The mums of HOGs and HOPAs

I’m going through another hidden object game at the moment, squirreling my partner’s tablet away in my nest of duvets and running the battery down as I collect the requisite nonsense to advance through the plots. As I’ve worked my way through titles from the Witches’ Legacy series and Nightmares From The Deep, it’s just been really pleasant to play as mums.

All of the games I’ve played recently in the HOPA/HOG (hidden object puzzle adventure/hidden object game) genre have revolved around a mum saving a daughter. In the case of Nightmares From The Deep 3: Davy Jones I was saving my daughter from an eternity of maid service to said pirate after she got kidnapped during my museum press conference. Witches’ Legacy: Slumbering Darkness has you trying to save your witchy daughter and her husband from a sorcerer’s machinations. Witches’ Legacy: The Ties That Bind has your witchy daughter and you trying to save your future son-in law from a trap. Witches’ Legacy: Hunter And The Hunted has you saving your kidnapped daughter from a bunch of witch-hunters.

Obviously I’m playing from the same couple of series at the moment so I’m playing as recurring protagonists, but the sensation is one I always enjoy coming back to these games – settling down with a bunch of female voices and characters alongside my cup of tea and object-manipulating relaxation.

If you’re wondering why this might be, that genre tends to skew female with its player base and the games tend to have a holiday read mystery novella flavour to them. Consequently women crop up as protagonists and as secondary characters a lot more frequently than in other genres.

That’s not to say they’re particularly complex people most of the time because that’s not what the genre is about – think Harlequin romances or airport fiction where the characters and their motives are writ bold and large and plot developments arrive because that’s where the plot development always arrives. The mum wants to save her daughter in all of the adventures I mentioned earlier and her parental bond is a thing which provides an easy shorthand for the lengths one person will go to in order to rescue this other person.

I also don’t remember the last time one of these mums was a woman of colour or anywhere on the LGBTQ spectrum. It’s a genre that, from my experience (cherry picking things that are highly rated or involve sea creatures) seems to skew very much towards white middle class heteronormativity.

So HOPAs/HOGs are not without problems if you want to talk broad representation but, gosh, I do really love just casually scrolling through and seeing so many games with a female lead every so often.

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27 Comments

  1. inspiredhandle says:

    Oh man, this got really tough to plow through near the end. It figures that it’s the genre that appeals more to the female crowd that gets gutted by intersectional ideology.

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      Dios says:

      Yes, this was truly vicious, i hope the hidden object genre will recover.

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      shevek says:

      Or just a reminder that hidden object games are a genre in their own right with their own narrow conventions, for a readership that might otherwise assume a game for and about women would be something radical?

    • Jaunt says:

      I’d also go ahead and point out that Pip is, in most cases, assuming the moms’ sexualities. I’ve played a lot of HOGs (like 2 dozen? Is that a lot?) and pretty much every time you’re playing a protagonist all you know about her is that 1) she’s a mom 2) she’s a detective 3) she has to save her kid. There’s never a line of dialogue that goes “oh, I’m so happy you’re safe now, my child. I haven’t been this happy since I pushed you out of my womb with your very straight and masculine father at my side”.

      For all we know, the kid is adopted, and the mom is happily married to another mom, and the first mom was born a man (or a transwoman? I do hope I’m getting this right.)

      Yeah, it skews white. But wait, hold on, what’s wrong with skewing middle class? It’s a distinctly middle class entertainment. That’d be like faulting caviar for skewing pointlessly wealthy. Or NASCAR for skewing lower class.

      • inspiredhandle says:

        Nailed it. Said what I wanted to, but lacked the scope, experience, and patience.

        Also, 2 dozen is a lot. Seek help.

        • Jaunt says:

          But they’re so cheap on steam sales!

          Also I can blow through like 2 in a relaxed evening while paying attention to other stuff, so…it doesn’t feel like that much. But it is. Alas.

      • Geewhizbatman says:

        Right, and it’s true about its novel counterpart. They’re generally as vague a character as possible, beyond large demographic signs (female, mother, insert occupation, default white,) so that the audience can make as many assumptions about them as they like. I don’t know if just because it is industry standard that it doesn’t warrant attention. HOG, of the small subsection I’ve played (that voodoo one and some of witch legacy) always struck me as a mix of visual novel and casual game (specifically hidden object.) I think the vagueness leaning heavily towards white-washing, in many ways, of the characters is striking because it’s being consumed by the casual gaming market. Is it a question of that market being willing to read heteronormative stories while they play their game because it includes an under served theme (female-driven, family based, rescue narrative?) Basically they aren’t getting that story anywhere else in their gaming, and they also happen to like hidden object as a casual game element. Or because that’s really the only kind of structure for the narrative anyone playing/reading these series will put up with in their hidden object game?

        Basically–because they’re also games, it makes the question of who is driving the trend for these characters more interesting, in my mind anyway. The companies and writers are just as stuck because it is such an over saturated genre. Questions like that would be why I think it’s perfectly reasonable to point out the subtle strangeness of the HOG’s most popular storyline. Like a Romance Novel bookclub, no one is unaware of the depth of the work they’re reading, but that doesn’t mean you don’t include those overarching trends in your opinion.

        • Jaunt says:

          I don’t entirely disagree with you, but I think that it’s very difficult to read heternormativity into these narratives unless you’re relying on “in society, hetero is default, therefore these stories are heteronormative”, which just doesn’t strike me as much of an insight when there are so much more actively LGBT-hostile narratives competing for our eyeballs.

          The whitewashing is by far the most interesting thing, in my opinion.

