Wednesday, September 11, 2013

House Party: A Furry Tree Games Review

I was recently contacted to write a review for a game designed by Furry Tree, a small UK company that specializes in educational games. House Party was funded in part by the Art Council of England.

First, I would like to say that I am an American, so my review is based on a perspective that comes from being raised in the States. Also, I think I should start out by mentioning that one of my all time favorite games to this day is The Asylum. A flash based game in which you are a psychiatrist to stuffed animals. Although it a fairly silly game, I remember playing it as a child and finding it oddly profound. Simple animation, and easy, humorous game play, does not mean you cannot also deal with complex emotional issues.
House Party

In this quiz style game. You are at a house party for monsters, and you pick different people to talk to. By giving “good” advice about relationships, sex, sexting, drinking, and similar questions, you will become their friend on Fuzzbook (the goal of the game). There are seven different characters you get to talk to.

The first two times I played the game I though it had nice character designs, but I found it frustrating. The questions seemed arbitrarily assigned to different characters, and although there was a variety of monsters with different genders and sexualities at the party (though no trans), the questions all seemed to be about basically the same thing. At the end of the game, there was no real payoff, it just ends with you being friends with a bunch of monsters... monsters who are mostly assholes.
I also felt like the advice seemed pointedly gendered. The girls all worried about being pressured for sex and felt it was their responsibility to be moral keepers, the boys tended towards sex crazed/predator tropes. It was assumed that men would ask to take pictures of their girlfriends during sex. The women were the only ones given the advice to wait till their 16 to have sex, the men were the only ones who wanted naked pictures. None of the men felt pressured to have sex by their girlfriends. Etc.

Then, the third time I played the game I made a list about the characters based on the questions they asked, and their Fuzzbook walls, and I discovered something:

Spud: Male, Heterosexual
A sexist jock, Spud is sexually active with a lot of different partners, but he doesn’t like to use protection, and doesn’t know much about sexually transmitted diseases. He wants to take naked pictures of his girlfriends to show his guys friends, who are all totally in to sharing pictures of their naked girlfriends also.

Mara: Female, Bisexual/Questioning
Mara is questioning her sexuality. She notices two girls dancing at together and wonders if that means they’re a couple. She is not sure if she is a lesbian, she is also feeling pressured to have sex at the party, because everyone she knows is already having sex (she doesn’t specify if she would try having sex with a guy or gal). She also wants some advice about her friends who are sending out naked pictures.
Gorky: Male, Heterosexual
Has a drinking problem and watches tons of porn. Gorky’s friends are sexually harassing a girl and threatening to post naked pictures of her online, he doesn’t know what to do about it. He has a crush on a girl and instead of trying to date her; he is trying to make her send him naked pictures.

Zukee: Female, Lesbian
Zukee is friends with Mara. She asks advice to tell a friend who might be bisexual (advice for Mara).  She also is having creepy guys hit on her, talk dirty, dance with her when she’s dancing with a female friend, touch her without permission. They are also trying to get her and her female friend to take topless pictures.

Emee: Female, Heterosexual (has boyfriend)
Emee is dating Dazza, who isn’t at the party. They seem to really like each other, they are in a committed relationship, and leave mushy notes for each other on their Fuzzbook walls. Despite this her boyfriend wants her to take naked pictures of herself while she’s drunk. She’s unsure how she feels about sexting, she feels like things are moving too fast in the bedroom, and she wants to know if it’s okay to have unprotected sex.

Bod: Male, Homosexual
Bod is snarky, but he is also shy, and drinks to help with his confidence. He is dealing with some bullying due to his sexuality, and has a female friend who is being pressured into sex by her boyfriend. He watches porn, and has an older friend who thinks Bod should start having one-night stands.

Ruby: Female, Heterosexual
Ruby is a fan of a female monster musician, who she believes uses her sexuality in an empowering way. A guy she likes is pressuring her to take naked pictures. She was dancing with one of her female friends earlier and boys started grinding against them. Boys are harassing her by singing mean songs about her. Guys think she dresses skanky. Her ex sent out nude pictures of her during the party, and now she is really upset.

Once I wrote down all these notes about the characters I realized that they were actually asking questions that related to each other, and events that had happened prier to and during the party we were currently at.

I think this could have been very interesting, if the game had been about trying to figure out the characters relationships to each other.  At the moment the game isn't interactive enough, and because there isn't the context of a clear narrative, in a simple play through it appears to be giving very gendered and often inappropriate advise. It also doesn't help that at the moment you are rewarding clearly abusive characters with your friendship. No one is held accountable for their actions. Someone who is posting naked pictures of their partner online without their permission is not someone I want to be friends with, and this game normalizes actions that are predatory.


I would like to end this review with something positive. I think that this is the sort of game a group of female teens might play together. I remember many a sleepover filling out ridiculous teen magazine quizzes with friends. Often we strongly disagreed with all the answers given for a question. Or we would feel that a question didn’t give enough context to properly answer. Despite this, I loved these quizzes. The reason was that they got all of us talking about things we might not have brought up otherwise. I think that this game could work in a similar way, at the very least it could open up conversation and create a supportive dialogue amongst groups of young women who might be dealing with these issues in silence.

Hopefully as this company begins developing more educational games, they will work on creating a more subtle and supportive conversation within the game itself.

Curious about the game? Click here, and play it for yourself : )

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