At first, Dirty Princesses was just an adventure game, about adventures and perilous quests and kick-ass chicks running around killing stuff. Don’t get me wrong, it still has those things in it. It just isn’t ABOUT those things. What it’s actually about is a whole different kettle of fish.
At it’s heart, the game is about expectations, the fear of disappointment, the transition into adulthood and about struggling to be the person that you think you should be. It seems pretty obvious to me now, but it was a sudden realisation of something unexpected.
So first you’ve got these Princesses, still in their teens, going out into the world after years of education and training. So they’ve graduated high-school and now they have to ‘make something of themselves’.
Then the expectations begin. They are expected to be warriors, tacticians, scholars, priestesses, leaders, generals, riders, artists, musicians, poets, diplomats, and so much more. They are presented with this impeccable and unapproachable image of Queen and Mother, a figure they are expected to emulate. Many of these expectations are contradictory. They are peacemakers with bloody blades, sincere advocates of a many-faced goddess who have to be aware of the use of religion as a political tool. They are expected to embody the four cardinal virtues, Strength, Wisdom, Faith and Leadership. If it’s not clear, these are things that I personally worry about my (possibly entirely self-perceived) lack of. These are the points of the Princesses’ moral compasses, the direction from which challenges will come. So the pressures on these four Virtues are both internal (fear of failure and inadequacy) and external (monsters, bandits, puzzles, the derring-do stuff).
Then, sitting right there in what is currently all of character creation, you have this question:
“What does my mother want me to be?”
It’s a big question. It shapes things. Regardless of whether they embrace it or reject it, this is something they have been aimed toward from a very young age, and it wasn’t even a choice. There’s no question of what you want your Princess to be, because that will be worked out in play. It’s not a question of whether you accept it and roll with it, that comes out in play too. It simply forms the beginning of the path, a prior influence that’s going to sit there glaring at you until you acknowledge it. Sure the other Princesses help shape your character, but that doesn’t seem as weighty or vital to me. The expectations of the Queen are heavy.
The quest isn’t really about the quest. It’s about the Princesses discovering themselves, who they are and what they want to be. Exploring a dark forest and exploring their own ambitions, it all happens at once. By the time it’s all over, they will have learned where their strengths and weaknesses lie, they will have been tested. They will experience failure, for sure, but they get to find out what that failure does to them. They grow up.