We admittedly know little about modern video games. In the 1980s, some of our colleagues enjoyed a brief addiction to an arcade staple of the Asteroids/Space Invaders
variety, called Red Baron,
which allowed them to live out their fantasies of becoming the legendary Prussian fighter ace, Manfred von Richthofen
But video games have come a long way since then. Today, they exhibit CGI animation of near-Pixar quality, and allow users to construct diverse plot scenarios, based on their own gaming decisions--rather like Choose Your Own Adventure
books. Some industry watchers even predict that video games will soon outstrip movies in popularity, especially among teen and twentysomething audiences.
With that in mind, it is truly exciting to discover a game that delivers an unequivocal message of size celebration, especially considering this medium's potential to influence young girls during their most impressionable years.* * *
A reader of this forum recently directed our attention to a new video game titled Nancy Drew: Danger by Design. As the name implies, this game is the latest entry in a series starring young detective Nancy Drew (the female counterpart to the Hardy Boys). Each installment depicts the amateur sleuth unravelling mysteries in exotic locales, all over the globe.
Danger by Design takes Nancy (i.e., the player) to Paris, and immerses her in the world of haute couture. As Nancy, the player interns with a Parisian fashion designer (who has recently been subjected to death threats), cohabits with a world-famous fashion model, and meets elite photographers, magazine critics, rival designers, etc.
So far, this may all sound like an engaging but predictable scenario for a girl-oriented video game, but wait, there's a twist--a twist that makes this an extraordinary boon for size celebration.
It turns out that the couturier with whom Nancy interns is, amazingly, a plus-size fashion designer:
The decision to orient the game around a couturier who favours the full-figured body type was a stroke of genius, on the authors' part. Every young girl who plays Danger by Design will not only learn about the world of fashion, but will also discover that specifically plus-size fashion design offers them a burgeoning new field in which they can specialize.
Moreover, the designer's focus on plus sizes is portrayed as a bold and exciting choice, something that sets her apart from her rivals. Although the designer herself is not full-figured, she is said to have entered this field out of an aesthetic preference for womanly curves--a fact that the player discovers in various articles and press clippings, over the course of the game:
In experiencing Danger by Design, innumerable young girls will be aesthetically inoculated against outmoded, 20th-century myths such as "Clothes look 'better' on underweight frames," and will instead realize that well-fed curves--their own, or those of other young women--provide far more attractive design opportunities than do bone-thin frames.
The game does more than merely adopt size-positive slogans. It backs up its pro-curvy philosophy up with corresponding visuals. The designer's dresses, for example, hang on curvaceous mannequins which exhibit the hourglass-and-pear proportions of true Classical beauty:
Throughout the game, the player completes tasks which nurture her nascent fashion skills, including assembling an outfit for one of the designer's clients (a shapely, plus-size client).
But Danger by Design's most subversive, most wonderful, and most celebratory element is undoubtedly "J.J. Ling," the designer's star model.
The typical image of a top model--as cultivated by fashion elites for decades--is that of a drugged-out, androgynous being, living in some squalid, inner-city flat with discordant "rock" music perpetually blaring, starving herself into oblivion.
But the model in this game couldn't be more different.
J.J. Ling's apartment is a quaint, cozy, warm environment, with curvy colonial furnishings, and a genuine feeling of "home." Melodic accordion music wafts in from the street below. The apartment even features Ionian Greek columns (on the right), which underscore the locale's status as a present-day temple of timeless beauty.
When we first meet the model, she is happily performing her favourite activity--the explicitly unwaiflike act of baking cookies. The sunlight streaming in through the open window bathes her in a celestial light, enshrining her as a modern-day equivalent of that enchanting Victorian ideal, the "angel in the house."
The player notices, right away, that she is a visibly plus-size model, with round facial features, a shapely, non-"toned" figure, and a particularly generous waist, as revealed by her close-fitting sweater. She labels herself a size 12, but looks much curvier. (Note too the frost-pink lipgloss--irresistible.)
J.J. Ling's personality turns out to be just as warm and inviting as her dwelling. Rather than inviting the player to share a "hit" of some kind of illegal narcotic, as a minus-size model might, this curvy goddess happily asks the player if she cares for . . . chocolate-chip cookies:
And the player's response is scripted to be an enthusiastic, "I love chocolate chip cookies!"
J.J. Ling explains that her career requires her to be curvy (which happily coincides with her fondness for delectable treats), and invites the player to indulge right along with her.
