Casual game series are quickly becoming popular. I emphasize “series” because every game studio is now doing at least one series of genre-specific games. I’ve seen horror, mystery, fantasy, and yes, even romance. To that end, I recommend the entire Spirits of Mystery series.
Spirits of Mystery is a series of hidden-object games set in a fantasy world. They’re extremely pretty, fun, and easy to pick up and play. Not all of the games have romantic aspects, which is why I call them light fantasy rather than romance (we still have those; remind me to tell you about the Dream Day series some other time).
I love the games, but it’s perhaps best not to think too hard about the stories. In the latest game, The Silver Arrow, you play a young woman in love with a Prince. Per his kingdom’s tradition, he has to go to a high summit and fire a magical silver arrow over the kingdom. It will land in the home of his destined bride, who will present it to him on their wedding day. Here’s the transcript of my babbling during the cutscene that shows him doing just that:
“This is a weird way for the future head of state to select his consort. I mean, what are the criteria? Does the arrow pick the smartest girl? The most civic-minded? The most politically astute? Does it pick the one who will produce the healthiest children? Does it look for someone who will be compatible with the Prince himself? (arrow sails into my window) Well I don’t really care anymore because IT’S MINE NOW, B****ES!”
Here’s what catches my eye about a series like this: Every protagonist thus far has been female. When I wrote about Awakening, I pointed out that some more popular games could take a lesson from these casual games when it comes to making female protagonists. I’d like to explain that.
Normally, when a female character is introduced in a game, the fact that they are women is the first trait to be established. It’s usually through a feminine voice, or some display of a female body. Even characters I love, such as Bayonetta and Lara Croft, are subject to this abstraction of the male gaze. I can’t think of a single male character –with the possible exception of Kratos—whose masculinity is the first thing to be overtly established.
In Spirits of Mystery, the protagonists are female and some have very traditionally feminine goals, but they don’t have voices that I can remember, and the games are first-person. This means it feels more natural and less forced. It’s not “you’re a woman, now do the quest.” It’s “you’re the hero, now do the quest.”
So when I say some game developers could learn a little something from that, I mean that they could stand to be a little less preoccupied with proving that my character’s a woman and allow her to become more of a hero.