Happily Ever After For These Video Game Heroines?

Fairy tales and other stories of magic lack a single author, and often writers, directors, and video game designers play with classic versions. Two recent video games, The Path and Alice: Madness Returns, deliver noteworthy heroines to a few traditional tales.

For centuries, various versions of Little Red Cap or Little Red Riding Hood presented a heroine as a device or symbol to spin a cautionary tale. A clever twist came from game developer Tale of Tales’ short horror game, The Path. The cast of avatars includes six sisters, each representing a different period of childhood and adolescence. The game presents no puzzles or villains to defeat. Instead, a player explores, discovers, and reflects. If a girl wanders from the path, she stumbles upon objects such as a knife, a mask, or a teddy bear, and scenes like a playground or graveyard. The “big bad wolf” in The Path projects different persona—the Woodsman, Fey, and Cloud, among others. The player may never encounter the wolf, but as suggested by game designer Brenda Braithwaite, a confrontation with the creature may prove therapeutic. When Braithwaite played The Path as Ruby, the 15-year-old sister, she faced her wolf in a deserted playground. “He’s just sitting there,” Braithwaite said to NPR reporter Heather Chaplin. Braithwaite considered the experience as an opportunity to think about victims of violence in a safe place. She said she had been violently attacked when she was younger and “playing the game somehow made it OK to speak publicly” about her experience. The Path presents magical events and courageous heroines that confront universal human experiences.

American McGee’s Alice: Madness Returns introduces another example of a character transformed from a slightly static girl to a memorable heroine with psychological depth. In Alice: Madness Returns, Alice resides in an orphanage in Victorian London. Alice believes she’s cured of the madness she endured after her parents’ traumatic death, but soon her hallucinations of the corrupted Wonderland reappear. “My Wonderland’s shatters,” Alice tells her doctor, “It’s dead to me.”  Executive producer R.J. Berg told Wired.com that the designers always wanted to be true to the idea of Alice, but they also wanted to make sure players would “come along with all of your notions, all of your imagination, everything you’ve ever thought about how Alice would live her life.” As Alice encounters bloody knifes, a mad doll maker, and deranged mechanical tea pots, it’s easy to lose sight of the character many adored in Lewis Carroll’s or Disney’s story. But this Alice also reveals redeeming traits. In the beginning of the game, Alice chases a cat. She says, “seems like following furry creatures into dark holes had become a habit.” That’s the Alice—charming, flighty, rebellious, curious—many grew-up with. Also, Alice wants to save her childhood Wonderland from destruction. And, as with Alice, isn’t nostalgia what drives most of us to return to beloved tales?

Both of these games present the violence, gore, symbolism, and motifs of a Charles Perrault or Brothers Grimm tale (The Path, is rated 15 and up and Alice: Madness Returns is rated M). As someone who grew up infatuated with faraway lands, fairy godmothers, and happy ever-after, I am thrilled to see gutsy, honest chicks on a new platform. For something a little less brutal, check out American McGee’s Grimm, a 23-part episodic video game that follows an irate dwarf (he considers Little Red Riding Hood a “credulous ninny”) through magical lands.