The model's statements also directly tie in her healthy appetite with the designer's aesthetic preference for plus-size beauty:
Could there possibly be a more affirmative message of size celebration than this? The player encounters a pretty model who delights in baking and eating cookies, both for professional needs, and for the sheer pleasure of it--and even directly invites the player to indulge right along with her.
This game brilliantly employs the seductive power of fashion and beauty to naturalize the look of a curvy, womanly body shape, to show players that such a shape can be regarded as aesthetically desirable, and best of all, to foster in young women a natural, guilt-free love of eating--not just so-called "health" foods, but particularly decadent "treats." The game quite literally demonstrates that "Sexy models have dessert."
The sight of plus-size goddess J.J. Ling perpetually baking cookies could become the present-day equivalent of Goethe's Lotte baking bread in The Sorrows of Young Werther, which was an archetypal image of German Romanticism:
"I walked across the courtyard toward the attractive house, and when I had gone up the steps and through a doorway, I came upon the most charming sight imaginable . . . a very pretty girl of medium height. She had on a simple white dress with pale pink bows on the sleeves and at her breast, and she was holding a loaf of black bread and cutting a slice . . ."
(This scene also endows the "Menu" button, which appears at the foot of this and every screen in the game, with a whole new meaning.)
The player subsequently finds a positive reaction to meeting J.J. Ling scripted in her journal, including references to how the model is "always" baking cookies, and even a description of the appetizing aroma of her apartment.
Later in the game, the player receives a few investigative hints by telephone from a pair of Nancy's American friends, and the scripted lines reaffirm her positive appraisal of her famous roommate. This, in turn, inspires an envious reaction from one of her friends (a reaction that exposes one of the reasons why the fashion industry has suppressed timeless beauty for so long):
Later in the game, the player telephones another pair of Nancy's American friends--her famous sleuthing peers, the Hardy Boys. Joe's starstruck reaction to discovering that Nancy is bunking with "world-famous plus-size model J.J. Ling" is typical of the ardent reactions that goddesses inspire in male admirers. It also reinforces the game's underlying, all-important premise that, as a full-figured model, Miss Ling is universally acknowledged to be gorgeous and desirable, not just by the fashion world, but also by the opposite sex.
Indeed, at one point in the game, the player discovers that one of the model's adoring fans holds a piece of information that is essential to solving the mystery, and that this fellow will only share his information if she can provide him with Miss Ling's autograph!
Danger by Design is "food positive" in other respects as well. Several of the game's activities encourage a healthy enjoyment of eating. Early on, the player-as-Nancy is served an elegant meal at a French restaurant--and enjoys it immensely. Later, to obtain information from another vital source, she is required to prepare delectable desserts at a Parisian café.
But best of all, one assignment requires the player to bake a batch of cookies--for J.J. Ling herself.* * *
(Could the game's authors have possibly conceived of a more delightful task than baking cookies expressly for a plus-size model's enjoyment, to help her attain a curvier figure?)
For obvious reasons, this review has focussed on the most size-positive elements of Danger by Design.
But we would be remiss not to praise the game's clever plot, which involves a historical mystery stretching back to World War II. It is a testament to the authors' maturity that the game does not
exploit that conflict to present yet another insipid, caricature-ridden, "good vs. evil" tale, but tells a nuanced and morally complex story of love, loss, duty, and honour amid troubled times.
Although the game is filled with sunny moments, it also boasts a fine dollop of suspense, and even a smidgen of horror. For example, one episode is set in that most exciting of all Parisian "sights," the Montparnasse catacombs:
(The wording on the lintel in the above image, "C'est ici l'empire de la mort," is accurate, by the way--even if the physical arrangement of the entryway to the catacombs, which exhibits many more skulls and bones, is not.)* * *
In the course of the game, the player gets to know a little of Paris and its Metro system, picks up a smattering of French, and undertakes precisely the sorts of tasks that a young fashion intern might actually be assigned. Some are glamorous, some decidedly unglamourous, but even when the player tackles more mundane assignments, she acquires skills that later help her unravel the game's mystery. Danger by Design is a fun way to give a young girl a "taste" of the fashion world (chocolate-chip cookies and all), and to set her thinking about whether she might like to choose this profession for herself.
We simply cannot praise this game highly enough. It is as perfect an expression of size celebration as we can imagine, with no mixed messages whatsoever. And although we have no basis on which to compare it to other video games, it is also a thoroughly enjoyable diversion, full of mentally stimulating puzzles, and supported by a romantic plot. Parents can allow their daughters to enjoy this game, secure in the knowledge that it will provide them with a wholesome and fun entertainment experience--and a size-celebratory one at that.
- Official publisher's site