The prince in the mobile game PrinceNapped does not look like your typical prince. There are some familiar characteristics — perfectly coiffed hair, bulging muscles, and shiny white teeth — but some things are just off. His crown is on backwards, he has a boastful “prince” tattoo on his shoulder, and he drags his feet. This is no regal, come-to-the-rescue hero — and that’s the point.
“We literally Googled the word ‘douchebag’ and started pulling pictures,” Molly Proffitt, the game’s designer told Refinery29 of the character’s appearance.
In PrinceNapped, the first mobile game from Atlanta-based developer Ker-Chunk Games, it’s Prince Edwin who needs to be rescued and the heroine Clara who must do the saving, vaporising water and clearing the path for Edwin to escape. Clara has character traits in common with Katniss Everdeen and Wonder Woman: She’s focused on getting the job done, no whining or feet-dragging included. The role reversal is fitting for a game developer whose goal is to “empower women as players.”
Every level in PrinceNapped was built by Proffitt, who is also Ker-Chunk’s CEO. Proffitt, 29, did stints designing games for well-known Atlanta studios before deciding to strike out on her own. This sort of entrepreneurial, “engineer your own career” approach is one she’s used to. Although the push to promote STEM education for girls has been more aggressive these days, that wasn’t the norm during Proffitt’s childhood in Nashville. “Coding classes weren’t really available for women, and there wasn’t a lot of messaging out there that was like ‘you can do that,’” she told Refinery29.
Proffitt taught herself, building websites while also pursuing interests in shooting and editing film. After starting a film degree at the College of Santa Fe, Proffitt transferred to the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). There, she realised the possibility of combining her interests in art and programming with a degree in game design. Her first game, “Ye Olde Perfumer” took inspiration from I Love Lucy’s famous chocolate conveyor belt scene. Instead of chocolate balls, players needed to pick flowers off the belt to create perfumes. Her second, “Bunny Reaper,” was slightly darker — it required killing cute bunnies to capture their souls for the game’s Grim Reaper. (“It was really sadistic.”)
Around the time Proffitt graduated in 2012, something big was happening in the world of mobile games: Facebook. It showed Proffitt that there was a growing market for a demographic she wanted to reach — women. “I was starting to see the data really, really change,” Proffitt said. “2011 to 2014 was the heyday of Facebook games and you were seeing women of all ages starting to pick up games.”
A study from the agency Jun Group backed up the surge of female interest in mobile games, reporting that 60% of women say they play games daily compared to 47% of men. Inspired by the promising market and eager to create for women, Proffitt began Ker-Chunk, a reference to the sound effect, in 2013, with two other women from SCAD (Ker-Chunk’s small staff is still 75% female, an anomaly in the gaming industry). The team’s idea to turn the most common stereotype on its head in PrinceNapped felt only natural. They appropriately found inspiration for their helpless prince from Disney.
“We loved Enchanted and we felt like the way they handled the prince in that movie was really smart and funny,” Proffitt said.
The world of PrinceNapped was partially influenced by the colourful fantasy environments in Avatar. In addition to looking for inspiration from Hollywood films Proffitt is an obsessive gamer, regularly trying new board games as well as other mobile and video games.
Reviving classic kinds of gameplay has been a success formula for many of today’s most popular mobile games. For example, Candy Crush, which has been downloaded over 2.73 billion times, innovated on the standard matching game. For the gameplay in PrinceNapped, Proffitt aimed to revive classic unblock games, which require you to remove one piece of a puzzle by sliding others around. Those games don’t usually have characters or allow non-horizontal and vertical movements, both of which are part of PrinceNapped. In order to free Prince Edwin, players need to unblock his path, using Clara’s powers to move obstacles.
While it’s still too new to judge if PrinceNapped will be the runaway hit the studio is hoping for, Proffitt has higher aims in mind: “We want to continue tackling messages that reverse stereotypes and deal with confidence — we want the player to feel like they are in a position of power.”