The Intersection

Sony’s Fat Princess

When this hit my inbox, I thought it was a bad joke:

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She’s plump, powerful and ready to cause more controversy than “SuperSize Me.” She’s Fat Princess, the star of Sony’s upcoming video game of the same name. Debuting at last week’s E3 expo, the colorful Fat Princess is a capture-the-flag game with a twist: you can thwart capture attempts by locking the once-thin princess in a dungeon and stuffing her full of cake, thereby increasing her girth and making her harder for your enemies to haul back to home base.

Games have sure changed since the days I played Nintendo and I’m wondering whether this is reflective of a broadly altered cultural mindset. Check out detailed commentary on Fat Princess‘ debut from Liss at Shakesville, Holly at Feministe, and Mighty Ponygirl at Feminist Gamers.

Of course, I’ve no doubt many will argue ‘it’s just a game,’ but I’m honestly not convinced. Are readers?

Comments

  1. #1 Pg
    July 29, 2008

    No sadly it’s not just a game. Shame on Sony for stooping to such a base level to boost sales. Disgusting.

  2. #2 Walker
    July 29, 2008

    It is clear from the screenshots and the game play description that this is intended for an audience for which scatological humor has generally been a very effective marketing tool. More importantly, it appears to be designed by a Japanese (not an American) game studio, who probably think this is positively innocent (especially given the existence and content of Hentai games).

    Am I defending this? No. But having seen a lot of weird games out of Japan, I suspect that this is a probably a “Lost in Translation” matter, and that complaints that do not affect their pocket book will be ignored.

  3. #3 mlf
    July 29, 2008

    In regards to the context you are apparently referring to, games have not changed. There have been much worse, since the very beginning.

  4. #4 Sparky Clarkson
    July 29, 2008

    The game is made by an American company (Titan Games), or at least a company that has an American art director. As far as I know it was not made by Sony Computer Entertainment, although because it is going to be released over Playstation Network it will technically be published by them. Much of the character design was done by a woman, which is not a defense in my book. However, many people on this site accepted a similar defense of black and gay stereotypes presented in Sizzle, so I suppose they’ll find that compelling.

    The obesity of the princess is a punchline, and I guess if you aren’t aware of television, books, movies, stand-up comedy, comic strips, or popular music then it may come as a shock and offense to you that jokes about fat people exist. If your objection is that the game reflects certain attitudes about fat people and women, then that’s valid, but this hardly seems like the most offensive incident.

    If your objection is that the game will cause a player to form certain opinions, then you have to consider how obesity manifests in the game. While “It’s just a game” is not a defense, and in my opinion doesn’t really qualify as an argument at all, we can’t just dismiss the fact that this is a game, because much of the communication that takes place in a game comes through play. So, it matters that the obesity of the princess seems to present itself in gameplay primarily as a logistical, rather than a personal, problem. Getting fatter doesn’t make the princess a less attractive object of play; it just means that acquiring her is a more difficult problem to solve. She’s still an object, but that isn’t any different from the games you played on the NES (Mario, for instance). I doubt that playing this game will either produce or reinforce any general opinions about women or the obese other than that it is hard to carry heavy people.

    It matters what ideas are conveyed by a piece, no matter what the context, and the depiction of women in video games has historically been very poor. I understand these objections, and I agree that Fat Princess plays on unfortunate stereotypes. At the same time, the presentation of the game is deliberately fantastical in nature, and most gamers don’t confuse game worlds with reality. To me it seems unrealistic to suppose that Fat Princess will cause people to form prejudicial opinions about women or the obese, and so the vitriolic reaction (especially at Shakesville) seems to be disproportionate to the offense.

    You should also see Leigh Alexander’s site for a different take.

  5. #5 D
    July 29, 2008

    Well, to echo an argument this blog made on a similar issue recently, the game was designed by a woman. That means it’s ok.

  6. #6 Siamang
    July 29, 2008

    I haven’t played the game, so I cannot say what I think about it specifically.

    But I think generally speaking, people who don’t play video games seem to know an awful lot about what should and shouldn’t be in video games.

    Would we be having the following posts here:

    Bantam books is courting controversy by releasing a novel about a fat heroine who has an eating problem. “First Lolita, and now THIS!!”, one Congressman complained. “Now I remember why I don’t read,” said another.

    ABC-TV went on the defensive regarding their hit TV show “Ugly Betty” which is about an overweight, homely girl looking to fit in. Said one protester, “Can’t they call it ‘Betty Has a Nice Personality’?”

    Sheril, if you’ve played the game, then by all means tell us what the problem with it is, from your point of view. But if you haven’t you might, you know, try a video game before telling other people what’s so offensive about games you haven’t even seen.

    There have been numerous controversies about videogames created by people who never played the game. The game “Bully” was nearly pulled off the shelves in the UK out of fears it was about how to bully other children. It turned out to be a videogame with a story about a bunch of picked on kids standing up to schoolyard bullying.

    Famously last year, Fox News ran a bunch of completely false stories about supposed graphic sex and nudity in the Microsoft X-box game Mass Effect. The reports were by people who never played the game, and were completely and wholly false.

    See here and the wikipedia article for Mass Effect to see the entire comedy of errors.
    http://www.gameinformer.com/News/Story/200801/N08.0123.1614.36600.htm

    Anyway, it’s pretty clear that non-video-gamers seem to know more about what should and shouldn’t be in videogames than anyone.

