This is Mary. Mary is athletic. She is cultural. She is never stressed out about anything. Mary is perfect. She's a character in Perfect Woman, a video game developed for the Xbox One and Microsoft Kinect by Peter Lu and Lea Schönfelder that was released this week. It's a darkly funny game that satirizes the pursuit of the ideal modern life as promoted in media geared toward women (guides and tips for "having it all"), and the inevitable anxiety women feel when they realize that may not be realistic.
The game follows Mary through various life stages, asking players to choose different life paths (e.g., eager student, teenager taking care of her younger brother during a war, pro gamer, mother of two). Using the Kinect sensor, players literally go through the motions of living this woman's life, whether it's drumming in a band or dancing in a club. I played through the whole game so you can get a taste of Perfect Woman in all its sardonic glory.
Mary's Unfortunate Non-Perfect Perfect Life
Pre-Birth: I am not Mary. I am an unborn fetus in my mother's womb. I have no predetermined characteristics. Life is good so far.
Childhood: I can choose my first perfect life path at age nine! Considering that, in real life, I was a bookworm at that age, I'm going to live on the edge in this game and become a kid of the streets leading a gang (yes, at age nine). I'm given a parrot for my shoulder and messy hair. On choosing this path, though, IRL me is reminded of the time I told my mom I was running away, and then came back home crying an hour later.
Teenage Years: According to the game, I was mediocre at being a street kid, and now I need to choose a different path at age 16. I'm torn between playing in a band in the woods and being a promiscuous teen. I choose the former. This, too, I am mediocre at, as it's hard to keep up with what the Kinect wants me to do, and my bandmates don't want to be near me. Why does life have to be so hard?!
Each playthrough of the game only takes about 15 minutes.
Young Adulthood: Wow, I've somehow made it all the way to the age of 27! I'm given the option of being a mother of two kids, a drunk girl at Oktoberfest, a terrorist (no, thanks), and a pro gamer. I choose Oktoberfest, and the game forces me to dance wildly, but I actually end up meeting the love of my life. How wonderful everything seems! The game even gives me a child of my own, but that becomes a problem because…
Adulthood, Part 1: ...my child dies of leukemia when my character is 34. This one hits close to home, because my fiancé in real life had leukemia as a child. Thankfully, we both have a morbid sense of humor, and crack up when avatar me only seems to sort-of care that her child has died of a terrible cancer.
Adulthood, Part 2: I have a midlife crisis after my kid dies, and I decide to become a whale hunter. It's the only thing I think I can be good at in this game after having been "mediocre" at nearly every other path I've chosen. Turns out that I am mediocre at being a whale hunter as well.
The Senior Years: All you need to know about the rest of my virtual life is that as elderly woman, I devote my life to God. However, since I killed whales, I'm ultimately condemned. Is there no winning? Is that maybe the point?
The game is wickedly funny and easy enough for most people to play. My only hope is that the developers create a more accessible (smartphone?) version so that more players can flunk at being perfect.
Perfect Woman is now available on XBox One, $9, microsoft.com.