The Weird World Of Frozen Pregnancy Games

Over the course of the last six months I find myself repeatedly drawn back to an odd batch of games – cartoon celebrity or child surgery games you’ll find on free sites aimed at girls. I think it was the pregnancy disaster games which first properly caught my attention.

In Pregnant Anna Emergency you’ll find Anna from Frozen sporting a huge baby bump and lying in bed after what looks like an accident at a wood chipping facility. Wooden spikes jut out of her skin, her nose is bleeding and her face is bruised. Your first instruction?

“Wipe the blood,puss using tissue”

Blood,puss isn’t some gross spinoff to Bagpuss, by the way, it’s just a misspelled request to clear up the pus which Anna is oozing. I’d stared at it blankly for a little while because it made no sense regardless. Pus is the result of infection and time passing. In an emergency an infection is surely what you’re trying to prevent.

I dab at Anna’s nose and eyes and arm to deal with her strangely anachronistic issues. The tissue cures everything and staunches bloodflow. Wired should write a feature on these tissues. They’re probably the best technological advance in recent years.

It is now time for the stethoscope. I check Anna’s chest and then switch to her bump to get a foetal heartbeat. I assume everything is fine because the game doesn’t tell me otherwise.

As an aside, there are a lot of reskins in this genre. They take a character, give them a pregnancy bump and the same bunch of injuries and then make you perform the same actions to treat them. An unexpected moment of joy in this repetition came when a non-pregnant Cinderella had apparently been in an accident and needed her heartbeat checked. That particular game made me check the heartbeat in Cinderella’s chest and then the heartbeat in her stomach. Either the game was a reskin of a pregnancy emergency and nobody had bothered to check it properly OR Cinderella is a Timelord and only she and her doctor (and now me) know this.

Back to Anna, though. Now she requires eyedrops. Why? No EYEdea. Probably because it seems vaguely medical without heading into gore and viscera.

But then we get to the wooden nails. There’s never any explanation of how a pregnant Disney princess would end up quite so punctured, she just is and you must use some green medical pliers to yank them out. It’s not an easy job either – there’s a real sense of the nails being jammed in and needing a great deal of tugging to pull them out. Bare arms, legs and bump are all afflicted.

It’s nothing that cream and plasters can’t fix, apparently, although some element of my care appears to have produced a bunch of blood blisters. You drain them by injecting them with a syringe full of, I dunno, Blood-Begone?

Bruises next! We can deal with them by applying an ice pack to her thorax. Then it’s time for an X-ray. The X-ray doesn’t pass through the child, only Anna, so I guess she is having a lead baby and maybe the pustules were somehow symptoms of lead poisoning or something. Anna has fractures in four places, all of which are cured by the swift application of crepe bandages.

We are now finished. Anna is grateful and I prescribe aloud that she doesn’t go near any more wood chippers. The Mafa site then promptly recommends that I play Pregnant Elsa Emergency. Apparently the wood chipper has claimed another victim.

From here I started to branch out. There are birth and caesarean games and I really wanted to know how graphic they would go given the sites seem pitched squarely at tweens and younger kids. They prove to be an odd mixture.

Elsa Emergency Birth has you applying stethoscopes, ultrasounds and fluids to a placid Elsa who appears no more likely to have a contraction than she is to be an officially licensed entity from Frozen. Elsa then has a nap and a baby emerges from a floral pattern on her stomach. The baby has no umbilical cord and thus no tummy button. It does, however, have a flower in place of genitals and – aww – it has its mother’s eye makeup, how cute. I do hope my own children inherit my eyeliner gene. I cover its floral bits in a nappy and swaddle it as best I can. The game ends with the baby inside what looks like an envelope being cuddled by its mother.

It’s not really anything I recognise as childbirth but there are some curiously detailed touches – swabbing the skin before an injection, then needing to clean the blood after you take out the needle. I think this is more about creating busywork that feels vaguely medically relevant and it only crops up occasionally but the messiness and inconvenience of real bodies is not something I often see in games so these moments do stick out.

