Fiber Arts in Videogames: Chrono Trigger

I’ll start this series with one that I thought would be very short — it’s just one tile! — but that got longer than I thought it would.  I don’t think most of these will end up this thoughtful.

Chrono Trigger, a very highly-regarded RPG with a time-traveling conceit, has a range of settings, from prehistoric hut to futuristic dome.  Two of the eras in which the plot plays out feature a classic medieval castle, complete with king: the game’s “Middle Ages” (600 AD) and “Present” (1000 AD). The only fiber arts representation I remember offhand from the game is in the form of the rather high number of spinning wheels in this castle[1].  Pretty minimal.  It’s not like anyone in the game spins, or even talks about spinning.  The wheels are just decoration to establish the character of the place, much as the inventor family’s home is full of books and gadgets.  Makes sense, as when you think of things in a castle, you think spinning wheels, right?

Well, maybe you do if your primary association with castles is Sleeping Beauty.  If not, you probably think of suits of armor.  And those are there, as are plain boxes (reasonable, as these are mainly storerooms we’re seeing), battle axes, barrels, and that staple of videogames, chests.  And spinning wheels.  One of these things is not like the others.

Chrono Trigger castle brightened 2016-03-08 23.08.02 (3).jpg

In both eras of the game involving this particular castle, there are ruling kings, but the more important royal character is the queen (in the Middle Ages) or the princess (in the Present, and indeed every other time, as she’s a playable character and arguably the one most central to the plot).   While the castle is full of soldiers and their impedimenta, it’s the female side of the royal family — the distaff side — that matters most to the plot.  And as that term itself illustrates, spinning is, Rumplestiltskin notwithstanding, indelibly marked as something women and girls do.

(A distaff is a companion tool to a spinning wheel, used to hold plant fiber waiting to be spun.  I don’t know how and why it came to be a term for “female.”  But consider “spinster”, a term used only to denote an unmarried woman, even though it has a rather masculine form — compare sempster, which has long fallen into disuse even though its feminine version, seamstress, is still used.)

What the spinning wheels are conveying is, we live here too.  It’s no accident that one of them is in the queen’s/princess’s bedroom.  The game itself misses or subverts many sexist tropes[2], but I’m not sure there were many better choices for suggesting that yes, women live in this here castle too[3], than the spinning wheels. (Actually, that’s the real problem — that there aren’t any other ways to do this — but that’s not the game’s fault.)

Though I have to say, I sure love the mental image of all of those soldiers spinning.

ChronoTrigger1000GuardiaCastle Rainbow Shard room labelled brighter

[0] Screenshots/maps from http://www.SNESMaps.com, though I have brightened both. First one is the queen’s/princess’s bedroom and nearby rooms (the king’s room does not have a spinning wheel in it), last one is the most important treasure chamber in the game.  The character in front of the rainbow shell offers to make a Prism Dress (or 3 Prism Helms) from the shell, so perhaps he uses the spinning wheel for that!

[1] I was troubled by my inability to count these before I realized that I had been flipping back and forth between maps of the Middle Ages version and the Present version, and the Present-day castle has about twice as many rooms.  Most of which look alike.  The high number of wheels is primarily accounted for by the fact that videogames reuse sprites in similar rooms, of course.

[2] This isn’t evident at first. Both the 1000 AD princess and the 600 AD queen (her ancestress) need rescuing initially.  But that’s about the last time that particular trope goes in that direction.  I think every other rescue, and there are quite a few, are of men and usually spearheaded by one or more of the three female party members, including the princess rescuing her own father, the king.

[3] We do see other females in the castle, serving in the kitchen and the infirmary, but I had forgotten that when I started writing this.  I’m not rewriting it now, though.

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