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Changing the Story & Rejecting Female Gender Roles in King’s Quest 4 (1988)

Natalie Swain

University of Bristol

A foundational series of video games from the 1980s and 90s, King’s Quest introduced a generation of young gamers to the medium.  Following the adventures of the ruling family of Daventry, these games blend traditional children’s stories with classical mythology to create a unique storyworld in which the player navigates. 

In King’s Quest 4, that classical mythology is no longer simply a set-dressings, and instead is given a new and gendered dimension as Rosella, princess of Daventry, seeks a golden apple to save her dying father.  As one of the first video games to feature a female protagonist (Lara Croft would not appear until 1996 (Tomb Raider (1996)) and Samus Aran had only appeared as a surprise ending in 1986 (Metroid (1986)), Rosella has a remarkably “strong nature and resistance to traditional gender roles” (Pushing Up Roses (26 Sept 2016)).  She may work within the established expectations for her gender, but she does so only to succeed in her quest, manipulating those expectations in order to achieve her ends.

No where do we see this resistance of traditional female gender roles more than in the game’s employment of classical mythology.  Whether returning Pandora’s box – unopened – to a sealed tomb, turning the tale of Apollo and Daphne (Ovid Metamorphoses 1.438-567) on its head when it is Rosella who witnesses Cupid bathing (and chases him away), or taking on the role of Heracles in defeating a serpent-defender of the golden fruit (Apollodorus Bibliotheca 2.5.1-2.5.12), Rosella (and the player) defy traditional expectations to complete their quest.  The King’s Quest series may be replete with women to be rescued (including Rosella herself in King’s Quest 3), but King’s Quest 4 recontextualizes both the series’ tropes and classical mythology to present an empowered female hero.  Essentially, Rosella may be rescued, but she is rescued only to rescue others (including her father, the series’ long-time protagonist), blurring the gendered lines of saviour and saved in order to create an empowered heroine for the young gamers who embody her.

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Think of the Children!

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