Monday, July 17, 2017

Ballroom Glitz: Analysis of Feminine Game Design Via "Princess Debut"

Writing for Mammon Machine's ZEAL project, Alex Roberts looks at what she says is a prime example of "feminine game design" that she feels was overlooked: "Princess Debut" for the Nintendo DS:
Princess Debut is a rhythm game and dating sim released, to mild commercial success and critical disinterest, in 2008 for the Nintendo DS. It stars a teenage girl who, after trading places with her princess doppelganger in a parallel universe, learns ballroom dancing and wins the heart of at least one handsome prince with the help of her feisty talking animal companion. She finds magical accessories that transform into elaborate outfits. She spends perpetually sunny days in gardens and beaches with cute boys who are all interested in her. Princess Debut could only be girlier if her dance instructor was a horse instead of an anthropomorphic rabbit. (But that would mean striking a crucial Alice in Wonderland reference.) 
What makes Princess Debut feminine, though, is not its pink menus, delicate soundtrack, or shoujo manga-inspired character designs. Rather, those external aesthetics are genuinely representative of an internal structure that whose priorities and techniques are expressly feminine. Its cover art — a petite teenage girl, gasping with delight, eyes wide as dinner plates, hair in a perfect up-do — is wonderful in itself, but what makes Princess Debut worth writing about almost a decade later is the way it delivers on the promises that happy face is making.
Roberts does a deep dive into the aesthetics of "Princess Debut", comparing and contrasting it with another rhythm-action game, "Elite Beat Agents". She examines why one was a critical darling, one was met with critical indifference, and the difference between feminine game design and pinkwashing. It's a great read and has me so interested, I'm gonna be tracking down a copy of "Princess Debut" as soon as I can.

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