How a Nintendo DS game taught me about fashion, creativity and capitalism

How a Nintendo DS game taught me about fashion, creativity and capitalism

A couple weeks ago, I stumbled across an Instagram Reel of a girl making a pair of gloves. As she folded the delicate fabric together, guiding it through the sewing machine, I couldn’t help but think that something about the video was strangely nostalgic. After a couple more seconds it clicked—the background music. The familiar jingle was from the Nintendo DS game “Style Savvy,” a fact I was able to confirm from a comment section filled with people from my generation asking themselves the same question.

When I was younger, I would spend hours on “Style Savvy.” It was the first video game I found myself reaching for everyday—the first game I’d gotten along with the cherry-red console after months of being envious of my older cousins’. The premise of the game was pretty basic: You’re a boutique owner, serving a wide variety of customers by selling them the most ideal outfit within their budget. With the money you make, you’re responsible for replenishing your shop with the newest styles from the Buyer’s Center, hand-picking and bulk-ordering the items you think will sell the best or look the coolest. Other responsibilities of yours consist of dressing up your own character, running ads, dressing store mannequins and competing in fashion contests where the stakes and difficulties get higher and higher with each round.

The overall goal is simple: move up the ranks of the fashion world by securing as many customers as you can and win competitions to become the best fashionista in the world.

As I came across this reel, I found myself thinking about why this game meant so much to me. I liked fashion decently enough as a kid: I played dress up games in the computer lab at school and was glued to the monitor at home afterward. I enjoyed switching out my Barbies’ outfits and meandering around Justice, the kid’s clothing store, whenever I had the opportunity to. But that wasn’t enough for me to be drawn back to the two-screened digital fashion world over and over again. No—it was the gamification of it all that was so exciting.

When I first started playing the game, it was an enigma to me. A non-player character (NPC) would come in requesting a goth outfit, and I’d suit them up head-to-toe in pink with a lime green scarf and mismatched socks for good measure. It was experimentation. In real life, I didn’t have an endless closet of clothes or the confidence to wear them, but the game let me see what certain pieces would look like together. I’d try to emulate styles I saw on Disney Channel or in movies or otherwise pair a bunch of pieces together that I just liked the look of. When I dressed up mannequins, they were decked out in a rainbow of colors. Nothing had to match. There was no method to my madness.

I noticed that after I sent customers away to try on the outfits, they’d come back with either a smile or a frown. I had roughly a 50% success rate; they would see the outfit, pose and give me the news—they were either ready to buy or they weren’t. Sometimes if they didn’t like it the first time, I would get another chance. I’d hold my breath as I’d try to alter the outfit, attempting to keep the artistic essence while making the slightest adjustment to make the NPC happy. When they’d choose not to purchase after sliding back the dressing room curtain for the second time, I was devastated. After about a year of playing the game, I realized that there was a reason why my success rate was so low. It wasn’t random: The explicit style the customer preferred actually meant something. Who would have thought?

Some poking around eventually led me to the search bar function, a tool that let me find the exact style of clothes I wanted for the customer while even providing a price range and the type of clothing item. The search bar practically did my job for me. My only task was to pick out clothes that fit the bill and throw them together. It was like finding a cheat code.

When I upgraded to a Nintendo 3DS, I got a sequel game to the original called “Style Savvy: Trendsetters.” This time, the game became less about style for me and more about turning over a profit.

After the revelatory run-in with the search bar from my bout with the first game, I had gained all the strategic knowledge I needed to be a successful business owner. Now I was a seasoned professional, and my aim was simple: I would please every customer that walked into my store.

My American Girl Doll “A Smart Girl’s Guide: Money” book had prepared me for the grueling task ahead of me. As a kid, I became aware of the fact that we live in a society run by money, that creative success often comes from or at the expense of the opinions of other people. It was around this time that I had plans to create a legendary start-up—if not a lemonade stand, then a jewelry business. Just call “Style Savvy” financial training.

In my new boutique, I took less risks. My mannequins were decked out in clothes that ticked every box in a style, maximized with the largest number of pieces I could fit onto the body to drive up the price. As soon as I changed my strategy, customers started dropping by to snatch up pre-made outfits. They were happier, returning to shower me with praise after I created the ideal outfit with the filtering system. Following what was expected of the game’s fashion world was making me a lot of money—money that I could then funnel back into the business to make even more money.

My main mode of free creative expression in the game no longer extended to other people but to my own character. Nobody cared about what I was wearing, so I got to show up however I wanted. The styles and colors of my outfit could clash, but it didn’t matter because I wasn’t trying to sell my own clothes. This realization was a bit bittersweet for me. I wanted the NPCs to be able to understand what straying from a strict guideline of fashion felt like. I wanted them to share my joy in mixing pieces that may not have come from the same store. I wanted them to experiment, knowing that not everything had to tick the conventional boxes in order to be the perfect outfit.

But I guess at the end of the day, whatever sells…

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