Critical Play: Play Like a Feminist

“Play Like a Feminist” by Shira Chess offers us fresh eyes to critically analyze “Florence,” an iOS and Android game, developed by the Australian studio Mountains and published by Annapurna Interactive, targeted primarily at young adults. “Florence” artfully narrates the journey of a young woman navigating the tumultuous waves of first love, dreams, and heartbreak. Yet, through the kaleidoscopic lens of Chess’s work, a unique perspective emerges, revealing untapped spaces for feminist critique and enhancement.

Caption: The intriguing home screen of “Florence” sets the stage for a journey of personal exploration and growth.

As we delve into “Florence,” its core formal elements and types of fun manifest themselves subtly but surely. The game embodies a player vs game mechanic, placing the player in the shoes of Florence, engaging in a solitary, introspective journey. The objective of “Florence” defies traditional categorization, leaning more towards exploration, construction of personal relationships, and perhaps even a form of ‘escape,’ as Florence seeks to navigate her life and personal growth. Additionally, the game unfolds as a non-zero sum game, where the focus is not on winning or losing but on experiencing Florence’s journey and growing with her. This embodies the ‘magic circle’ of the game’s boundaries, within which players traverse an inverted, emotionally-charged world of relationships and self-discovery. Moreover, the fun derived from “Florence” spans across multiple types. It offers sense pleasure, with its artfully illustrated visuals and emotive music. The narrative fun lies in its well-crafted story, as players vicariously live through Florence’s experiences. It delivers on the challenge fun, asking players to piece together conversations and navigate through Florence’s life. The discovery fun comes in the uncovering of new chapters of Florence’s story, and lastly, expression fun is evident as players choose how to respond to various scenarios, thereby defining Florence’s story.

Transitioning from our exploration of the game’s structure and its various layers of enjoyment, we find that feminist principles are subtly but significantly woven into the game’s fabric. Chess states, “Agency might be an illusion, but it can exceed the boundaries of the game itself.” “Florence” weaves a tapestry of choices that imbue players with a powerful sense of agency, reminiscent of this proposition by Chess. As we guide Florence through the labyrinth of her life, the game mechanics lend us the ability to influence her journey towards self-actualization. We shape her interactions, her choices in love and her pursuit of artistic passion, reflecting the overarching notion that games can empower players to steer narratives, even those seemingly set in stone.

Caption: Choices in “Florence” enable players to influence the narrative, embodying the concept of agency as discussed by Shira Chess.”

Yet, the game’s narrative landscape appears somewhat monochrome when the rich hues of intersectionality are left untouched. Chess’s work stresses the importance of acknowledging the marginalized: “Those with no voice at all, those who are marginalized to the point of invisibility, have exponentially less agentic power to transform the world.” “Florence” orbits around a single narrative arc – the romantic relationship – and in doing so, largely misses the opportunity to explore the nuances of Florence’s experiences through lenses of cultural, racial, or socioeconomic factors. This omission, albeit not intentionally, narrows the narrative’s scope and potentially alienates players for whom these elements hold significant weight.

Caption: “Florence” largely centers around a single narrative arc, missing opportunities to incorporate diverse experiences and intersectional narratives.

Moreover, “Florence,” despite encapsulating a woman-centered narrative, doesn’t fully escape the grip of the traditionally male-dominated gaming industry. Chess’s argument suggests that “the potential of video games, as outlined in this chapter, only reveals a hint of what video games can do and be.” This statement points towards a latent capacity within games, including “Florence,” to push against conventional barriers. While the catalyst for Florence’s self-discovery is her romantic relationship, a feminist narrative could challenge this dynamic and introduce dimensions where her growth and independence are not tied to a romantic partner.

So, where does “Florence” go from here? How does it step up to the challenge of a feminist critique? The answer lies within Chess’s insights. By weaving a diverse range of experiences, identities, and socio-cultural contexts into the game’s narrative fabric, “Florence” could metamorphose into a game that truly resonates with a wider audience, embracing the principles of feminist gaming. Players could encounter choices that reflect intersectional narratives, further enhancing their agency and creating an experience that is empowering, inclusive, and reflective of the multi-dimensional realities of women’s experiences.

In conclusion, while “Florence” holds its charm as a compelling narrative-driven game, it opens up fascinating dialogues when observed through the feminist lens. Drawing on the power of agency and challenging traditional gender norms, as laid out in Chess’s discourse, the game has the potential to evolve into a narrative powerhouse. It could reconfigure the gaming landscape by presenting a more empowering, nuanced, and comprehensive exploration of women’s lives, aligned with the essence of feminist gaming.

Caption: “Florence” invites players to a narrative-driven game journey, subtly offering a platform for feminist critique and potential enhancement.

Discussion Question: How could the integration of intersectional narratives in games like “Florence” spark transformative dialogues and lead towards a more robust feminist discourse in the gaming industry?

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