An estimated percentage of 80% of Playstation 3 users are male, a percentage obtained from Playstation Home, a virtual world in which players can interact with other players in the form of human avatars. It is assumed, then, that the audience PS3 tries to appeal to are males, ages 18-35 years old. However, a new game & free demo have been released that has surprised gamers everywhere, taking a traditionally feminine symbol and with it, making an immense political statement. I'm talking about a game called Flower.
The game begins with a dark, decrepit city, one with a cacophony of noise and urban decay. All around is darkness and grime; it is a perpetual night. But there is a glimmer of hope, sitting on a desk inside of an apartment. It is a single potted flower, just on the cusp of blooming -- a beacon of hope for this dismal place. Yes, folks, a flower is the hero of this story.
Upon clicking the potted flower, we are transported to a beautiful, open field, filled with hundreds of flowers of many colors, all ready to blossom. "We're the yellow petal," my brother explains, "Watch this." As he controls the floating petal, he glides by other flowers, and as if by magic, they burst open. As he soars past, more petals join his trail, sending the entire field abloom. There are wind turbines, blue skies, and the sound of swaying grass and the singing winds. I'm shocked by the beauty of these images, and I find myself a little breathless as a flurry of petals continues to dance on the breeze.
"The message is really... poetic," my brother tells me. As he moves through the field, all of the yellowed and seemingly dead grass turns to a deep green, and new flowers spring forth from the earth. After a seemingly infinite number of petals have been collected, they carry on toward the skeleton of a tree. Wrapping around it, it suddenly explodes with leaves and color, and the entire field blows in celebration.
"Have you forgotten?" the screen reads. I stare in awe. "Have you forgotten the scents? The sounds?" The flowers seem to glow, and embarrassingly enough, I'm tearing up. What a powerful message, what a horribly potent message to give -- in the shambles of our urban dreams, we have forgotten the beauty of the earth. It's a message that has run through my head over and over again.
Players will guide the spirited flowers through the city, reviving it with the power of nature -- not working against the earth, but rather, reviving its beauty and power... and learning from the earth, listening to it. The notion of a single flower inspiring change in our world is a shocking, shocking message, but as far as we can tell, guys and gals alike are playing this demo -- even guys like my twenty year old brother, who is not ashamed to play it. This game is capturing not only gaming minds, but human hearts.
In the gaming realm, gender stereotyping still runs rampant. There are an immense number of violent, blood-ridden games such as Call of Duty which glorify war, and Grand Theft Auto which praise murder and theft; these games are supposedly extreme but masculine games, and are often what we think about when we hear the phrase "video game." Flower offers a realm free of stereotypes; no fashion show, Barbie, horses, Cooking Mama, objectified women, or helpless Princess Peach... on the flip-side, no rocket launchers, grenades, Transformers, or gangsters to reinforce prehistoric ideas of masculinity and femininity.
Flower is taking traditionally feminine symbol, and transforming it into something powerful, reveling in its beauty. Flowers are always viewed as dainty, transient, and simply for looking at... this flower transforms the world. It almost seems symbolic of the power within what is thought to be feminine and weak -- emotion, passion, and empathy. These are the qualities that blow the petals along. It is these qualities that mend the earth and create a better world. The traditionally male qualities - rationality, aggressiveness, pragmatism - are overwhelmed and transformed by the power of femininity.
Feminist analysis aside, it is a daring and strange move for Playstation; this is a video game that attempts to woo an overwhelmingly male audience, and with a name like "Flower," it's going to be a tough sell.
In my opinion, this is a video game that should be considered monumental in the realm of games and media alike -- never has there been a game that has taken such a risk in marketability and is so honest in its intent. Not to mention, there has never been a game so politically potent and poetic. This is a first -- a promising, promising first. Whether male gamers will play with pride has yet to be seen. But as for feminists who love seeing some good ol' gender-symbol-bending and attempted neutrality, we're going to be eating this stuff up.
If you aren't convinced by my enthusiastic review, watch the demo for yourself on Youtube. Enjoy!