Poor Jill. Her lover the queen has thrown her in the bottom floor of her tower. To get out, she’ll have to beware of spikes, cross flaming pillars and dodge floating yellow spiders using only her wits and flea-like jumping skills. And that’s just how she likes it.
I first learned of Mighty Jill Off–a freeware Windows game for adults which its creator calls “the definitive chubby little dyke gimp platformer”–from the OneSwitch game accessibility blog. The version highlighted there uses only one button: Jill, bound and gagged, is stuck in a room where she must avoid the spikes on the floor and the flaming heads in the air. It’s amazing just how many moves this button gives her. Press it once, and Jill jumps. Press it while she’s in midair, and she’ll start floating back down. Keep pressing it and she’ll float slower. The objective? Stay alive as long as possible. (49 seconds is my best time. Stop laughing).
Even the original Mighty Jill Off seems very disability-friendly. Jill can run (using the right and left arrow keys), but the controls, premise and visual layout are all deceptively simple. This time, Jill has to escape the dungeon as quickly as she can, by channeling Mighty Bomb Jack and Super Mario Bros. 2′s Princess Toadstool, respectively. All the tower’s rooms are made of stone floors, pillars and one-color backgrounds. There are no swarms of same-sized enemies that some gamers with visual impairments will need to rush to make sense of. There are no significant auditory cues. The dungeon has checkpoints, and Jill has an infinite supply of lives. The only competition is yourself–how fast can I clear the tower? Can I shave a few seconds off my time now?
These features may make the game pretty accessible, but they don’t make it easy. Getting Jill out alive requires timing, perseverance, and…a little masochism, frankly. Though Jill never has to cross over into the afterlife, she will die. A lot. In one room, Jill has to float over a series of pillars nearly as high as she can jump; in another, she must jump between two groups of spikes through a gap only as wide as her body. Later–much later–she’s trapped with four ghost-spiders for 50 seconds.
I’m terrible at Mighty Jill Off; the only way I could see the whole game in time to write about it was to check out some YouTube video walkthroughs. Still, being punished by the queen’s deadly traps hurts deliciously. The endless lives only turn the torture up a notch. Without having to start back at the beginning no matter how many spikes I hit, I’m constantly compelled to go further, to see what other delights the queen has in store. Like Jill, I want all the pain she can inflict on me.
What’s Jill’s secret? How can Mighty Jill Off be so playable and punitive at the same time? Designer Anna Anthropy, who’s also a co-founder of the magazine The Gamer’s Quarter, describes a genre she calls masocore games. A game like this “plays with the player’s expectations, the conventions of the genre that the player thinks she knows.” Mighty Jill Off doesn’t need a complicated control scheme to be challenging; its level design is enough. Jill is gentle as masocore games go. It doesn’t turn our ideas of game conventions upside-down, but takes them further, takes us out of our comfort zones. Yet, it can be played by almost anybody–as long as they’re consenting adults, of course.