A tale of two princess games
At the crossroads of pampered and powerful, what little girl doesn't love a good dungeon crawl?
"Princess" is a weird, fraught word in popular culture now. It's become emblematic to many of the pretty-fication of girlhood, the Consumer Marketing Demographic of "girl." In video games, "the princess" is often barely a person, just the sigil you earn at the end of the level.
It doesn't have to be that way, though. At online micro-zine ZEAL, Kim Nguyen writes about her experiences with two cult-favorite princess games, Princess Maker 2 and Long Live the Queen. Her exploration of the player's agency in each, held against her own memories of being a big Disney princess fan as a kid, makes for interesting criticism to read.
1993's still well-loved Princess Maker 2 is a game where a faery gifts you with a starchild to raise. Through a little bit of time and task management and a little bit of dungeon-crawling, you determine the social status she attains and whom she marries. It's an incredibly engaging and rewarding experience.
Except like many of the items of poorly-translated software floating around the internet in the '90s and '00s, it was also deeply weird: You can raise your daughter to be several varieties of sex worker or courtesan, a laundry worker, a widow, a minstrel, a warrior or nearly any number of things, with the reward at the end a flirtatious portrait and a brief blurb on her life. Attaining actual princess-hood, through marriage to a prince, is a punishingly rare outcome.
You can also raise your adopted princess to marry her father. Couple that with the widespread popularity of unofficial "UnDress" patches and breast manipulation stats and you have a princess-raising simulation where players could, if they worked at it, have complete statistical control over a nine-year old blinking innocently, nude, at the parent who was planning to marry them. Of course, you could also make her a vinyl queen beloved to the War God and call her "Lizzie Shinkicker," as someone did here.
Nguyen's piece also celebrates the much more-recent (2012) princess-raising game, Long Live The Queen, for the ways it creates the emergent storytelling and interesting decisions of the "training/raising" genre, but while keeping the character of Elodie at the center of the narrative. She points out that in Long Live The Queen players can enjoy many elements of Elodie's traditional princess-hood -- pink, ribbons, dress-up, courtly balls -- while keeping the dignity of her royal trajectory intact.
I loved Long Live the Queen (check it out on Steam if you like), the way it subverts the very idea that you can be prepared for everything, that you can know what's coming and what you'll need.
There's something very special about this genre in general, and how it lies at the intersection of many players' desire to have control with their desire to give care.
The Offworld Collection, presenting the very best features and essays from Offworld, is finally available to buy directly from Campo Santo for $40. I had the pleasure of designing and illustrating this splendid 250-page hardcover volume, but it’s the excellent writing, edited by Leigh Alexander and Laura Hudson, that makes it an essential buy. You […]
Zoya Street, curator of Critical Distance, offers slow reflections on the fast-paced world of digital play…
This week, our partnership with Critical Distance brings us reading on parenting via Tomb Raider, the utility of the word ‘gameplay’, and experiences from Nintendo ‘play counselors’ from the 1980s and 90s.
Maybe it’s entirely because of podcast ads, but drag-and-drop tools like Squarespace have gotten immensely popular in recent years. While it’s definitely a great tool for any non-coders who want to get a small website up and running quickly, managing content with a primarily visual interface can become a pain once you have more than […]
When you can’t wait for the world’s longest meeting to end, the mindless leg bouncing makes your boredom obvious and just annoys everybody else. Everyone knows the TPS reports need the damn cover sheet, but some sadistic colleague keeps forgetting, probably on purpose just to eat into your lunch hour. Enough is enough!While serving a […]
What could be more fun than a slingshot that shoots tiny airplanes? A slingshot that shoots tiny glowing airplanes of course! These toy planes are outfitted with ultra-bright LEDs, so you can fly all night without losing them in the trees.Whether you are a regular-sized child, or an overgrown adult one, these light-up flyers offer […]