How female fantasy is finally being sold in video games

Mills and Boon has gone digital, and with a quick trip to your app store, you can indulge as much as you like. Mobile story apps for catering specifically to women such as Episode, Dream Daddy, and Love Sick are all hot property lurking on the secret last app page of plenty of phones. Our eyes have been opened, and women are engaging in the digital romance sphere, but indulging in the virtual. Romance and tech have seen plenty of crossover, since the inception of the latter. Even now, it’s commonplace to ask someone where they met their partner, and the honest answer to be Tinder, eharmony, or any of the plethora of similar sites. Digital taboo is dead. We can find one another online and meet up IRL, and this is fine.

But what if we don’t actually want the other human element? What if we are happy to be the sole human participant in our e-romance? What if we are busy or bruised from love, and we long for romance, but not the awkward reality of another human? Then log in and get downloading, ladies because e-romance is blooming, and it’s time to enjoy all the recent games that explore the female fantasy in video game form.

Let’s talk about (cyber) sex, baby

We all long for fantasy. It’s fairly commonplace for male fantasy to take center stage culturally and socially, with softcore porn and sexualized female bodies widespread in media, and video games particularly. We don’t need to have another talk about anime armor, do we? Spare me. 

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If we’re talking pure mechanics, then in game media, it’s generally the male gaze which is visually catered for. When considering female fantasy, it’s often more narrative-based and with more story and character. You might talk about Magic Mike as a socially acceptable female-centric fantasy and contrary to this intellectual, story-focused view of female fantasy, and you wouldn’t be wrong.

But there’s no doubt that there’s a lot less sexual objectification of the male body in culture compared to the female. Yes, it’s there, but there’s still less. There are countless sites online crammed with female erotica (some of it is terrible), which goes to show that there is some truth in the idea of women enjoying the story-based medium when it comes to indulging in fantasy. There’s now a whole range of female-friendly apps being developed, marketed and enjoyed for women to dip into, along a similar story-based concept — many of which featuring graphics which millennials might remember from Stardoll and all the other games like it.

You know the type: you had a tiny, cute little avatar with completely unrealistic bodily proportions which you could dress up every which way. It was a digital follow on from the dolls our mothers might have had and might have passed on to us. It’s no coincidence that these fake boyfriend, glitzy romance games hearken back to this recognizable childhood trope. They know their audiences.

100% that beech

Most recently, Episode has blitzed onto the popular scene after Jenna Marble’s viral video in which she plays a story from Episode with the help of her boyfriend and fellow YouTuber, Julien Solomita. It’s impossible not to get swept along with the duo, who delightfully name their avatar “Beech,” meaning that it is hilarious every time a character mentions her name. “Get over here, Beech. What are you doing, Beech?” It’s the gift that keeps giving.

Jenna and Julien poke enormous fun at the silly graphics and bizarre storyline that’s more centered on this female-driven narrative. But as with Kelsey Impicchiche in her Sims 4 Challenge, invest enough in their character of Beech that you too, as an audience are taken in and enjoy the drama of it all. You also desperately want Beech to make good with the mysterious Ethan, the New York hottie who hits Beech with his bike five seconds into the story, and then blows nebulously hot and cold throughout their brief courtship. Jenna and Julien even buy Diamonds in exchange for real-life money, just to give Beech the best day possible. Episode is a romantic story-app in which women (or men, for that matter) are welcome to take a sally through a ridiculous, but entertainingly shmaltzy scenario of their choosing. The scenarios are key to this female fantasy.

Dream Daddy is another game in which you literally date dads and play minigames, tapping into the female fantasy despite being almost solely based around men. So you can have the story, or a fake boyfriend of your choosing. It’s low pressure and soothing and a realization of how female fantasy can be sold in video games, even if some men might not typically call it as such.

This approach is just different from how male fantasy is sold. Male fantasy in games is usually a more active experience because it tends to chase to overly masculine traits of needing to save someone or work for your partner. It’s how men are usually stereotyped. And obviously, this takes other forms like fawning overly sexualized women, which is what we see in plenty of other games where women have unnatural proportions and skimpy armor. Gaming has gotten better at evening the scales, but it is still present.

Flesh and blood may like to bone, but pixels can never hurt me

These different approaches show how game developers are more prone to portraying how female fantasies a certain way. Maybe it has to partially do with the lack of female-driven AAA games that also have love baked into the game (like if Catherine had been reversed, for example). These listed titles like Dream Daddy and Episode can’t be huge experiences so they settle for a simplified recreation of the female fantasy. It’s an odd situation because it raises the question if we could see a typical female fantasy juxtaposed against the typically male-driven AAA game. Or are these female fantasies relegated to smaller visual novel games because that type of fantasy is more suited towards it?

These current female fantasies tend be actual fantasies because of how they steer relatively far away from complication and maintenance. It’s about dating other people. No aliens. No saving the world; just Ethan from Episode or Mat from Dream Daddy. Either would be happy to squire my avatar around a masquerade ball and doesn’t care what I think. It doesn’t matter! No matter what ugly, uncomfortable or overly vulnerable side of me I show, Ethan is here to stay. It’s fantasy. It’s escapism. And it won’t last forever but just for a minute, I’ll hazard a few diamonds and see if Ethan is willing to share the sights of New York with me and me alone.