Girl in the Machine
Monday, June 18, 2007
What Little Girls are Made Of

Minor spoilers follow! You've been warned.


Rule of Rose is a Survival Horror game with admittedly unfortunate gameplay and a truly engrossing story. Its gritty plot invites gamers to step into the eerie Rose Garden Orphanage and meet the unusual girls of the Aristocrat Club. The (refreshingly female-dominated) cast deviates from the Survival Horror "creepy little girl" staple by providing beautifully nuanced interactions that video game characters rarely see.

The attention to detail paid to this social interaction among the girls emblemizes the psychological competition that society conditions, and has always conditioned, into young girls everywhere. From truly bizarre rituals to their complex relationships with one another, the Aristocrats act as an extended metaphor for the social development of young girls.

The Aristocrat Club is divided into classes and ranks. The highest class includes the leader, the Princess of the Red Rose, as well as the Duchess (Diana), Countess (Meg), and Baroness (Eleanor). The lower class includes Miserable (Amanda) and then Beggar, when protagonist Jennifer arrives. Such a structure already invites competition among the ranks: the hierarchy is fluid, and, depending on the social status of each girl, ranks can be and are exchanged.

In her article, "Little Girls in Women's Bodies," Erika Summers-Effler defines social position as "the status (inclusion vs. exclusion) and power (order-taker vs. order-giver) outcomes of social interaction." The Artistocrats' relationships with one another hinge entirely on the exchange of power. Throughout the game, the upper-class girls constantly double-cross one another at the expense of Jennifer and Amanda. For example, in the chapter "The Goat Sisters," Diana rips up a love letter left to her by Meg and complains to Eleanor how pathetic it is that Meg follows her around like a lost puppy. Diana then frames Jennifer for the destruction of the letter and comforts a sobbing and vengeful Meg.

This same scenario -- Jennifer taking the fall for the other girls' tricks -- occurs over and over, making it obvious that the Aristocrats are all aware of their own culpability while reveling in the elevation of their own social status (inclusion) through the suppression of Jennifer's (exclusion).

Furthering this point, the Artistocrats employ various humiliation rituals which they inflict on the lower class girls. When Jennifer first arrives at the orphanage, the Artistocrats submit their power over her by dousing her with water and locking her in a crate:


Amanda was, presumably, subjected to these rituals regularly until Jennifer boosts her status by occupying the rank lower than hers. Amanda then gains solidarity with the upper-class Aristocrats through administration of a ritual -- namely, by menacing Jennifer with a live rat tied to a pole. Jennifer herself falls for the lure of inclusion after being promoted. The Aristocrats goad her into imposing the same ritual on Amanda, even though her own experience with the rat was so bad that she passed out. These instances, while understandably exorbitant, echo the real-life pressures encountered by young girls who discover that peer acceptance makes for a far easier social experience than ridicule and exclusion, even at sometimes high costs.

While Amanda, overweight and far less conventionally pretty than the others, is the weakest of the club, Diana is the strongest. Consistently referred to by the in-game text as "strong-willed," Diana is slender, beautiful, and appears to lead the other Aristocrats as the high-ranking Duchess.


Interestingly enough, Diana also appears to have begun developing breasts, which none of the other young girls possess (excepting nineteen-year-old Jennifer). Summers-Effler writes that, to early-maturing girls, breasts are an exceptionally public sign of their changes, set them aside from their peers, and harbor an unavoidable context: "As these girls develop women's bodies, they begin to be seen as sex objects." A strange scene between her and headmaster Mr. Hoffman, one out of only two male characters in the game, suggests past sexual abuse.

Diana, so strong-willed among her peers, suffers a severe reversal in the order-giver vs. order-taker dynamic within her supposed sexual history with Hoffman. Therefore, she overcompensates for this imbalance by exerting her will over her fellow Aristocrats. Similar details about the other girls, though not quite as disturbing, provide for the same overcompensation in their behavior as well.

Overall, the Aristocrats of the Red Crayon are a fascinating and vivid cast of characters not often seen in video games. The sheer level of detail devoted to their individual personalities, actions, and backgrounds imbibes a deep understanding of the social struggles of young girls. By filtering these struggles through a Survival Horror lens, Rule of Rose chillingly satirizes the cultural tendency to condition competition among adolescent girls.

(Thanks to IGN for the pictures.)

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 Posted by BomberGirl
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