Nancy Drew is an iconic feminist character. First appearing in 1930, the teenage sleuth has inspired generations of girls with her wit, her courage, and her tenacity. Although she often encounters dangerous situations, and her friends and family repeatedly beg her to be careful, Nancy never backs down and she never gives up. Her incarnations have changed over the years, sometimes, dramatically. But her underlying symbolism has remained the same: girls can do anything.
I grew up reading the classic yellow Nancy Drew novels, first given to me, like many a reader, by my mother. Even though I realize now that Nancy could be considered a Mary Sue, I never questioned Nancy’s intelligence and resourcefulness as a child. Instead, I was inspired by her. Nancy always seemed to know just what to do. And I wanted to be just like her.
There are only so many classic Nancy Drew books, and I never really got into the other iterations of Nancy Drew that exist. So it was exciting when I first learned that Nancy Drew has video games. Her Interactive released their first game for PC, Secrets Can Kill, in 1998. It allows players to take on the role of Nancy as they find clues, solve logic puzzles, and interrogate suspects to uncover the truth behind a student’s death. Just as in the books, Nancy is fearless, never stopping her investigations, no matter what the villains do to try to stop her. And, just as in the books, Nancy is unfailingly polite, even when persistent. Through Her Interactive’s video games, I fell in love with Nancy all over again.
Her Interactive currently has 32 Nancy Drew desktop games out and I have been slowly playing my way through them all. But the company’s last release was in 2015, and, as a result, fans have been threatening to withdraw their support from the next game, Midnight in Salem, which finally has a release date after four long years of waiting. The wait for Midnight in Salem has been frustrating. But I still believe Nancy Drew is important and I still intend to play.
Playing the Nancy Drew games is empowering. The puzzles are challenging and the mysteries, usually, intricate. Players must keep track of all the clues they have acquired, discern what pieces they are missing, and deduce how to acquire missing pieces. Additionally, the must also interview suspects, determine who is lying or obscuring information, and deduce the culprit from the information provided. It really feels like the player has become Nancy, has acquired her skills, her charm, and her determination. Playing is a reminder that the player does, in fact, possess the smarts and the determination of Nancy; it’s not only in the game.
A lot has changed since Nancy first appeared in 1930. But girls still need role models who remind them that they are smart and capable and resilient. Nancy continues to do that, both in the books, but also in the video games. I hope that Nancy will always be around to remind girls that they can do anything.