It’s the same with some of the games dealing with spot removal – the end result and the efficacy of the treatments is a total fairytale but they do also capture something of the lengths beauty product firms and traditional concepts of beauty encourage you to go to. It’s showing you the bit before the ball where the princess might be frantically plucking stray hairs, applying a boatload of astringent to a pimple and generally trying to get rid of all that aforementioned real body inconvenience.

I don’t think that’s the intention. These games go out of their way to avoid difficult, messy or real elements. Babies have flowers instead of genitalia and caesareans involve them magically appearing rather than being born. Broken bones are healed in seconds and tissues stop your eyes weeping pus. The makeover never fails, roles are never questioned, pain is almost entirely absent and the women are always styled as cute and compliant. You might, as I did, get some glimmers of unruly bodies but there’s no desire to explore that, merely tame it. It reminds me of how adverts for sanitary products work – blue liquids and euphemisms are fine, Elsa Has Really Fucking Terrible Period Pain And Would Like To Curl Up And Die In Peace Thanks is not.

Another section of this kind of gaming is devoted to baby versions of these characters which have come a cropper. There’s Baby Elsa Ambulance where baby Elsa (there is so much Frozen stuff out there, seriously) with a bleeding slash to her chest and a black eye crying in the back of an ambulance. The adults don’t fare much better. A fully grown Elsa presents you with a foot sprouting all manner of angry-looking growths, splinters and cuts. Her trip to the throat doctor is similarly alarming.

Barbie Breast Feeding had you drag and drop the baby from the cot to Barbie’s chest where it drinks enough milk that it promptly develops a stomach ache and then requires a leg massage and a nappy change. I assume that might be closer to reality, except instead of wiping a flower which exists in place of your child’s genitals you’re actually dealing with human poop and children can get that EVERYWHERE.

Adult responses I’ve seen to these – particularly when one made it into the mobile download charts – treat them as unsettling. They’re weird and aberrant – a sort of gaming freak show, but people are clearly playing them. Out of curiosity I emailed SuperDataResearch to see if they had any information as to who these gamers might be. According to CEO Joost van Dreunen:

“Sites like Mafa.com appeal largely to girls, accounting for 92% of traffic. About four out of five of these women are teen and tween girls, which explains the predominance of popular Disney characters like Elsa. Interestingly, however, about 21% of these women are adults aged 18-34. In terms of business model, this type of web-based game portal draws the lion share of revenues from ads and cross-promotion, and relies for only 2-5% of annual revenue on direct purchases.”

As someone who falls into that 21% I’d say my reasons for playing are to work out why everyone else is playing. It’s like a scab I can’t stop fiddling with (although Elsa Scab Picker has not yet come up on the recommendations list yet). They feel more like tutorials for games than actual games – all the actions are heavily signposted, they tend to follow a strict progression and there’s no chance of failure. There’s also no chance to excel. You prod and poke and rub the areas specified by the game until you trigger the next action. There’s no grading, no nuance.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing – I wrote earlier this week about my love of hidden object adventure games (it’s a supporter post so you might need to wait for it to move into general view). There is a certain satisfaction in ticking items off a list BUT I think perhaps a stronger attraction here is the transgressive appeal of branded characters indulging in activities outside what’s been approved by the license holder. I mean, that’s a huge part of fanfic culture – something I loved in my teens.

They also offer this early teen wish-fulfilment where applying the right products in the right order *will* solve your acne or finish your chores or let you kiss someone you’re crushing on. And those pregnancy games? They’re sanitised to heck and they present the women in ways I find deeply troubling. But part of me gets it. Childbirth can be this overwhelming idea to get to grips with. Pushing a WHAT out of my WHAT? These games give you easy mode. They funnel you through a process and don’t throw up scary complications. There’s no excrement, no pushing out an afterbirth and definitely no need to learn the word “episiotomy”. Quite frankly I can see the appeal of that at any age.

From this site

53 Comments

  1. Nimble Cat says:

    Very interesting article!

    I’m a little hesitant to try one of these myself. I don’t want to get sucked down a rabbit hole!

  2. Zankman says:

    Sex Flash games make more sense and are more normal/reasonable than these, lol.

    Well, at least from my PoV. These things are just so weird and… Pointless? Not pointless, they are obviously liked and played by people, but… I don’t know.

