Image: Fat Princess
Sony
If you blinked during Sony's press conference at E3, you likely missed the cartoony "Fat Princess." But this downloadable game is getting plenty of attention — and not necessarily the good kind.
By Games editor
msnbc.com
updated 7/31/2008 8:57:49 AM ET 2008-07-31T12:57:49

Sony rolled out "LittleBigPlanet," "God of War 3" and "Resistance 2" at its E3 press conference. And what is everyone talking about? A cartoony game from a no-name studio about a fat princess.

Why? Well, it isn’t the cartoony art style (although it is kind of cute). And it’s not the unique twist it takes on the old capture-the-flag game mechanic. No, what’s got everyone talking about “Fat Princess,” the forthcoming PlayStation Network game from Seattle’s Dark Star Industries is that the core objective involves stealing a princess and stuffing her with cake until she’s too fat to move.

Just what are people saying? Plenty. Feminist bloggers say the concept — and the title — is hostile to women. And those that defend the game — which, incidentally, doesn’t ship until spring — say that the feminists need to just shut up.

The flame war that’s ensued on the Internet is pretty much what you’d expect: lots of name calling, lots of four-letter words, plenty of “It’s just a game!” comments on game blogs. Sony, which doesn’t want to wade into the fray, will only say that they didn’t intend for the game to be controversial — just fun.

Really? A giant company with lots of smart people didn’t consider that a game called “Fat Princess” might be offensive in this easily offended society of ours ? Controversy sells games. If they’d called the game “Storming the Castle” and buried the fat princess business in paragraph four of the press release, this game would have gotten about a tenth of the attention it’s receiving now.

“We did not, in any way, shape or form, intend to mislead or offend or distract people with the title of the game,” says Sony’s Deborah Mars, senior producer on ”Fat Princess.”

Video: "Fat Princess:" Fun or offensive? Not much is known about “Fat Princess” at this point. The game was a last-minute addition to Sony’s show-and-tell at E3, the game-industry conference earlier this month in Los Angeles. What’s being written — fact and fiction — about “Fat Princess” is based on some screen shots, one playable level and a 15-second trailer during Sony’s otherwise snore-worthy press conference.

But the games press picked up on it — and loved it. 1Up.com hailed the game as charming, with “whimsical visuals and oddball humor (that) draw you in.” It earned several best-of awards at the show, including “Best Downloadable Game” from GameSpy and IGN.com.

Enter Melissa McEwan, who was one of the first to post a negative reaction to the game. Last week, she wrote a post contemptuous of the game, punctuated with a picture of herself flipping the bird, presumably at Sony. (If hand gestures and salty language offend you, think twice before clicking the link. For the record, McEwan says the photo was an inside joke to her readers.)

Can you guess what happened next? The game blogs picked up on McEwan’s post, and we were off to the races.

“Get the f*** over it, you whiny insecure little feminists,” wrote one commenter on Kotaku. “Who didn't see this coming?” wrote another on PS3 Fanboy. “I'll go one further, this is a must-buy only if it is released with this title. If they bow down to these foul-mouthed fatties, I will not buy.”

Wow. That’s a lot of anger toward fat women. And feminists. And that pent-up anger, that sense that it’s OK to make fat women the butt of jokes, is what McEwan says she was reacting to.

“My central problem with the game is that the concept is hostile to fat women, that the eponymous ‘Fat Princess’ is an object of ridicule,” she says.

Not so, says Mars. The titular princess is beloved by her subjects. They will rescue her no matter if she’s thin or fat.

“This is the star of the game. And she is revered. In no way, shape or form is she ridiculed or harmed,” she says.

You know what? I’ll own up: I’m a girl gamer, and first thing I did when I heard about “Fat Princess” was chuckle — the way I chuckle when I know a joke is kind of mean. While I do see how people could be offended, the game does look fun. But the vitriol being tossed around by both camps is really a turnoff.

And it’s interesting that some of the pro –“Fat Princess” comments on the blogs are from people — guys, presumably — who admit to being a bit rotund themselves. They get the joke, so what’s wrong with all these oversensitive women with one hand in the Doritos, the other furiously typing words like “heteronormative?”

To me, though, those arguments seem less like self-aware folks in touch with their fatness and more like people who want to laugh at themselves first before anyone else does. You know, like the guy in high school who smiled wanly as he pulled himself out of the garbage can the jocks stuffed him into.

I don’t think that Sony and developer Dark Star Industries hatched some malevolent plan in a basement to make fun of overweight people. Game developers, at least the ones I’ve met, are overwhelmingly nice, creative people trying to make fun products that people will want to buy. And the idea of a cartoon character so stuffed with food that she becomes a potential obstacle to victory is an interesting take — all politics aside.

But the fact is, games have a wider audience now, and companies need to think through things like “Fat Princess” before they unleash it on the world. That doesn’t mean censor it, that doesn’t mean change the name, even. It just means that video games are getting a lot more scrutiny nowadays because more newbies have joined the gamer ranks. Three years ago, it would have been possible for a game like “Fat Princess” to fly below the radar. Not anymore.

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