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There's a game I secretly like, and I'm a little embarrassed to admit it. Then again, my column is late because I spent the weekend in at a Latinists' convention, so really, who am I trying to impress?
My guilty pleasure is Princess Maker. It's a Japanese PC game, it seems that in Japan preteen girls are a bigger segment of the gaming market. (This might be because the American games for this demographic are along the lines of Super Model Barbie. )
The story is set in a pseudo-medieval fantasy kingdom. You play as the victor in a epic battle against the dark lord, now retired from combat and the adoptive father of a baby girl. The goddess Venus appears in a cloud of light, ok, in a King's Quest-era speech box, and gives you the baby and tells you to raise the girl to be healthy, attractive, good-natured and smart. You send her to school, art and dance lessons, etiquette class, assign her chores, take her on vacations, etc. Although you are trying to increase her stats, the random events in the game like competitions or potential suitors, keep Princess Maker from being a repetitive leveling game.
With proper training, your little princess can become quite an accomplished mage or swordswoman, and venture outside the city looking for monsters and dragons to fight.(See above regarding "pseudo-medieval fantasy kingdom") The combats are bloodless, although I can't tell whether that's intentionally keeping the game girl-friendly or a function of the ancient graphics. Either way, it fills my need for slightly-squeamish conquest.
There's a not-so-subtle message not-so-cleverly embedded in Princess Maker about the fine balance between attractive and slutty. It's not a good theme for preteen girls, but it's a message they'll get from hundreds of sources more important that a videogame. And your princess can also be happy and successful by excelling at academics or fencing or dancing or another skill.
At the end of the game, when your princess turns eighteen, you receive a letter from her, telling you about her life. Some of my princesses ended up happily single, some married nice boys from good families (yes, that's the description), one ran off with my butler (apparently I had a butler) and I finally got one to marry the prince. Oh yeah, that's the goal of the game. One princess was unhappy since she had no children (I'm not entirely sure where I failed as a father).
I don't know if I enjoy Princess Maker so much because it's like playing dolls or a very low-tech Sim. Maybe it was the nostalgia factor, because it reminded me of the Laura Bow mysteries and the King's Quest games. Either way, it's worth downloading this game and getting your own little princess. I won't tell anyone.
Meg will too tell on you. Shame loves company.