    • ElVaquero says:

      Why, it’s almost as if they weren’t made for a traditional games audience!

      • airmikee says:

        Yep, surgery porn enthusiasts are definitely not traditional.

      • pepperfez says:

        The inherent conflict between porn and game fascinates me. Like, all the games where the porn scenes are failure states? That’s a very interesting design trend! I’d love to see something that was effective simultaneously as a game and as pornography, but I literally cannot imagine it.

        • Vin_Howard says:

          The Witcher series? :p

        • Kitsunin says:

          “Porn as failure state” is a pretty clever idea, I have to say, as far as using mechanics to indulge fetishes.

          Luxuria Superbia and Huniepop have both done pretty fitting mechanical, if not visually explicit, representations of sex, and I’d say if they show anything, it’s that the act itself isn’t really mechanical enough to make for a good game. Which is probably why the best porn games tend to be RPGs-with-sex.

  3. Jason Lefkowitz says:

    Given how notoriously litigious and protective of its IP Disney is, the thing that surprises me most is that these games aren’t clobbered by meteors with Mickey Mouse painted on them three seconds after they appear.

    • Beanbee says:

      Sir…. We’ve just lost the eastern seaboard.

      DAMNIT SARGENT! How did the enemy sneak another Disney infringing free-nium app past us!

  4. Da5e says:

    The last two images in this post are VERY Trevor Brown; I recommend playing these games while listening to Cut Hands Has The Solution. Sinister!

  5. Turin Turambar says:

    cartoon girls and nursery and pregnancy .

    Somewhere, someone that visits 4chan has to be happy that finally all his weird fetishes are covered in a single game.

  6. Ejia says:

    Well, I suppose a Disney pregnancy game is the perfect place to break out in song.

    “She shall not need, she shall not need, an epiiiiiiiiiiisiotomyyyyyyyyy”

  7. Pantalaimon says:

    Not sure whether to think of these as odd internet curios or things which are legitimately unhealthy to children or adolescents who might gravitate to them. Very strange and unsettling, though, perhaps because they stop short of being actual fetish games whilst obviously being the product of quite weird people.

  8. thedosbox says:

    They also offer this early teen wish-fulfilment where applying the right products in the right order *will* solve your acne or finish your chores or let you kiss someone you’re crushing on

    I’m not so sure that early teens are the only demographic this statement applies to.

  9. aircool says:

    They remind me of those odd looking ‘manga’ games that are for sale on steam, where you inherit a cake shop with two female cat-people-sex-slaves or something. I can never be sure whether these things are aimed at children, and I just think the games are fucking weird, or they’re actually aimed at adults who are fucking weird.

    • Mezzo says:

      Considering Nekopara (the game you mentioned) is a porn game with locked-out nudity for the Steam release, I would assume for adults.

      • Silent_Thunder says:

        Which even further begs the question, who on earth is playing porn games that don’t even have the payoff. It would be like watching a video where the woman orders pizza, and right as Pornstach Mc80s takes his shirt off, the VHS makes that thud sound it makes when it’s out of tape and the screen goes black.

        • LogicalDash says:

          The same people who read romance novels that fade to black before the boning starts.

          For one reason or another, Americans (I’m assuming y’all’s American?) call things “porn” when they have visual representations of sex, but if it’s in a book, it might not even qualify as “erotica”. H-games are mostly text based, yet the mere presence of drawn nudity puts them over the line.

          • Vin_Howard says:

            Except there is more then just nudity in those drawn parts….

          • LogicalDash says:

            Yeah, and romance novels often have pretty graphic descriptions of sex in them, what’s your point?

  10. Matt_W says:

    These articles always make me feel like I’ve just turned over my favorite sitting rock and all sorts of interesting many-legged things I had no idea were there are squirming about. You never know what weird corner of the internet you’ll wind up in next.

  11. Not_Id says:

    We need more long articles on crap games that none of us RPS readers care about.

    Well at least the games get some press right? So on behalf of them I thank you Philippa.

    • pepperfez says:

      We need more long articles on crap games that none of us RPS readers care about.

