Thursday, October 2, 2008

RPG feminism

A shorter, and much lighter, post than my recent offerings.

Old-school gamers like me (one of these days, I'll have to simplify that to just "old") appreciate the slow pace and intricate decision making of a well-made TBS. For those that don't know, TBS stands for "turn-based strategy"; basically, a computerized boardgame. The classic example is Civilization, in all its glorious manifestations. Move your tanks around, build an oil rig, send a missionary to Japanese emperor, check happiness in Philadelphia, deliberate, demand tribute from Mongols, get a snack, press "END TURN". It's all very civilized, unlike these frantic RTS click-fests the kids like so much nowadays.

So when a new ubergeeky fantasy TBS comes on the radar, my spidey-sense tingles. Enter: King's Bounty (1990). Perhaps the progenitor of the genre, and certainly the forefather to such classics as Heroes of Might and Magic (I - XXXVIII). With some mild interest, I took note when Russian developer Katauri Interactive recently released a legendary sequel. Prepare to take your stupendously Caucasian hero into the technocolor wilderness, recruit orcs/dwarves/elves and other fantasy stereotypes in your quest to... do something. But seriously, it looks fun. I will patiently wait for the price to drop (as no one in their right mind will buy this thing) and then scoop it off the bargain basement floor for a weekend rollick.

But I still haven't told you perhaps the most interesting and disturbing aspect of this new King's Bounty. The acquisition of a wife.

"The ability to acquire family and have children is a very important and interesting feature of King's Bounty: The Legend. Wife gives useful bonuses to hero and his army and adds ability to wear more equipment as she has four additional slots. You can talk to your wife practically at any moment, all you need to do is to click on her portrait in the inventory. In the dialog you can divorce or start conversation about children. If you ask for a child and wife agrees, a kid will appear soon.

Child occupies one slot and gives various bonuses to the hero's characteristics. Each wife can have up to four children.
In case of divorce remember that your wife will take children, all equipment from her slots and 1/5 of gold."

In case you didn't click the offered link, this is indeed the picture and description offered on their webpage. Although to their credit, they also show a smaller portrait of a "hot elf" wife, as an alternative to the fucking insane teenage fantasy demon-bride shown here. Given the choice, I'm not actually sure which I would take. And that's clearly the attitude you're encouraged to adopt, since your wife is part of your inventory. I do like how she (and your child) give you bonuses (+5 rash control?) and that they limit children to a reasonable 4. I suspect infant mortality isn't modeled, although it wouldn't surprise me if you can sacrifice your demonspawn to make more room in your inventory for that cool magic sphere you just found.

The alimony penalty mentioned, I assume, is not tongue-in-cheek. A one-time fee of 20% gold seems reasonable compared to, say, 10% per game turn. I'd really like to be able to listen in on the developers' discussion when this gameplay item came around. And does anyone else find it disturbing that you can "divorce" her by simply clicking a button? I assume she never dumps you, even if you ignore the "start conversation" button the entire game.

This, however, does bring up an interesting point for RPG's in general. It's rare to see a game incorporate development of a family. Certainly, when we used to play D&D in junior high, we never considered the role-playing possibilities of finding a spouse (even a Penthouse demon) and having children. I suppose it just didn't sound like quite as much fun as slaughtering kobolds. Modern computer RPG's often allow you to acquire a home (see Oblivion), a job (but you have to call it "crafting" to make it sound fun), and even a family history. Several allow you to pursue casual sex with willing women as specific quest goals: perhaps the most infamous example of this is the recent Polish RPG, The Witcher. As the protagonist comes to "know" various female characters in the game, he is given a unique trading card as a token of his accomplishment. For example:

Kinda hot and clever, or incredibly sexist, depending on your POV. But I'm sure as eggs is eggs that you aren't given the choice to marry any of these women. Maybe the inventory isn't big enough.

And so isn't King's Bounty breaking some ground here? On a comparable level to Palin crashing through that cracked glass ceiling?

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