Thursday, April 25, 2013

On the Margins - Visual Novel Games

Cinders: A thoughtful visual novel game by MoaCube.
After reading “What Games Made By Girls Can Tell Us” by Jill Denner and Shannon Campe, I started thinking about games I’ve played that have similar qualities to the games the girls in the Girls Creating Games (GCG) program came up with. The girls were limited to a choose-your-own-adventure type game that relied on text and still images. While there was a lot of variation among the games they made they generally took place in realistic settings, focused on fears and social issues that girls face, had multiple endings, chances to win (but not necessarily at the expense of others), and a chance to pick the gender of your character.

Cinders (2012) a PC game developed and published by MoaCube, a small collective of indie game developers, is a visual novel game and retelling of the fairytale Cinderella. Displeased with the Cinderella story most people are familiar with (aka the Disney version), MoaCube set out to create a story where the protagonist, Cinders, plays an active role and the player feels like they are in control of the story. The story starts out familiar with Cinders at home with her “evil” stepsisters and stepmother but it doesn’t take long for the story to take unexpected twists and turns. The story is delivered through text dialogue and the player, when prompted, can choose what actions Cinders takes. Different decisions shape Cinders’s personality and can lead to four different endings with variations within each of them. More importantly, the decisions you make have enormous weight. I often found myself sitting at my computer, mulling over the options, worried that I’d make the wrong choice.

Similar to the GCG games, players are confronted with social issues such as deciding to disobey an authority figure, taking up a romantic interest (or not, the option is there), and navigating the strained relationship between Cinders and her stepsisters. Many games reinforce traditional gender roles, but Cinders allows you to experiment and find the path that best fits you.

Decision Time: What will you do?
Overall, Cinders is a high quality game with great characters, story, art, and music. I believe that there’s a huge market for visual novel games but as of now, they don’t get much press for the same reason that games “for girls” (like Imagine: Fashion Designer) don’t get attention within gamer culture. Their feminine elements and nontraditional style make people question whether or not they’re real games. Does Cinders count as a game when all you have to do is click through dialogue and make decisions? Is it just a visual novel or a visual novel game? I believe it’s as much a game as Halo or Dragon Age. Sure, the presentation is different but you’re still making decisions and roleplaying a character. Leaving visual novels out of the category of game just limits the medium and those who would potentially enjoy them. There’s a lot to like about visual novel games, and I have a feeling that in the future they’ll be a massive part of the casual/mobile game market.
- J.

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