      That’s true! The good games I can play myself, but I’d much rather read someone else’s insight into terrible ones.

      • RobF says:

        Yep. Another vote for more stuff that looks at the slightly weird and wanky end of videogames.

    • GWOP says:

      And make John Walker review more Barbie movies.

    • bonuswavepilot says:

      So you only care about ‘good’ games, or ones you want to buy? No context? No ‘check out this weird corner of gaming’? Sounds pretty dull…

    • Alice O'Connor says:

      Yeah Not_Id, I’m also glad we’re posting more about weird games that people probably won’t have known about before. As Matt_W says, it’s like discovering a whole new ecosystem you had no idea existed.

      We’ll try to deliver more oddities for you!

      • Not_Id says:

        Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should Alice. But that’s just my opinion. Don’t let it stop you playing/writing about games you’d never try/give a crap about if you weren’t someone wot writes about games.

        • Hmm-Hmm. says:

          It’s one of the major reasons I’ve been following RPS for so long. But hey, feel free to not read any of those blog posts/articles.

  12. ssh83 says:

    If you play doctor with kids and let them make up what emergency situations they have, the sh*t they come up with make the wood chips on Anna seem tame. Well unless, you have one of those poor kids who had been indoctrinated with political correctness paranoia at a young age.

    • median says:

      This. People disturbed by children playing these games haven’t spent much time in make-believe with kids.

      Though I think there are just a few lines of code away from making, “Elsa’s Emergency Rape Kit.” That one might make me raise an eyebrow. But I also wonder how much of our perturbation here is from men put off by girls play activities; we think it’s normal to play at killing people, but really sick to change a diaper and intellectually vapid to find just the right outfit for the party.

      • Pantalaimon says:

        The important difference is that make believe games are created by the kids themselves, which is entirely more healthy.

  13. Jackablade says:

    I’d like a more period correct Disney princess game, with leeches and trepanning and such.

  14. Freud says:

    What kind of sick people would make games like this?

  15. LEF says:

    I believe I speak for the right-minded among us when I express my strong distaste for this sort of thing. This is another instance where self-policing has clearly failed, and it seems only appropriate that we, as a society, have some mechanism for addressing this failure. Now, I’m not certain if copyright is adequate–it may address those cases where Disney properties are violated, but what about instances where original creations are depicted in such obviously inappropriate ways? Clearly, we need some sort of legal framework, a set of tools that will allow us to enforce norms in those situations where the nature of the transgression demands a response.

    • Llewyn says:

      I assume from your first sentence that you’re aiming to be satirical. If you’re serious then no, you don’t.

  16. Janichsan says:

    I have three questions about these games: Why!? What the hell!?! And lastly: WHY!!?!

  17. mavu says:

    What is it with this week? This is at least the 5th time i felt the need to check if its 1. April again for some reason.

  18. CaptainFtang says:

    It took me a while to realise that Anna was not wearing a sombrero.

  19. ender1200 says:

    These games are truly fascinating. It’s clear that the designers of these games are aiming them for little girls, yet most adults find them rather disturbing. I believe that what we see here is a sort of “demographic uncanny valley”. If you made a list of what makes a stereotypical girls game these games hit all the spots: Dealing with matters of hygiene and woman’s health, using cartoonish cute graphic, having a lot of pink in the color scheme and, of course, using well liked girls franchise to lure audience.

    Yet whoever designs these games only ever thinks about their game in the shallowest level, ignoring all the small details that makes us adult find these games so off-putting. The irony is that little girls would most likely be a lot less put off by these games, as they haven’t yet built the cultural baggage and array of associations that causes us to judge these games, for good or ill, so harshly.

    • Baffle Mint says:

      These games are very often made by foreign bootleggers and they have all the effort and care put into them that you’d expect to find in the cheap transformers knockoffs you can buy at the dollar store (Or the shockingly expensive ones you can buy at Big Lots).

      I’ve seen a lot of these played by youtubers, and many have this bizarre photocopy of a photocopy effect where, say, one game uses archaic or obscure tools as part of its makeover regime, and you don’t necessarily know what that tool is, and then another game that tool is so poorly drawn or abstract that you think even the game maker doesn’t know what it is, and that they were just including it because the game they’re ripping off included it.

