Homer in Silicon: “Making Mr Right”

My editor refers to this week’s column as “ever so slightly outraged,” which suggests that I don’t really have this whole outrage thing down and need more practice with the flecks of spittle.

However. It is about a game called “Making Mr Right,” which I really really did not like. I don’t know exactly what the makers were trying for, but I suspect their response to my complaints would be along the lines of “it’s just supposed to be fun,” or “it’s just a game!”

But the trick about working in an artistic medium is that you typically wind up saying something whether you mean to or not. So it’s probably a good idea to go ahead and think about what that is.

25 thoughts on “Homer in Silicon: “Making Mr Right”

  1. I have to say, Emily, that based on how you come across in your blog posts and comments (your “online persona,” let’s say) I can’t even begin to imagine you truly outraged. :)

  2. To me this seems likely to have started out as a gender-switched take on Princess Maker, itself not a little creepy; which might have also constituted another line of criticism or satire — but a casual game that expects critical engagement and videogame literacy is a bit much to hope for.

  3. I think lines such as “I played this game in a haze of loathing” do a perfectly creditable job of conveying outrage. The addition of flecks of spittle would contribute little other than moisture.

  4. So now that I’ve actually read the column. I have two comments, one snarky, one legitimate (though playing devil’s advocate).
    1) If reading newspaper comics has taught me anything, it’s that women hate their men spending time out playing golf.
    2) Is it so wrong that there is a power fantasy video game for (stereotypical) heterosexual women?

    • Judging from Emily’s review, the stereotypical heterosexual woman in this particular power fantasy is incredibly shallow and materialistic, willing to throw her lot in with any emotional juvenile whose yard contains the requisite number of fountains. I can’t speak for my entire gender, but I don’t tend to fantasize about being an unrelatable one-dimensional person married to someone with whom I share no emotional connection, whose company I might not even enjoy. (It’s possible I just haven’t seen enough fountains in the same place, though.)

  5. (In case there’s any real confusion, I just thought Simon’s phrase “ever so slightly outraged” was entertainingly oxymoronic and ought to be shared.)

    On brian’s comment (2)… hm. Well, a couple of points. I don’t think power fantasies are necessarily the Root of All Evil or anything. But I am a bit disappointed, in the sense that I generally hope games that are more about relationships and daily life will bring with them some measure of maturity, nuance, and perspective — instead of which this one manages to be juvenile, just in a totally different way.

    The second point is that the lines of the fantasy are less clearly demarcated. If I play Halo: ODST for an hour, I don’t walk away trying to apply that experience to my real-life encounters with alien soldiers.

    By contrast, there was a lot about the self-help-book framing of Making Mr Right that seemed to suggest it was meant to be dispensing real life advice. In fact, there were little snippets of Dr. Love’s notes presented between levels. A lot of that advice was not very good, and what wasn’t inherently foolish (like “listen thoughtfully when your partner tells you something”) was often phrased as “stuff that men could do in order to get along better with their wives/girlfriends” rather than “stuff applicable to both genders.” It often seemed to be shoring up some of the extremely dumb things that women often tell themselves and each other about conventional dating, with the strong implication that men are starting from a point of essential deficiency at the skill of relating to others at all.

    This is why, for some time, I hung on to the hope that the game was joking, that the self-help book pastiche was intended as parody, and that we were going to hit some awesome whipsaw reversal.

    I could see this thing being Bogosted into a reductionist breakdown of the whole self-help industry.

    Or Molleindustrized into some kind of super-dark, cynical scenario that reveals Dr Love is controlled by the interested parties who sell exercise machines and golf-training devices and yard fountains, and that all this private misery is thanks to advertisers first creating a need for high-status, high-appearance relationships, and then destroying them. (Sort of like The Joneses, but blacker. Much blacker.)

    Buuut no.

    Finally, the type of power fantasy involved here is a double-edged and scary one. It’s the fantasy that relationships can be completely understood and managed and controlled, and that everyone in the relationship can be perfected and made shiny.

