Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Princess Maker 2 LP: So Where's the LP?

Astute readers may notice that the promised long play never materialized. There are several reasons for this, including, but not limited to, Thanksgiving feasts with friends, a bottle of sherry, an attempt to complete Dragon Age in a minimal amount of time but still get the level max achievement, and a viewing of X-Men: Last Stand. Also, I spent the last day at the university grading my students' papers. It's not all fun, folks.

The Princess Maker 2 LP is still going to happen, though. It will merely be somewhat fragmented. Granted, given my track record with long term blog series, I can imagine that this announcement is met with trepidation by those who actually wanted me to complete this. Have faith, folks. Have faith.

For now, I'll explain the premise of the game.

Backstory: The game's prologue defines the player as a hero who slayed an ancient evil, and was handsomely rewarded with a small pension by the local king. Already, then, we have a break from traditional gaming, as this game starts after the happy ending. Anyway, at one point in the hero's blissful retirement, the skies open up, the goddess appears, and down travels a ten year-old girl. The goddess tells you to raise her well till the age of 18, and flies away. Because apparently, in this Japanese port, that's where babies come from.

The actual game is the act of raising this girl (I'm going to name mine Joan, so we'll call her that) for the next eight years. Essentially, you direct her education. The catch is that virtually everything you do either requires money or (more rarely) makes money. So it's a mix between Rousseau's Emile and capitalism. And really, isn't that what education is?

It's a very stat-based game. As per your usual JRPG, Joan's health, magic points, strength, and defense are all given. But so are stats such as her etiquette, diligence, maternal instinct, statecraft, and so forth. The game measures the changes you make to these stats, as well as how you go about changing them (raising strength by doing farmwork is different from raising it by fighting monsters). And based on these factors, Joan chooses a career on her eighteenth birthday. I think the game's title makes it pretty clear which job it's favoring.

The game is very similar to the Sims, in that it's all based around people management and money. But it felt more personable to me, for a number of factors. There's less time spent on spatial designing (no house to build) and less focus on material accumulation. And you have only a single tenant, rather than potentially a whole family to manage. The game also has a clear goal, unlike the Sims, which never ends. You, the player, have a clear avatar rather than an abstract godlike position; I imagine if your Sims addressed you as "daddy," you'd be much less likely to let them wet themselves. (Or maybe more so. I'm not here to judge.) Finally, I felt more invested in the game because I felt like I had less control; Joan's ultimate choice is determined by more factors than I can keep track of, and events I have little control over. In that much, at least, I think the game simulates a key aspect of fatherhood (and yes, it's very clear on being about fatherhood rather than a more gender neutral parenthood): you have an enormous, even intimidating, amount of control over your child's life, but in the end, their choices are their own. And the game accurately depicts how stressful that is.

To demonstrate, I'll conclude this post with a quick summary of my first playthrough. In the opening parts of the game, I spent a lot of time focusing on housework--it was the least stressful job, as failure didn't Joan doesn't get paid, because Joan isn't actually making any money. (It made sense at the time.) Eventually, I switched over to the bakery, and the hair salon, and alternated between them. The latter gave Joan some skill in conversing, which I leveraged into the climbing the social ladder at the castle, from conversing with the gate soldier all the way up to chatting with the King's Mistress. (A position ranking below only the King and Queen.) The baking was our chief means of financial support--with a little practice, Joan was soon winning the yearly cooking contest with ease. I use the funds to support her education, mostly in statecraft and court knowledge. I was, in my mind, building a just and wise princess.

(And I'd like to state here for the record that, yes, I realize how problematic this game is, gender-wise. You're a male authority figure forcing a young girl to conform to your wishes. From princess to attendant at hair salon, stereotypes of femininity aren't so much trotted out as dragged into the center of the room in the form of an elephant. But we'll get to all that later, I promise.)

Then the 18th year rolled around, and Joan informed me that our opinions on what she was being raised for differed greatly. Apparently, all that initial time on housework and cooking had an effect I wasn't expecting. She told me, in short, that she wanted to be a housewife. The game's epilogue tells the rest: she finds a merchant, settles down, raises children. The goddess who bestowed her on me delivers what I can only imagine is the game's assessment of my child-rearing abilities: "She's happy, so that's good. But it does seem a bit of a waste of potential for a destiny-bound, god-created star child."

The most interesting thing wasn't so much the game's response, but mine. I was bitterly disappointed. Why, I couldn't say. I certainly don't have anything but respect for someone who adopts the housewife role. After all, since my avatar did nothing but direct this girl for 8 years, child rearing is clearly a full-time occupation in itself. I think it was the huge gap between what I expected her to be and what she chose to be. It was so far from my image of her that the difference made me a bit resentful. To think of all the money I spent on her statecraft lessons! And all the effort that had been put into her baking skills!

I suddenly had a lot more sympathy for my parents, with a child still in school after ten years of education. And if nothing else, the game succeeds on a level of, as Ian Bogost would call it, procedural rhetoric, in conveying, through simulation, some real event: after being so bitterly thwarted in my attempts to direct the course of my progeny, I felt I had experienced some small part of parenthood.

Next time: I delve deeper into how the game works.

Later Days.

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