About three years ago, I attended my uncle's wedding. I distinctly remember it for two reasons: One, my father nearly got us all killed while trying to make a U-turn on an isolated country road. Two, it was the last time I wore make-up.
It's not as if I'm not a prime candidate for make-up. I have melasma. I have a keloid scar on my neck that makes it look like a centipede is making its way up into my ear. These are common skin afflictions that most people cover up, often before the actual act of "putting on [their] face."
But I don't buy or apply make-up. My wardrobe consists mostly of jeans and Neko Atsume shirts. It's not that I reject "girly" things like fashion and glamor. I simply can't be bothered. It's not my jam.
That's why I feel it's important for my Plain Jane self to stand up and tell everyone who's listening: It is one-hundred percent OK to be feminine and "girly." It is OK to like princesses, make-up, and pink things. My decision to stay away from that jazz is exactly that: My decision. And it's no more or less valid than another person's decision to vacuum while wearing pearls and high heels.
After all, feminism is about choice first and foremost. The choice to wear a dress or jeans. The choice to put on secular or religious wear. The choice to have a career, a family, or both.
It's a point worth repeating over and over, but Steven Asarch's iDigitalTimes review of Style Savvy: Fashion Forward inspired me to kindle the discussion once again. Asarch believes the Nintendo 3DS boutique-management game is "kind of really sexist," and asks you to sell clothes to "the most vapid, airheaded female clientele to ever exist." We don't receive any clarification about what makes the clientele "airheaded," but going by the review, it may be the women's biggest sin is asking you, the player, for advice on matching outfits.
"If you are a modern-day parent who wants your kid to grow up ignoring social norms and gender stereotypes, [Style Savvy: Fashion Forward] is not for your kid," Asarch writes. "This game could not be more sexist if it had a Barbie on the cover, working in the kitchen and forcing a smile to cover up the lingering memory of all the dreams she gave up to make her husband happy."
I don't want to pounce on Asarch for taking an interest in female representation in video games. It's an important topic, and, as I'm about to demonstrate, a pretty divisive one as well.
To reiterate one more time, there is no shame in anyone, especially not a woman of any orientation, embracing their femininity. Any woman who walks into a boutique and asks for clothes that match her cat's stripes is well within her right to do so. Indulging our need to feel glamorous whenever it pops up isn't "doing feminism wrong." Neither is playing with dolls, having a husband, or cooking dinner.
Still, I understand Asarch's knee-jerk negative reaction to Style Savvy: Fashion Forward. At first glance, it looks like any of the generic "girl games" that've been pitched to female players since the beginning of cyber-time. If you're an old and crusty video game lifer like myself, then you know the ones: Games about horses, games about dressing lifeless mannequin-people, games about petting dogs. Maybe you even received some as gifts from well-meaning parents and grandparents who wished you'd nurture your dollies instead of throwing them up into the pine tree beside your driveway.
But games about ponies, fashion, and dogs aren't the problem. The problem is that these games lack anything close to a well-built, balanced challenge. They're condescending, vapid, and unrealistic on an insulting level, even when there are opportunities galore to give girls something to think about.
For instance, there are countless games about dog grooming, a female-dominated industry that I was part of for over a decade. Dog grooming is challenging, very demanding, and often dangerous. It's a field for quick-thinkers and problem solvers, because in addition to dealing with often-irate and nervous customers, you need to work with animals who can't communicate verbally, but still have fears as well as physical and mental disabilities.
Imagine a grooming salon management game that forces you to deal with those issues, and more. A grooming game that challenges you to clip a cat's nails even when kitty is trying very hard to draw blood (by the way – a single cat bite can easily land you in the hospital with a life-threatening infection). A grooming game that makes you think about how you're going to wash, dry, and trim a 180-pound Newfoundland who refuses to stand up.
You won't find that game. You won't find a smart grooming game, period. All the grooming games out there are about making dogs pretty while they stand stock-still in a tub and on a table. That's about it.
The issue with so-called girl games isn't that they're "girly." The issue is that too many of them are dumb. They play like Elmo's First Adventure, except even Sesame Street's lucrative blood-colored Muppet has more personality than the plastic-faced avatar girls are expected to play as in Horsie Adventure 23.
But according to Metacritic's consensus, Style Savvy: Fashion Forward is not dumb. Nintendolife praises the game for being "[A] deep, engaging sim with the looks, brains and fun to entertain just about anyone," and says it "benefits (…) from excellent writing that gives it an immense sense of personality."
This shouldn't come as a surprise. I buy most of my shirts off Redbubble, and even I know there's nothing "vapid" about the fashion industry. You need to put in massive quantities of time, stamina, and dedication to get anywhere in it, and if you're not all-in, forget about it.
Though I hope we'll continue to tear down barriers in the games industry, I don't want developers to stop making games with female audiences in mind. Make those games about fashion and horses. Make all the games about fashion and horses and unicorns wearing dresses. Just don't make them with the assumption that all girls aged three through 16 have the mental capacity and dexterity of a toddler.