    But being totally perfect and shiny for your significant other, so that they will not reject you… what *is* that? Dysfunctional neediness, not love.

    It’s possible that I’m more sensitive to this than most. If I were the sort of person who believed in burning reading material in the public square, my first bonfire would be a big pile of Cosmo and Glamour and all their variations, aimed at women from their early teen years until they should definitely be old enough to know better, that help us be critical of all the wrong things (my happiness DEPENDS on my being a size 2!) and blind to all the obvious ones (men vary! also, they’re people! if you can’t relate to one as a friend and fellow human, nothing else about your relationship will work!).

    I don’t (I think) have big problems with these issues myself, but I know plenty of people who do, or have in the past; including one roommate long ago who would barricade herself in her bedroom with a stack of these magazines whenever her romantic fortunes turned bad, convincing herself she’d been rejected because she wasn’t quite thin enough or quite well-enough made up. Meanwhile, her crush dated women of varying appearances and dress styles but only appeared interested in those with a strong sense of self.

    Oddly, that one never did work out for her.

    Making Mr Right didn’t directly reinforce the weight-obsession and similar self-criticism for women, but it definitely supported a worldview in which those forms of self-criticism would have been totally consistent — given that a man’s happiness was explicitly dependent on his ability to, say, repair the plumbing.

    • “I could see this thing being Bogosted into a reductionist breakdown of the whole self-help industry.”

      Well, I’m hearing that part of your dislike of the game comes from that it’s not really self-help at all.

      I haven’t played the game myself, but you’re saying it’s marketed toward women, while the men are the ones learning to install fountains. So this is “self-help for your partner” stuff, which of course isn’t self-help at all.

      Conrad.

    • “Or Molleindustrized into some kind of super-dark, cynical scenario that reveals Dr Love is controlled by the interested parties who sell exercise machines and golf-training devices and yard fountains, and that all this private misery is thanks to advertisers first creating a need for high-status, high-appearance relationships, and then destroying them. (Sort of like The Joneses, but blacker. Much blacker.)”

      I would play and/orread the hell out of that.

  6. Now I’m interested in your take on Guy of My Dreams, a silly flash game about relationships. Demerit: It is completely and utterly unsisterly; other women exist only to steal your lover. Also, the mortality rate is kind of shocking. Merit: I think it procedurally actually makes some interesting points about the pros and cons of settling down early versus waiting for the man who exactly fits your type, and cutting loose when you find out that your man isn’t all you thought he might be.

    Also, it takes about three minutes to play, and it has absolutely the best possible music for what it is.

      • Yeah, I actually enjoyed this quite a bit more. For one thing, the gameplay, though simple, is pretty fluid; for another, it’s operating at a sufficiently iconic level that “has blue eyes and spiky red hair” can reasonably substitute for “has (whatever) surface qualities I thought I was looking for”. Also the little quotations about the nature of love are sometimes a bit trite, but generally a little more plausible.

        And, yeah, procedurally there is an interesting thing going on here, in that you have to be calculating the gambles you’re willing to make.

        I like how the apparent value of a partner changes over time: the unattractive Trevor, whom I only liked for his glasses, turned out to be a good cook, a gentleman, and an avid shopper, which apparently is thrilling to my heart. The man of my dreams turns out to be a rude and violent murderer.

        Having a lover or not having one significantly changes how you move through the game world: if you don’t have one you’re probably obsessively dodging the guys you don’t want, and if you do, you’re freer to move around, since Death and The Girl are both less common dangers.

        There are still some choices that are a little odd. I don’t really buy that career contributes less to your happiness if you’re hooked up; I’ll buy that it’s a smaller *percentage* of what makes you happy, but that’s a different thing. The real career/relationship problem is (usually, anyhow) one of opportunity costs: if I move to New York, will my partner move with me? if he doesn’t, can we manage the long distance thing? for how long? if I’m working so hard I’m never home, what does that do to our relationship? Procedurally, the career mechanic here doesn’t represent that especially well. (Though there was one time I was going after career happiness and got too close to a skull. Whoops.)

