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Flo Shrugged

This story starts, for me anyways, at WWDC. The theming for Moscone West was bursting, flying app store icons. Up on the second floor, the windows showed icons captioned with the name of an app, where it was created, and some fanciful stats (“Marriages saved: 700”, “Bullets fired: 2,000,000”, that kind of thing). One that caught my eye was this somewhat “Western manga-style” icon:

That’s Flo, the lead character of Diner Dash, the first and most popular of PlayFirst’s casual games (more on the series from Wikipedia). The game is based in time-management: you get more points by chaining your actions (seating customers, taking orders, delivering meals) in groups, so you try to juggle impatient customers, buffering them up for a few seconds so you can get them all in the same mode (ordering, eating, paying), and thereby build up a combo.

Since the original dates back to 2004, I ended up buying one of its more modern sequels, Wedding Dash, and have been playing the heck out of it. Between self-employment and high-maintenance kids, I don’t have time for long PS2 sessions (Final Fantasy got me in the mindset of setting aside at least an hour whenever I turn on the PS2, something I can never do), but knocking off a Dash level in five minutes is a nice break.

One thing that struck me about the game is the simple story that unfolds between levels, as lead character Quinn starts planning weddings for friends and slowly turns it into a career, and a business that Quinn builds as you progress through the game. Flo cameos frequently to keep Quinn’s head in her business:

wedding-dash-dialogue-1

About the third time that Quinn described the work of the game as her “business”, it hit me that there is a none-too-subtle message to this game, about building a business as a virtuous pursuit. With rare exceptions (like Miyazaki’s least typical film, Kiki’s Delivery Service), you really don’t see that often in pop culture; companies are much more typically portrayed as insufferable sweatshops, or rapacious empires. And given the times, Flo and Quinn’s DIY messages really stand out as a breath of fresh air: here in handout-happy Michigan, it seems like a lot of people are sitting around waiting for their share of stimulus money (i.e., their grandkids’ future taxes), and as video games go, it’s a sharp contrast with the “build a criminal empire” ethos of the Grand Theft Auto series and its many, many knock offs.

Continuing that message, PlayFirst just announced a collection of women’s apparel that builds on the idea of Flo as a 512-pixel Dagny Taggart. The t-shirts offer slogans like:

  • Roll up your sleeves. Dreams take work.
  • Not another princess. I’m my own Fairy Godmother.
  • Elbow grease is the new black.

From the PR:

The launch of Flo’s Closet is deliberate in its timing as it aims to inspire and encourage women to strive towards success in challenging times. A recent study* reiterates this potential showing that female business owners are surviving the downward trend better than other businesses and Flo’s in-game character notoriously rejected the corporate life and aggressively pursued a more meaningful venture as a successful restaurateur.

So, yay PlayFirst. The games are fun, and the message is something that all of us, women and men, need to hear more of. I’m now following PF on Twitter, and the PF jobs Twitter is a nice feature with a shockingly low number of followers (13?!)

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