"And if having a skinny princess pack on pounds during the game is laughable ... it hardly seems malicious."—From this review of Fat Princess, in which the writer dismisses criticisms as so much insular, pseudo-feminist handwringing.
"Millar points out that the princesses are in no way objects of ridicule within the game as critics had suggested. Whether they are skinny or fat, they are venerated ladies for whom all characters will lay down their virtual lives to save."
According to the quoted review, the creators of the Fat Princess game were surprised at the negative reaction from bloggers.
They'd expected a negative reaction to the game's violence. And perhaps they would have seen one if anyone thought that gamers would be tempted to transfer fantasy bloodshed into their real lives. On the other hand, malicious attitudes toward fat people easily make the leap back and forth between game and life.
I'm not worried that a gamer might want to give me a potion to turn me into a chicken. But I'm troubled that a gamer might be a professional peer who is reinforced in seeing fat female colleagues as out-of-control burdens, liabilities.
I'm troubled that a gamer might be a T-for-Teen with the beginnings of an eating disorder that, as mine did, looks and feels sickeningly similar to the captive life of the Fat Princess. I want to ask the creators: Do you know how hard it is to shake the idea that you have no choice, no control over your disordered eating? How terrifying to have your mind and body become a prison? How horrifying to see yourself, day after day, eat all the cake, even when it makes you sick?
And then how devastating to have people, both those who love you and those who want you for target practice, pick apart your body's changes as undesirable failures? When you know that not everybody who's fat has a compulsive eating disorder, but you do, there's no relief from the shame of being an undesirable failure.
It's monumentally difficult to learn how to make choices in disordered eating. It's impossible if you don't believe it can be done.
I dearly wish you would have given the Fat Princess some choice, some strength of her own. Why did you have to turn her into a zoo animal, unable to refuse food, unable even to walk, unable to help in her own rescue? Why did she have to be a brainless lump of flesh?
Do you not know how many young girls are just learning to see themselves that way?
I speak to groups of women who live with eating disorders and to professionals who help women with eating disorders. One of the hardest ideas to get past in recovering from the disorder is that your own body is nothing but a miserable, swollen mass that you are sentenced to carry through life.
So yes, it's unpleasant when a game gives its players practice rounds for this particular malformed thought toward themselves or toward fat women.
As Millar points out above, the princesses are not objects of ridicule within the game. They are objects of ridicule outside the game.
Outside the game, male and female gamers are in actual relationships with actual fat women — their mothers, sisters, classmates, co-workers, partners, and acquaintances. Whatever gamers say and think about fat characters affects real people.
And what of the fat girl gamer? To whom must she be a traitor? To herself, by remaining silent when gamers spew cruel, humiliating comments toward fat women? Or to the gaming community where she wants to belong?
To have been unaware of the capacity for a charmingly drawn, colorful game to help unleash vitriolic, devastating insults, threats, and death wishes out loud in real life may have been naive, careless, or disingenuous.
To ignore it now — to ignore the T-for-Teens who secretly and with the growing, paralyzing shame that fuels an eating disorder, identify with the Fat Princess, not with her rescuers — would be callously negligent.
I would challenge this talented, creative team of game designers to create Fat Princess 2: a game in which the Fat Princess has power, some agency in her life, no matter whether she is fat or slender. Create for her a world where her body does not reduce her to merely a burden — where those girls who look at the Fat Princess and see themselves, see someone that the gamers talk about as well worth saving.
[Fat Princess: Parts One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight, Nine, Ten, Eleven, Twelve.]