Critical Play: Play Like a Feminist – Elyse


I played the game Florence by Mountains on iOS. The game was driven by narrative, and consisted of beautiful art, music, and puzzles, rather than dialogue. I’d say the target audience is ages 18+, since Florence is a 25-year-old woman figuring out where to find happiness after childhood. In particular, this game would resonate with anyone who’s had a first love and heartbreak, and learned to find joy again.

Playing this game as a feminist meant looking for ways that Florence subverted patriarchal conventions of video games. As discussed in our reading, this subversion might happen through narrative, narrative structure, or even game mechanics. I argue that Florence applies feminist perspectives at all of these levels to create an experience that is emotionally engaging, validating, and reassuring for anyone who has struggled to find satisfaction and joy in life without relying on another person.

Feminist Perspectives in Florence

On one level, Florence is a feminist story because it features a female protagonist who is more than an uninspired “Flo” persona we discussed in class. The game centers Florence’s emotional state and aspirations, while also incorporating culture, breaking away from idealized, flat representations of women often fabricated by male designers.

Food and personal items serve as cultural indicators

Another feminist aspect of Florence appears in its discussion of happiness and fulfillment in adult life. As Shira Chess put it in our reading, “we need to tell stories not just about women but also about characters who face the adversities set forth within our mainstream cultures.” In the chapter “Memories”, Florence relives fond moments of creating art as a child, considering how her colorful childhood turned to a gloomy adult routine of commutes, mindless work, and meals alone. Florence critiques cultural expectations of growing up, and proposes an alternative to this unfulfilling and lonely way of being. Florence eventually finds her way back into making art and being part of a community, but the rise and fall of a romantic relationship complicates this journey. The game presents both romantic partnership and self exploration as valid sources of fulfillment. I think this choice is feminist because it opposes the idea that women are damsels in distress (or otherwise reliant on men), while also showing the beauty of vulnerability and interdependence with another person.

Applying a feminist lens to Florence‘s narrative structure reveals another way in which the game diverges from male-driven conventions. Florence has two climaxes – falling in love and finding oneself – rather than conforming to the traditional “orgasmic” structure. The “pleasure of delay” discussed by Chess applies well here, as Florence‘s most fun and engaging moments came as Florence, recollected, daydreamed, and organized.

User decorates a sailboat with stamps as Florence recalls childhood

Finally, the mechanics of Florence, particularly the puzzles, are feminist because they challenge what a video game or puzzle needs to be. The puzzles aren’t “winnable” or challenging , but instead are narrative devices. For example, Florence represents conversations between Florence and her love interest Krish as puzzle pieces fitting together. Their early exchanges involve solving an eight-piece puzzle, but by the end of their first date, conversations consist of a single piece, representing the growing comfort and ease of dialogue between the characters. Puzzle pieces representing arguments are jagged, and must be assembled in a hurry. The use of puzzles, not as a challenge for the player but rather as a representation of conversation and emotional state, is a powerful device that presents an alternative form of interactive narrative in video games. They are a feminist device because they subvert traditional expectations of what a video game looks like, making narrative the dominant type of fun even though the puzzles didn’t involve words.

Dialogue at the beginning and end of Florence’s first date


While many of the puzzles embedded in Florence helped immerse the player in Florence’s narrative – coloring a picture while remembering childhood, or putting away one’s own decorations to make room for a lover’s – other puzzles didn’t seem to carry the same weight. For example, swiping through Florence’s social media got pretty tedious after I’d seen it the first time. I felt that the monotony of adult life could be achieved without having the user brush Florence’s teeth or scroll on a phone. Perhaps these moments could have been shown using a montage instead, to make the other puzzles more salient.

Sometimes, I had a hard time determining when I’d completed an activity, or if I was performing the right action. Since progression through the story relied on my completion of these mini puzzles, it felt frustrating when I was stuck deciphering one – for example, I spent a few minutes trying to assemble this torn photo as the pieces drifted apart. How close to the original picture did I need to get in order to move on, or would I just have to struggle for some pre-determined time? I wish that indicators of progress were clearer in puzzles like these.

It was difficult to know when this puzzle was completed

In all, I thought Florence was an excellent example of a feminist game because it challenged the idea that video games are “hard core” or challenging, and did so on many levels. While not all puzzles were incorporated meaningfully into the narrative, many of these short activities helped immerse me in the emotions and background of the protagonist, Florence.


Late addition, my discussion question:

After reading and writing about feminist games, what’s a game you previously didn’t view as feminist that you can now analyze with a feminist lens? Why didn’t it seem feminist at face value, and what makes you view it that way now?

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