      In some ways I wonder about examining the mechanics and implications of these kinds of games when so many have clearly been made with no passion or talent. It’s like wondering how that bootleg He-Man figure is influencing your son’s body image and not mentioning that it was sold without a head.

      Part of what makes so many of these games disturbing is that as adults we can recognize how little care or effort went into them; I wonder what the same formulas would look like if they were presented with care and artistry.

      • Kitsunin says:

        Yeah, I think the creepiness of it isn’t so much the act of, in this case, treating the injuries of a pregnant woman. I’m fairly certain a skilled individual could create such a game which wouldn’t make you think twice, but it’d have to be better than anything I’m aware of on the market.

        On the other hand, this collage of gross, ill-fitting graphics together with familiar characters ends up landing in the uncanny valley. For some reason, in my mind, this uncanny-ness makes it all feel horribly bizarre, almost even fetishistic (from the perspective of, some adult made this) and wrong.

        • ender1200 says:

          I’ve seen people assuming that these games are meant to be fetish games. I guess it’s a good lesson in not attributing authorial intent too rashly. Sometimes people don’t really understand the product they themselves have created.

          • Baffle Mint says:

            From the LPs I’ve watched of these games, (One is mentioned down-thread, Peanutbutter Gamer has looked at a couple) and in most cases I don’t really get a sense of them as fetish objects; they come off more like the hundreds of Slender: The 8 Pages rip-offs people make from stock unity assets; In other words, they’re made because the genre is already popular and (at least on the surface) it doesn’t take much skill or effort to build a knock-off.

            I’d be really curious to know what the patient zero for these games is: When did the genre take off, and what was the first entry in the genre? Dress-up games have been around as long as flash itself pretty much but these kinds of very linear caregiver games seem newer to me.

      • median says:

        IF there was a cultural studies program for programmers, the ways flash objects are recycled would be a PhD-winning dissertation.

  20. Thirdrail says:

    You’ll play an eyeless yellow circle. Ghosts will try to kill you while you gorge yourself on polka dots.
    You’re going to need more plants. Wait, why? To fight off the zombies, obviously.
    This fluffy sentient balloon can heal things with magic. Should we use it to help cure cancer? Omg shut up and make it fight that electric armadillo.

    There are a lot of video games that make absolutely no ****ing sense. lol It’s just you guys only notice when it leaves your home territory of “Violence, Violence, Violence!” and branches into a different theme.

    • Premium User Badge

      Phasma Felis says:

      No, there’s a lot of deeply weird, largely nonviolent games that still get a very good reception around here. Hatoful Boyfriend, for example. This one is arousing negative feelings because it’s got a profoundly fetishistic vibe to it. It feels like the creator got off to this.

  21. pottering says:

    Looks like “lowbrow art” from a mag like Juxtapoz. “Mark Ryden’s Frozen”.

  22. Psychomorph says:

    I’d be more interested in the prequel.

  23. honuk says:

    what

  24. Antistar says:

    There was a pretty great Something Awful Let’s Play megathread semi-recently on “Girl Games” like this. It took a… feminist perspective, I guess is a good shorthand for its approach? It started like this:

    “Hello, my name is Devious Vacuum, and I am a roboticist. But when I decided I wanted to LP some games, I thought I should focus on what I’m REALLY good at: having a vagina. Let’s Play Games for Girls!

    All of us are aware that “Girl Games” exist online, and that there are a lot of them and they’re all pretty shitty, both in terms of messages they send and how well they are implemented. Why are Girl Games so terrible? How many of them are actually out there? WHY DO THESE GAMES EXIST?? These are the hard-hitting questions I would like you to help me answer!

    In each episode, I’m going to look at a collection of Girl Games, mostly from free-to-play websites, but also some games full of terrible messages that you have to actually pay money for. This is by NO MEANS the full extent of girl games out there! There are so many of them. So many.”

  25. Josh W says:

    Something else vaguely ominous about these games:

    “Something you love is in danger! But you can help them, all you have to do is follow these exact steps in order, and everything will be alright.”

    It’s like ransom cooperation for kids.