Dress To Depress: Skirt Quest
I sure do love posting about Molyjam games that, er, skirted the quote-based rules of this year's jam. Oh well, though. An interesting game is an interesting game, even when it hasn't indirectly emerged from the constantly exposed braintubes of Peter Molyneux. The idea behind Skirt Quest is one I think everyone can identify with - no matter how infrequent your skirt-clad skips through the sunflower fields might be. The goal? To fit in at school. You do so by surreptitiously adjusting your skirt length to match that of other girls. Otherwise, they'll gossip - some louder than others - and before long you'll be reduced to a blubbering mess, leaking self-esteem into heaving crocodile tears. It's a simple game, but one that captures just how brutal the judgment of your peers can be, especially for kids.
Skirt Quest actually comes from the exceedingly versatile mind of Frog Fractions creator Jim Crawford - aka, Twinbeard Studios. It's not nearly as humorous, but then, that's not the point. Instead, the idea is to put you in the mindset of a young girl (or boy; that's hard mode) who's being bombarded on all sides by peer pressure.
Your objective, then, is to move from class-to-class while making sure your skirt length matches everybody else's - especially that of crown-wearing "popular" girls. Gain their approval or disapproval, and suddenly everyone within a small-city-sized radius knows and agrees, regardless of their own appearance. If your self-esteem meter hits empty, that's it. Game over.
So basically, it's about peer pressure, judgment, conformity, and the desperate childhood desire to just be accepted. By someone. By everyone. By people who pretend to like you, but actually despise you. Unsurprisingly, it's not really a game you can win.
It's pretty heavy stuff, but I do think Skirt Quest could deliver its message a bit more effectively. While it might be frustrating, I feel like the game would've worked better if self-esteem damage transferred over between classes. I mean, it's the long-term side of these gradeschool grudges that really stings. The reputation that slowly spreads, quickly clings, and lingers like a noxious puberty odor. There is no mid-level reset button.
Also, while young boys tend to settle their feuds openly (and sometimes with fists), our society conditions girls to act like nothing's wrong until the knife's already in a "friend's" back. For better or worse, it's all about maintaining appearances - sometimes while actively plotting somebody else's downfall. That'd be tough to express in a game - especially one as simple and quickly developed as this - but it's food for thought.
Still though, Skirt Quest touches on subject matter that's not often explored in games. It captures a lot of the feeling of being a confused school kid, too. The frantic nervousness, the senses-shocking horror of standing out (the Metal Gear detection sound is a nice touch), the constant uncertainty. Try it here and then compose a long, angsty MySpace blog.