This week, the featured free app in the App Store is Piloteer. It’s a fun game where you control a woman with a jetpack who’s learning to fly.
(The app will be featured until this afternoon, so be quick about it and download it now.)
Piloteer pairs simple objectives with a difficult control scheme. The character’s jetpack fires in three directions: left, right, and up; pressing on either side of the screen will jettison the Piloteer left or right, and pressing both sides simultaneously sends her straight up in the air.
It’s much harder than it sounds.
Simple tasks take some serious practice. The objective below is to go through a handful of hoops in 7 seconds and land. Easy, right? No. There is a lot of failure. Luckily, the wipeouts are hilarious:
The Piloteer is a ragdoll—she will only land gracefully if you can position her perpendicular to the ground and on her feet, which is extremely hard, because the jetpack makes her sway from side to side so easily.
The game is light-hearted, silly, and engaging. Its humor and laser-focused objectives save it from being some Flappy Bird horror show of frustration, and instead create a positive feedback loop that makes you want to keep trying. Because when things do go right, and you nail a landing, it feels pretty damn good:
The game is also notable for a couple of reasons:
- The main character is a woman of color.
- The game was developed in Chicago, and features the Chicago skyline prominently in the background.
I love that the game features a woman of color in the lead. Women as playable characters, and especially as the only playable character, is a rarity. Feminist Frequency analyzed gender representation of games characters at E3 2015 and found that only 9% of games had exclusively female playable characters.
That lack of gender representation is present in iOS games as well. Last year, a 12-year-old girl named Madeline Messer penned an editorial for The Washington Post that criticized the lack of women in iPhone games. She found that only 46% of the top iOS games at the time of writing made girl characters available. Even more discouraging is the fact that 90% of games featured boy characters for free, while only 15% of games had girl characters freely available. It’s a great piece, and you should read it. It’s really stupid that there isn’t a higher number of games like this.
Here's why I think this is important. I spent this past weekend laid up with back pain. I couldn’t play on the floor with my daughter as we usually do, so instead we got out my iPad and we started to play Piloteer. It has a free play mode that allows you to just goof off without any thought of objectives or achievements. My daughter loved trying to make the character fly. We laughed when she would land in the water. She was fixated on landing the Piloteer on the bridge. She had fun. While I’m sure that she would have loved the game even if it featured a white boy as the main character, I think the fact that the character was a woman made it even more fun for her. Furthermore, I'm glad it undermines the tendency for game characters to be "male by default." This quote from the Feminist Frequency article linked above gives a better context:
My daughter is 3. She isn't cognizant of these biases or this larger cultural context. But I am, and I'm her father. And she's going to be exposed to as much edifying content including women as possible.
On a separate note, I also love that the game features Chicago. It’s not overt—“CHICAGO” isn’t emblazoned in the sky—but it’s clearly the Chicago skyline in the background. The three locations of the game (The Park, the Lakeshore, and the Pier) are common Chicago locations. And it’s great to see Chicago in a positive light in a piece of media, even if it’s as subtle as it is here. Most of the attention the city gets these days is negative.
Apple’s Free App of the Week changes up in the US every Thursday afternoon. Grab Piloteer today.