Body Posi and Best Friend Forever – Bringing Positive Change to Gaming
Games can provide something for everyone – but can they make you feel good about yourself?
With a pretty mixed track record when it comes to representation, the ability of games to influence how you feel about who you are and how you look can be a double-edged sword. Though progress is being made when it comes to things like queer representation and accessibility, a game featuring a diverse range of body types or physical attributes can still be very hard to find. And when research suggests that this lack of representation of anything other than a muscular, idyllic body type can be actively harmful to players of all kinds, it’s worrying that we aren’t doing more to encourage change.
Thankfully, there’s hope, and it comes from Australian activists working to promote positivity and a celebration of body diversity in their upcoming games, Body Posi and Best Friend Forever. Lauren Clinnick, CEO of Lumi Interactive and Lucy Morris, CEO of Starcolt were both kind enough to spare some time to answer some questions about why it’s important to embrace self-love, self-care and positivity, and why they’re using their games as a platform to do it!
Tell us a little bit about your games, and why it’s so important to you to bring them into the world?
Lauren: Body Posi is a playful app for developing body positivity skills, currently in beta (early access) on Android and Apple devices. Players can flip a daily card for inspiration and guidance, as well as suggested bite-sized tasks to build body acceptance and compassion skills. It’s important for us to bring Body Posi into the world because we’re an all-women team that have lived with the effects of diet culture and pressure to look a certain way. This game is partly our way of fighting back!
Lucy: Best Friend Forever is an atypical dating sim in the sense that all dating sim games have stat raising in them, but are usually tied to the player or their love interest. In BFF, this stat raising mechanic is attached to your dog, in the sense that you train and guide them alongside your journeys in a new town and meeting new people. Body positivity is part of one of our overall studio pillars – inclusivity – which we try to be as conscious of as possible when we’re setting out to develop a title. Seeing more variance in-game characters means seeing more of ourselves in games, and that just seems like a no-brainer to our team at every stage of development!
Can you give some examples of where the games industry has done particularly well or particularly poorly in addressing body image and how they have inspired you to want to either incorporate these ideas or do things differently, with your games?
Lauren: Like the majority of current media, games still struggle to depict diverse bodies in diverse roles. It’s extremely rare to see a happy, loved and heroic fat person – but we still see a lot of exaggerated body shapes, scarring or physical differences for villains. It’s so tired, but also harmful to only have a narrow body type as the hero, or the love interest.
We squeal with delight every time we see characters that openly share vulnerability around their body image, or when we see diverse representations of bodies. Best friend Forever does a genuinely great job, and I also enjoyed seeing several different kinds of bodies celebrated in Dream Daddies as well. Seeing the ‘HELL YES’ reaction from the public when there are diverse bodies made us feel more confident in our artstyle and imagery in Body Posi – and we’ve had a really strong, positive response so far which is great!
Lucy: I think most of us are pretty accustomed to seeing ‘poor’ examples of body image from videogames, and that’s definitely inspired us to try and do better than what we saw growing up! It’s becoming more common to see a variety of body shapes in games, but we still have a long way to go. Notable examples of diverse body shapes include titles like Overwatch with Mei and Zarya with stockier body shapes, to indies doing hard work exploring the area like Bloom Digital Media’s Later Daters, a dating sim where you play as an octogenarian dating others in a ‘retirement paradise’. In Best Friend Forever, we really wanted the cast to feel authentic — like a group of people you might see walking on the street — and that includes all body shapes.
What do you hope to see from other games in the future? What could they be doing better in terms of encouraging positive self-love and self-acceptance?
Lauren: We’d love to see more vulnerability around body image and appearance. Seeing masculine characters share worries overpressure to conform to narrow ideals of being attractive – that would be amazing! Diversity in representation is a real must, and talking about self-compassion and developing trusting relationships with ourselves would all be incredible messages to see in more games. I feel that’s a big part of the charm with Animal Crossing – it’s all about slow progress, trying your best, appreciating the little details and expressing yourself. We love it!
Are games the perfect way to fight negative thoughts about self-image? How are your games doing this?
Lauren: The power of games comes from immersion and interactivity. Unlike tv shows and movies, games and apps are experienced actively – the experience is happening because of you, the crucial element. This makes it the most exciting form of media, bringing together the very latest in tech with the cutting edge of artistic expression.
In Body Posi, we use the power of gameplay to build self-supporting habits. Players can develop a calming, safe digital space where they take a mindful moment with themselves, appreciating diverse art while reading positive and supportive messages. When they’re ready, there are suggested daily activities back my body image science to help develop a positive body image over time.
Lucy: I don’t know if it’s perfect, but it’s a good start! We know representation matters, and little ripples can have big waves. As a recent example, we saw a huge increase of young girls picking up archery after Brave and The Hunger Games came out, which means that as long as we continue to create body-positive entertainment, we’ll be creating a world where more people feel comfortable in their own skin.
Both of these games are clearly embracing and championing diversity – why do you think this is so important to do?
Lauren: It’s hard to be what you can’t see. Having beautiful interactive media that says ‘you are valid’ is very powerful, and hearing that Body Posi helps our players is the most amazing privilege we get to experience every day. Developing kinder, happier relationships with ourselves is a life-long project with amazing benefits, so it’s important to us to create things that help this process for everyone, no matter their body.
Lucy: Not to harp on about representation, but — it matters! Diversity means a lot to almost all users, and it’s really not difficult to do. We’ve consulted where our team’s knowledge has been lacking in designing some of our characters, and the response from players has been amazing — everyone we’ve spoken to at games trade shows like PAX has commented on how much they loved the characters and their differences, and almost everyone has a ‘favourite’ instantly because they see something of themselves there. We want to send a strong message of belonging to everyone who decides to pick up BFF.
Body Posi will launch on Android and Apple in May you can join the beta now here on Apple and here on Android, and Best Friend Forever will launch on PC and Nintendo Switch on June 18 and can be wishlisted on Steam here:
Jess is a writer and researcher who loves games with good puzzles, good stories, and a tendency to punch you straight in your feelings. She is one of the directors of not-for-profit organisation Queerly Represent Me and is particularly interested in games told from unique perspectives that highlight themes or characters from groups that are often underrepresented. She also just really loves coffee, hot chips, and terrible superhero TV shows, and is always secretly hoping that one day the world will give her a good Sherlock Holmes game.