          • inspiredhandle says:

            I get this vibe as well. not hetero-normative, just broad interest. The heteronormies are the biggest demographic, it makes sense that, that is the default assumption, but if it goes unsaid in the game, it is, in fact, just that, unsaid. Neither one, nor the other.

            I think the whitewashing thing is probably just a shrewd business move on their part, I imagine it portrays exactly the sort of demographic it targets. As such, I think the only people that might notice are the same white (probably straight) women that the game is intended for, and who happen to be well versed in current sociological/feminist discourse.

  2. smeaa mario says:

    I consider hidden object games to be an utter waste of time (don’t lynch me please; this is just my opinion). However, what bugs me most about them is the way their developers always pick the flashiest and most glorious of names like Eternal Castle of Timeless Mages of the Diamond Throne blah blah blah. Just by looking at the title you’d think that is some intricate RPG game coming at you. But nah, it’s just one of those countless trashy HOGs.

    • inspiredhandle says:

      I find myself drawn to buy them when they’re on sale, but I’m really put off by their presentation. There seems to be a culture surrounding them that i just don’t quite get the appeal of. E.g. Ultra off-brand Indiana Jones etc.

    • Jaunt says:

      If you concede one game is a total waste of time, you’re on the slippery slope of all games being a complete waste of time. I mean, games are only valuable for the fun they give you (unless they’re teaching you to code, or flash trade on the stock exchange), which is subjective and individual.

      But yeah, just think of them as one of those adult coloring books, but without the coloring.

      As for the culture, the formula is pretty simple: take 1 broadly popular theme (pirates, vampires, etc), add 1 bushel of computer generated art focusing on blues and purples, as was popular on children’s folders during the 90s, and one plot of no more complexity than a saturday morning cartoon. HOG is done.

      • smeaa mario says:

        Aye, I definitely understand you. That’s why I specifically noted that it’s merely my personal opinion. I am pretty sure somebody out there would tell me that my addiction to good single player RPGs is a total waste of time too. I really don’t judge. I just talk trash.

      • inspiredhandle says:

        Adult colouring books are another confusing cultural phenomenon. I just don’t understand some folk…

        • Gothnak says:

          Better than watching the Xfactor/Eastenders/Corrie/Strictly/I’m A Celebrity/Insert bland boring tv show here.

          • Darth Gangrel says:

            According to Jaunt, if you concede that those shows are a waste of time, you’re on a slippery slope of all shows being a waste of time. Luckily, I don’t think dislike of one thing leads to dislike of all things, because then you’d have to like everything to not risk disliking everything.

          • Jaunt says:

            I can’t reply deep enough, but Darth Gangrel misunderstands my point: all entertainment exists to be consumed. If being entertained is inadequate, then all of it is pointless. On the other hand, if you reject that premise, it seems really weird and roundabout to say “this game is a waste of time” to communicate “I didn’t like it, but other people might”. It’s trivially obvious that everyone, including myself, likes some games and dislikes others. I just wouldn’t describe them as a waste of time.

            But it’s cool, as OP seems to have gotten the gist and vice versa.

          • Darth Gangrel says:

            It was just those few words of Jaunt’s, about a slippery slope, that bugged me and made me want to reply.

            I might have misunderstood this as well, but I don’t get why saying that “this is a waste of time” is wrong. It might not be the best way to discourage others from it or expressing dislike, but that’s it. Some things simply aren’t worth the time and effort. What other people think is their choice. Only narrowminded fools claim that their views are or should be shared by everyone else.

          • inspiredhandle says:

            Holy shit guys! you are so civil to one another. It brings a tear to the eye. I ain’t even jokin’.
            gives one hope.

          • Jaunt says:

            The reason I wouldn’t say (and I’m not saying it’s wrong to say) something is a waste of time is because someone (like me) might take your words literally and start arguing with you as if you asserted that a genre is objectively worthless. It is a dumb view, yes, but the world is full of dumb people who’ve held worse perspectives, and I wouldn’t want to be mistaken for one of them.

            But yeah, you wouldn’t be the first person to call me too literal, if you were to.

  3. Gothnak says:

    My wife, who is a serious console gamer plays these as a guilty pleasure. My mum, who is in her 70’s rarely plays anything else, and I have been known to give the a go.

    I really want to make a core gamer one with a decent plot and intelligent interactions. What makes us both laugh is the awful inventory management.

    There is a window which you need to break, I have a rock, nope, sword, nope, ah ok, a hammer, next room I need to remove a plank from the floor, I’ll use the hamm… oh it’s gone, I guess I’ll look for a crowbar, ah it’s behind this mystical door which I have found by travelling into this painting. That’s where I’d hide a crowbar.

    For some reason the actual finding of objects in scenes is very therapeutic.

  4. vorador says:

    I’ve got a bunch of them out of Bundles. Plot and dialogues are absolutely terrible, and almost all of them star a white woman.

    They require to turn my brain off and stop asking questions (why in the freaking hell there’s a ridiculously elaborate light puzzle to open a normal cabinet to take a knife?) but when you do they’re good to relax. A guilty pleasure.

  5. Jody Macgregor says:

    Nightmares From The Deep: The Cursed Heart is one of my favourite hidden object games. I love the idea of this unflappable mum matter-of-factly dealing with undead pirates, undercutting all their “arr me hearties” nonsense by being very down-to-earth at them.

  6. Neurotic says:

    One interesting thing to note is that a lot of HO games come from Russia, so I wonder if there’s something culturally there which makes mothers ideal HO protagonists.