  7. #7 Jay
    July 29, 2008

    Yeah, it’s just a game. It’s a twist on the old “save the princess” games (like SuperMario Bros), except one side plays the rescuers and the other side plays the captors. Making her fat is just an interesting twist. I’m not quite sure why everyone is complaining about this. Well, okay, I take that last sentence back – Christians are hypersensitive about portrayals of Christians in the media, Blacks are hypersensitive about portrayals of Blacks in the media, and feminists are hypersensitive are portrayals of women in the media. I think that’s the reason people are complaining about this – everyone takes themselves super-seriously and want to make sure everyone else portrays them in a way that they want to be portrayed. By the way, weren’t feminists complaining about waif-thin and big-breasted women in videogames? Now, having fat women in games is a problem? Does this only apply to videogames, or should it apply to movies, too? It seems that every Black comedy has a fat Black woman in it for comedic effect. Shouldn’t women be complaining about that?

    I’m also not clear on why “It’s just a game is not a defense”. Are you suggesting that it would be just as bad if this was a real princess being held hostage?

    Of course, I’ve no doubt many will argue ‘it’s just a game,’ but I’m honestly not convinced.

    Are you suggesting that it’s NOT just a game? Is a a real princess being held hostage? Or will the “game” encourage gamers to kidnap a princess and feed her cake?

    I also think it’s interesting that so many of these bloggers complain about this game – when I think it’s pretty clear that many of the complaints are coming from non-gamers. It’s sort of a drive-by complaint. They don’t have any interest in gaming, but show up on your door to complain if you’re doing something they don’t like. It really gives feminists a bad name because it says, “We don’t have any kind of relationship with you, we just showed up to complain and then leave.”

    Well, to echo an argument this blog made on a similar issue recently, the game was designed by a woman. That means it’s ok.

    By stating it in absolute terms (“the game was designed by a woman. That means it’s ok.”), you are attempting to eliminate “the game was designed by a woman” from any kind of consideration. It’s just a rhetorical trick. Had you said, “the game was designed by a woman. That should count for something”, that would be a more accurate statement – but that would also work against your opinion.

    I especially liked Holly at Feministe’s take. She says, “The prototypical online gamer … is not only used to screaming offensive inanities at each other …” Wonderful! I love it when a feminist, in her complaint about stereotyped portrayals of women in videogames, takes a moment to reinforce negative stereotypes of gamers. Perhaps the next time some black male makes a chauvinistic statement, Holly can fire back with some negative Black stereotypes. That’ll show ‘em not to, uh, stereotype.

    Most of Holly’s commentary was simply off-base. It’s her unique perspective, that’s for sure, because she obviously doesn’t think like anyone else and shouldn’t attempt to critique what gamers are thinking (because she’s very, very bad at it). She is so wrapped-up in her own feminist-centered world, that she sees everyone and everything in relation to that one perspective and it distorts everything she sees. She reminded me of a communist who sees class struggle in everything.

    So, my opinion is that it is just a game, people take themselves too seriously, and feminists should avoid with the drive-by complaints because it only fuels a backlash against them.

    By the way, this is filed under “Women in Science”. Is the Fat Princess a scientist?

  8. #8 Aerik
    July 29, 2008

    I think it’s time we started speaking up more often against bigotry veiled as humor.

    No, assholes. Just because somebody laughed or it followed a humor-like formula doesn’t mean nobody can be offended, or that you’re not in fact spreading hatred. You are.

  9. #9 gillt
    July 30, 2008

    I call Shenanigans on Sheril. You can’t be seriously up in arms against video games, which, as a general rule, always aim for the lowest common denominator, but give Sizzle a pass on promoting gay stereotypes. If it’s a matter of funny then admit that what’s offended is your personal bias.

  10. #10 Sheril R. Kirshenbaum
    July 30, 2008

    Jay,

    Women in Science‘ was chosen by default because it didn’t quite seem to fit elsewhere as gaming is not a regular topic here. Though you make a good point, and ‘Culture‘ seems more appropriate.

  11. #11 Sparky Clarkson
    July 30, 2008

    Jay,
    “It’s just a game” isn’t a defense because it’s just a way of trying to weasel out of debate entirely, as you astutely note on the similar issue of “this game was made by a woman”. Games are a way of communicating ideas and emotions, even when they don’t necessarily mean to be. Fat Princess doesn’t get a pass on its presentation of women or the obese because it’s just a game, any more than Sizzle gets a pass on its stereotypes because it’s just a film. However, we must interpret the message that is communicated in terms of what kind of medium we are dealing with, not press blurbs or plot synopses. Disputing that Fat Princess could promote negative views of women and fat people is stupid. It’s reasonable, however, to disagree that it does promote those views, or that any degree to which it did promote them would be worthy of the present outpouring of anger.

  12. #12 gillt
    July 30, 2008

    Everything in context. There was a time in late 19th century America when immigrants were discriminated against, Italians included. However, Super Mario Bros. played up the Italian stereotype of silly accents, funny mustaches and the low status of a pipe-fitter/plumber, long after we as a country had moved on to target some other group. Obesity, especially obese women, is a topical target of ridicule and discrimination in American culture (as are homosexuals). To capitalize on this stereotype at this time as a source of revenue can rightly be seen as cynical and tasteless…unless it’s funny :)

  13. #13 D
    July 30, 2008

    By stating it in absolute terms (“the game was designed by a woman. That means it’s ok.”), you are attempting to eliminate “the game was designed by a woman” from any kind of consideration. It’s just a rhetorical trick. Had you said, “the game was designed by a woman. That should count for something”, that would be a more accurate statement – but that would also work against your opinion.

    I was only deploying the opinion expressed on this blog about Sizzle in favor of The Fat Princess. For the record, *my* politics, while squarely in the left, do involve not inconsiderable amounts of railing against political correctness and the culture of Taking Offense.

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