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The parents' guide to what's in this game.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Scarlet Hood and the Wicked Wood is a downloadable puzzle/adventure game for Windows, Mac, and Linux. This mash-up/retelling of the classic stories The Wizard of Oz and Little Red Riding Hood follows Scarlet, an aspiring musician from Kentucky. After a concert that may change her life forever, Scarlet is whisked away by a tornado, waking up in the fantasy land of Glome -- which is populated with Munchkins, a green witch, and ruby slippers. In order to find her way home, Scarlet's mission is to break free of a time loop that's causing her to relive the same day over and over again -- with the help of some characters reminiscent of the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion. Be prepared for cartoonish violence, mild language ("crap"), occasional drinking by some characters to advance the story, and character drawings that could be viewed as sexual in nature. Some content, such as the inclusion of Br'er Wolf and Fox and Native American imagery, could raise questions around cultural appropriation (or be considered outright offensive), but it can also be used to prompt discussion around the issues of the source material.
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What's it about?
In SCARLET HOOD AND THE WICKED WOOD, players meet Scarlet on the night of an important showcase for her band, Foxtrot Bop. Despite a severe tornado watch, Scarlet rallies her bandmates Leonard, Sammy, and Nick to push forward in their travels to the venue. There, following a successful performance, Scarlet meets with Wicked Records executive Savannah, who offers her a recording contract. But the catch is that instead of signing the entire band, Wicked Records only wants to work with Scarlet, aiming to pair her up with a trio already performing regularly in Nashville. When her friends find out, they blame Scarlet for not immediately rejecting the offer, and Scarlet is ostracized from the group while the others try to process their feelings. On the ride back home, the weather intensifies, and as soon as she steps off the bus, Scarlet is whisked away by a tornado to the magical world of Glome. Once Scarlet wakes up, she slowly pieces together that she's "not in Kentucky anymore" based on interactions with strange cave paintings, rune puzzles, and a talking fox. She soon discovers a troupe of Munchkins, led by Miss Dixie, who need a witch to escort them through the Wicked Wood. To Scarlet’s initial shock, she's outed as the witch in question by an ancient spell that places a Red Hood on her head and a broom-like "Whomping Stick" in her hand. Realizing that she doesn’'t seem to have much choice, Scarlet agrees to lead the group, though it's not long before she and the Munchkins run into LeFaba, the evil Black Witch, and Scarlet is killed by LeFaba's bird-like minions. Scarlet immediately awakens to the same scene she experienced a few hours prior, with an unconcerned Miss Dixie telling her that the encounter was only a bad dream. Scarlet concludes that she's stuck in a time loop, fated to live the same day over and over until she's able to break the spell.
Is it any good?
At first glance, this is an enjoyable adventure game, but its reliance on fairy tales leads it into thorny issues of cultural appropriation and offensiveness. Though the narrative has familiar fairy tale elements, there are enough amendments to Scarlet Hood and the Wicked Wood that the story feels new and fresh. The writing is snappy, and the puzzles are challenging and entertaining, if just a bit repetitive. The art style is beautiful, and the design of the environments players must explore is engaging. It's easy to see how kids will be entertained, even if they may be able to guess how the story is going to end. Though Scarlet Hood pulls from predictable fairy tale formulas, it's the shock and wonder portrayed by Scarlet as she enters the world of Glome that makes the story feel magical. Her personality and dialogue keep players invested -- of course we want to help this brave, ambitious heroine get home safely.
But as with other adaptations of outdated fairy tales, there are some problematic elements that shouldn't be ignored. First, the use of Native American imagery, such as headdresses and dreamcatchers, is present throughout. These don't serve a narrative purpose and feel carelessly included. Also, two animal characters, Br'er Fox and Br'er Wolf, are associated with African American oral traditions that have been appropriated by many racist films in the past, such as Disney's infamous Song of the South. While it's difficult to imagine that the developers in South Korea included these images and references for any purposefully offensive reasons, it raises important questions about the purpose that fairy tale adaptations may serve in modern times. These elements in the game present opportunities for families to discuss where these images come from, historically, as well as when they're appropriate to depict in media. On a larger scale, Scarlet Hood is an adaptation mostly of the American fantasy tale The Wizard of Oz. While still a wildly popular film many decades after its release, passionately racist writings from the story's original author have been revealed in more recent years. This has sparked debate among many arguing that, as a result, The Wizard of Oz should not still be so highly regarded or frequently shown. This all begs the question: What productive purpose does an adaptation of that story serve in the present day? Be prepared to lead open discussions about this and to educate yourselves and your kids about alternative options for kids who enjoy fantasy stories.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about sex, gender, and body image in video games. Why do you think both Scarlet and Savannah wear revealing clothing, though they're not explicitly portrayed as sexual beings or engaging in sexual activity? Is female nudity inherently sexual? What makes people consider certain clothing choices, such as garters and stockings or low-cut tops, to be sexual?
Why are certain fairy tales considered "classics"? Should those ideas ever be reexamined? If so, when, how, and why?
What is cultural appropriation? Is Scarlet Hood's use of cultural artifacts from Native American and Black cultures appropriate? Why do you think the game developers made the choice to include them?
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