. If it was meant as satire, it is not working for me.

    1. It wouldn’t even be that hard to make it obviously satire.

      “Always wear a dress, skirt, bodice, sleeves, bustle, cote, hose, corset and underthings.”
      “Be prepared for meetings with Princes: take 15 minutes to call in your local dragon for a kidnapping.”
      “Learning Princely skills like quaffing and wearing hats with giant feathers can make a Princess more desirable later in life.”
      “Catering to the comfort of men, especially Princes, will give them immense personal satisfaction.”
      “A Princess can not be respected unless she dresses exactly the way each individual person she meets expects her to dress, except just slightly more stylishly.”

      In order to be satire it has to go at least slightly further than reality…

  6. It’s obviously a joke, but that doesn’t make it funny. It doesn’t make it okay. This is on par with the “make me a sandwich” and “get back to the kitchen” ‘jokes’ that are oh so popular. We’re just humorless if we ask these kinds of ‘jokes’ to stop because, I dunno, we hear them an unhealthy amount and it basically mocks sexism. These ‘jokes’ completely depend on sexism not existing anymore, but that’s not the case.

  7. I wrestled with this myself when I wrote a review of the game, but ultimately gave the game the benefit of the doubt. I thought it was pretty clearly INTENDED as satirical in the overall context of the game’s sense of humor elsewhere (e.g., starting out with a ransom note from the villain that reads like internet trash-talking). There’s still the question, though, of whether it SUCCEEDED in its intent, or whether it’s too subtle and easily misread to give it a pass. In retrospect, I wonder if I let the game off the hook too lightly in my review, fearing that I was just being oversensitive…

  8. I also think the messages are supposed to be funny; they’re just so cliche! I guess that’s not 100% clear from the game’s context, though.

  9. To me it would only be funny if you got to the princess and she didn’t follow ANY of the “rules” and was like “Yeah so? I’m still a princess! Deal with it!” Or HEY what about you actually PLAY AS the princess!

    However these look like those dudebro rules I see on Tumblr for how women should behave. :| Not funny at all.

    1. I don’t have the game, but I’m fairly certain there is some kind of reversal at the true ending, whether it’s what I guessed (the knight is the princess) or what you guessed (the princess isn’t like that at all). I was trying to search around to see if I could find out what happens at the end and saw someone else complaining about the sexist primer messages to which people made lots of “wait and see!” comments.

  10. These screens made me feel uncomfortable.

    …that’s exactly it for me here. If insincere, then it’s a lot more creepily ambiguous headfuck than “ha ha funny” jest.

    Or a setup.

    (my money is on the armoured knight being the princess)

  11. I agree with everyone that it seems to be intended as irony. As people have noted, irony is based on juxtaposition. Since we can’t compare the sexism in the game to the supposedly not sexist developers, all we see is the sexism. It was probably well intentioned, and hilarious irony for the developers and people who know them, but… not for anyone else.

  12. I actually enjoyed them and see nothing wrong with them. (Incidentally, I’m an asian woman). I think they’re witty, they’re subtle, and I especially like how they don’t fit into the classic dialectic of empowered feminist vs ignores women.

    I can see why they might be _triggering_ for some, but they don’t trigger me. Instead, they sound like a witty parody of a person living in a classic fairytale misogynist world trying to sort out what to say to a princess in the modern world. The speaker has figured out some things, not others, and is confused about how the principles relate to each other. Like a court fool, it’s fun to watch him bumble.

  13. Yeah; I’d call it failed satire though as others mentioned it might be redeemed with a reveal.

  14. I assume it is satire, it just may come from a slighty ignorant perspective (guess the (presumably male) writers did not read women’s magazines) or they thought more would make it too over the top and people would also get it at the current dosage.

    The lesson to be learned – when in doubt if your satire dosed right, research reality and add pepper.

    1. I bet each line has actually come out of a real-life Miss Manners type book, just with “young lady” swapped for “princess”. Ain’t nothing so absurd as reality sometimes.

  15. Sounds like it’s being silly and putting in a little bit of slice-of-life for the pointedly stereotyped princess your pointedly stereotyped knight (both obviously quite tired tropes after all) is running off to rescue. IE lines out of a book of finishing school tips she’s probably been given to read.

    I’m pretty sure you’re not supposed to take them seriously, and if anything, see it as a wry take on how role-constrained your life would be in mediaeval times even as part of the priveleged classes.

    “It’s only a joke if the audience gets it”… no, it’s not the comedian’s problem if the audience doesn’t get the joke. Or at least, part of the audience. Comedy is often a consensus thing, with a touch of conscience to know when something’s gone too far; if almost everyone hates it, then you know you’re probably barking up the wrong tree with your routine. I can’t see this being a hate thing. It’s a bit naff, but hardly a deadly serious, agressive admonition to return to la cuisine and set about preparing meatball subs.

    Getting wound about something like this smacks a bit of taking things too seriously. I mean, you’re already playing a game about a knight rescuing a princess… What were you expecting? The latest word in genre-defying gender equality inserting reboots of classic, cliched stories? Possibly it had a chance at taking things down a Tangled (etc) route, but it’s a cheap iPhone game. Subtlety isn’t going to feature. Knight rescues Princess, with tiny suggestion of snark humour.

    But who knows, maybe the princess will turn out to be a transgender prince regent or something, fervently reading and re-reading that little book in a desperate attempt to merge more seamlessly into his(/her… sorry, I am bad with alternate pronouns) preferred but societally taboo role and so maybe dodge flak from the less obervant peasants.

  16. (Spoilery, if you care)
    FWIW, I tried playing the game to completion to see if it got any better with regard to those stupid tips, and thankfully it does. As the game progresses the tips get more and more calculating and ambitious, so by the time you reach the end they’re saying stuff like ‘Aim between the vertebrae for a clean kill’ and ‘a deadly obstacle course is an easy way to get rid of a persistent suitor’. The princess at the end doesn’t need rescuing either. So, a partial subversion at least. The sexist ones at the start nearly annoyed me enough to not bother buying the game, though.

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