Girly gamers

Tracey John at Wired writes about the disheartening state of video games aimed towards adolescent girls, offering as an example this year’s new releases, all but one of which are focused on fashion, shopping, boys, babies or becoming popular.

The weird thing is that you can view these “wholesome” games as being just as bad for girls as Grand Theft Auto’s random bloodshed and rampant criminality is for young, impressionable boys. And while GTA’s influence on boys has been dissected to death, what about the Nintendo DS’ upcoming avalanche of games for tween girls? What kinds of values do preteens learn from these titles? Valuable life lessons, or bad habits?

John provides descriptions of the new games, virtually all of which sound mind-blowingly bad, though two stand out amongst the pack.  One is The Clique: Diss and Make Up, based on a popular YA book series, in which the object of the game is to rise to the top of a middle school social ladder, by using your feminine wiles and dressing in a way that appeals to others (which apparently includes wearing pigtails and plaid skirts, useful if you were trying to appeal to a pedophile).  I haven’t read any of the Clique books, as it’s been roughly 75,737 years since I was the target audience, I didn’t realize that middle school socializing was such a hotbed of deception and intrigue.  The second is a tie between My Boyfriend and Princess in Love, the object of both games being finding just the right combination of clothing and dance moves to win the man of your dreams.  The other games mentioned, amongst them Dreamer Series: Top Model, Style Lab Makeover and Charm Girls Club: My Fashion Mall, all sound equally banal, but slightly less offensive, mainly because as opposed to the other games mentioned they don’t seem to suggest that finding love and friendship is not a matter of personality, but having the “right” clothes and the “right” moves.

The article touched a nerve with me, mostly because I have an eleven year-old daughter who has blossomed into quite the gamer geek.  Her favorite games right now are Super Smash Bros. Brawl, one of the Pokemon games (I don’t remember which one since there are about a dozen of them) and Pikmin.  Most of her friends play at least one of these games as well, which leads to the question: why is there a need for video games marketed directly to young girls, and why must they involve the most lamest of themes? Over a third of gamers identify themselves as female, clearly this is not a reluctant market desperately in need of tapping.  Are there really a few girls or women out there who are thinking to themselves “Gee, I’d really like to get into this video gaming trend, but there are so few games out there that appeal to what really interests me–clothes and makeup!” If that’s the case, please identify yourselves so that you may be actively avoided by the rest of polite society.

There is some debate over whether girls are purchasing these games, which still don’t sell as well as the standard fighting/shooting/adventure games long believed to be more appealing to males, whether because they really want them or because their parents have been conned into believing that they do.  That’s the thing: being that your average 12 year-old girl, unless it’s her birthday or just after the holidays, rarely has the $40 or so required to purchase a video game burning a hole in her pocket, it is the parents buying them.  So what’s the reason then? For the record, I don’t actually believe that playing a game like Princess in Love will make an impressionable middle schooler convinced that she’s nothing without a boyfriend–movies, TV and magazines will do that job quite efficiently enough.  I’m just genuinely baffled and frustrated that girls are perceived as either too delicate or simply not interested in the same video games as boys are, and need their own pink, baby powder scented versions, dedicated to being an imaginary wedding planner or designing baby clothes, when there is evidence against this right in my own home.

Did anyone involved in the designing of these games actually interview girls ages 10 to 14 to ask what kinds of games would interest them, or did they fall back on tired, lazy, largely inaccurate generalizations?  I can almost picture a bunch of forty year-old men in a conference room, looking at a whiteboard with the words WHAT DO GIRLS LIKE? written on it, as they shout out “Clothes!” “Boys!” “Kittens!” “Jewelry!” “Pink, lots of pink!” From those cliches, video games “just for you!” are born, and stereotypes continue to survive.

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5 Responses to “Girly gamers”

  1. vitamom Says:

    I love the imagery of your last paragraph. :-)

  2. CatalyticDragon Says:

    Personally, I find games marketed to *either* gender to be irritating beyond belief, but I share your opinion that the Pink Extravaganzas that are “girls games” are just nauseating.

    I have been a late arrival to console gaming, but as one of that 1/3 of the gamer demographic with a XX chromosome pairing, I have found that “gaming”, especially console gaming, seems to be a great gender equalizer. ALthough, maybe I’m just a tomboy?

    As a related aside, I have two categories of games I play: 1) Puzzle/Arcade games or 2) games with absolutely ridiculous premises/plots/physics – as in, I won’t play a video game when I could go out and *do the actual thing*.
    A game either has to make my brain work hard at ridiculously simple things (tetris, hexic, etc) in an entertaining way, or be so sublimely impossible that, no matter how “gory” or violent or even realistic it is, it’s never something that I could ever hope to do in reality. FPS are all in that category, and so are things like Fable, or even “realistic” games like Ultimate Test Drive – the physics are just so ridonkulous that it’s FUN.

    To make a long story short: Why the hell would ANYONE – tween girl or not – want to play a video game about shopping? That’s like video games for bass fishing. If you want to do something, DO IT. In meatspace. Like, for real.

  3. They spend too much money in the development of these games to not interview their target market. That is the sad thing. I’m sure their feedback was positive, meaning the real problem isn’t the games or the marketing, but America’s youth culture.

  4. CatalyticDragon: hear, hear! IMO, the whole point of video games is that they let you do stuff you can’t really do IRL. Which is why I don’t get Guitar Hero–couldn’t I just learn to play the guitar?

  5. Heather Says:

    Ditto for agreement to CatalyticDragon – I don’t like/understand Wii Bowling or other such “realistic” sport games. Why wouldn’t I just go bowling? I much prefer puzzle games or crazy driving games.

    When I play the Sims (which has found a huge female following, by the way), I play it for fantasy – my neighbors fall in love with the “wrong” people, houses burn down, pets die and turn into ghosts, kids skip school and get suspended. I make it a huge drama, unlike my regular boring life. But when my husband plays it, he keeps married couples married, kids go to school every day, pets are fastidiously fed and people get job promotions like clockwork. He’s always said, “If you play it well enough, the characters learn to play themselves.” How is that fun?

    Perhaps that’s what game marketers don’t get: maybe girls, unlike boys, look to games for fantastical stories, rather than sets of A-A-B-Down-B codes and realistic sports.

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