        Also fun: intentionally pawning off on The Girl men I had decided were no good. Here, have the sarcastic jerk. You’re welcome.

      • I meant to add: you could complain that women have a creepily absolute power over men in this game too — you never hit on anyone who rejects you, and The Girl never fails to be able to steal your man. But here again I feel like the iconic nature of the gameplay came to its rescue a bit, and it was easy to interpret the men shown not as All The Men You Ever Meet, but the subset of men that you have an opportunity to be with.

        Which, well, still makes our heroine out to be a pretty sought-after character, and the totally even distribution of options from age 16 and age 50 may not be completely realistic either.

      • What would be awesome is if as your character ages, you get fewer man-options but you get better at detecting in advance their formerly hidden qualities. Especially if they’re flaws that you’ve seen before.

        And maybe you also have flaws of your own, but you don’t realize exactly what they all are until you’ve dated a bit too. So then it’s about finding someone whose flaws offset yours.

        Okay, I’m done commenting now. Overthinking.

        Thanks for pointing this out; I was amused.

      • Glad it amused you!

        I’ll actually defend the way that relationship status affects your career bonus; it’s like you can advance to a higher level when you’re single, but once you’re at that level your status doesn’t affect your bonus. The path this suggests, of frantic career advancement when you’re not spending a lot of time with your partner, followed by settling down into domestic bliss, makes at least some sense to me. Of course it’s also necessary for the gameplay tradeoff.

        …actually, what I’m thinking about now is how your video game avatar always winds up with guys named Trevor.

      • Cool game — thanks for posting it, Matt. The way the character drags her boyfriends around by the scruff of the neck reflected a cute sense of humor; the way time speeds up reflects real insight. (I thought this effect should have been stronger, in fact.)

        Emily, you’ve talked about game meaning a couple of times in your recent reviews. Here you criticize the game for being sloppy in its meaning and failing to humanize a dimension of life which is important to us primarily for its humanity; in your recent review of Gigantomania, you said the game had some flaws, but these were at least partly redeemed by the fact that it was about something.

        I’m interested in your thoughts on that topic as such: How important is meaning to you in a game? I’m thinking of _Hummingbird_, which seems intended to lack meaning or a message, as much as possible, but to be surfacely entertaining; and is pretty well programmed.

        How much of a game’s enjoyability is in the implicit or explicit meaning?

        Conrad.

      • “How much of a game’s enjoyability is in the implicit or explicit meaning?”

        How much of a game’s value lies in its enjoyability?

        There’s room in the world for lighthearted works, but, in my experience, most stuff that sticks with me does have something to say. Lost Pig is largely about not being a jerk to people, which may seem like an obvious message, but it works pretty well and provides a thematic cohesion that runs all through the gnome’s dialogue, several of the puzzles, and the Last Lousy Point.

      • You know, I never noticed that. I’d probably have said it was about controlling hunger, if anything. Being an orc who has to not devour the pig is what stuck with me…

        I’ll take another look at it sometime.

        Good thoughts,

        Conrad.

    • I … I recognise that tune! “Hey there, Georgie Girl / Why do all the boys just pass you by / Could it be you just don’t try / Or is it the clothes you wear?”

  7. Man, that review you link to:

    Reading is not most gamers’ favorite task, especially when the goal is to get your mind off of things and just play for the sake of it.

  8. On a lighter note, re: your comments on golf and the perfect man…

    In the stories of PG Wodehouse, a good golf game is a prerequisite to a marriage proposal. Women are loathe to marry ‘duffers’, otherwise perfect men cannot find the nerve to propose until their game improves, and any manner of farcical activities will center around the local course.

    Of course, I don’t think this game captures any of Wodehouse’s humor. But, there is a proud comic tradition between romance and golf.

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