Videogames to prepare girls for a life of caretaking

// 9 March 2008

So, considering the piece I wrote about gender swapping in MMOGs got some interesting comments from readers who game, here’s another story on the subject of sexism in this genre.

Via Wonderland, we learn of an MMOG “for girls”. For all the hip architecture in the screenshots, Guppylife sounds like yet another Tamagotchi-like game. These are aimed at girls, and seem designed primarily to get mothers-in-waiting to exercise their parenting skills. And if that seems a bit harsh, I may as well admit that my own experience of playing this type of game is that whatever fun may be involved is quickly replaced by brain-numbing drudgery. The more sophisticated versions (the Sims, etc), provide other rewards & challenges, both most seem… well… a bit on the dull side.

The game designers describe Guppylife like this:

GuppyLife is an MMO for girls. The overall purpose of the game is to take care of the small furry inhabitants of the world, the guppies. A guppy is a small life loving creature with an innocence of a child and a thrill for fun and adventure. Guppies are quite intelligent. With a little guidance they learn to sing, dance, and most importantly be nice to both friends and strangers. Without guidance however, they will pickup bad habits or get sad and depressed.

So, on the one hand it’s good that this game-world seems predicated on something other than violence. Dancing, singing, adventure, happy innocence. Good stuff.


I think these games take as their premise the idea that girls like to play with dolls. While there is an obvious feminist critique of this (go read your Roland Barthes if you need more info), I would argue that these games are even more troubling. Dolls and other toys of the same type (action men, whatever), can act as characters in a narrative that opens up imaginative space for children. But when transferred to game form, all that is left is repeated, narrowly focused and gender-stereotyped role playing (in this case, seemingly, parenting small, cute creatures). A bit like those practice baby dolls they give teenagers in American TV shows that actually cry all night, to demonstrate the consequences of pregnancy.

This MMO is meant to replace, “for girls”, the adventure and strategy-based games that more typically dominate the genre. So, instead of swords and sorcery, we have cuddly creatures and lessons on care-giving. Joy.

Comments From You

Betsy // Posted 10 March 2008 at 10:15 am

Swords are incredibley boring, give me the power of archtect, builder, intertior decorator, matchmaker, destroyer anytime.

Jennifer // Posted 10 March 2008 at 12:35 pm

The biggest problem with games “for girls” is that it totally ignores the fact that girls are playing games anyway.It assumes that girls who play games are an abberation.

Well, when it comes to MMO’s such as WoW or City of Hero’s etc. there is a pretty even gender distribution. Boys might just edge into the majority, but these are games that were never even *marketed* at girls – yet they still play! Strange – that a girl might want to play a game based on the fact that it is fun and engaging, rather than how many cute furry creatures are in it.

Guppylife will succeed if it is a good game – and I will bet that it won’t just be girls playing it. If it is a bad game and it doesn’t sell, it will be held up as an example that “girls don’t play games – there is no market.”

The whole thing makes me very angry – but I can take out my rage in a healthy way by shooting the hell of out of people on Halo or Timesplitters (providing too much oestrogen doesn’t prevent me from touching the console)

Sarah // Posted 10 March 2008 at 2:48 pm

I’m doing a game art module at uni at the moment. I have to create the concept and characters for a game.

So I’m doing a first person action/adventure RPG with complex female characters who make real choices. It’s called suffrage – and it’s set during the fight to get women the vote.

It raised a few eyebrows. Apparently girls don’t want to play games like that!

Jess McCabe // Posted 10 March 2008 at 2:49 pm

That sounds fantastic, Sarah!

Sarah // Posted 10 March 2008 at 3:01 pm

My characters will be modelled on real women (sorry Lara Croft!)

It’s quite sad that my game’s unique selling point is that it’s unique. Gaming has come so far but the attitude I’ve found is “girls who already play games play boy games. Girls who don’t play games aren’t going to play games anyway so why bother?” Designers don’t seem to realise that perhaps one of the reasons some girls don’t play is the lack of decent female characters out there – or that those who do play wouldn’t mind there being some for them to choose from.

Seph // Posted 10 March 2008 at 6:48 pm

This is an open invitation for any and all video games companies to come to my house and look through my games collection, you might discover a few things that will rock your tiny brains.

I like good video games, I don’t want to be widing da cute fwuffy ponies!11 I may not play Grand Theft Auto, but that’s because it is one of the most boring games on the planet, i’d rather play Metal Gear Solid, with an intelligent plot, good characters, anti-violence message and *shock horror* Male main characters.

I, and most of the other gamers I know (both male and female) couldn’t care less if their main character is male, female, animal or vegtable. We just want good games.

As for the whole “Lara Croft” thing, most popular games don’t have realistic portrayels or women or men, I don’t know many real-life men that can compete with the male casts of Final Fantasy, Devil May Cry, Tekken, Castlevania, Metal Gear, Dynasty/Samurai Warriors, etc.

Leigh Woosey // Posted 11 March 2008 at 9:38 am

Does anybody want to get together and collaborate on an open letter to games companies on what women (and girls) actually want from games? A sort of ‘How To’ pamphlet on how to not patronise female gamers in marketing or game design. I’m thinking that if this could be made to look professional and then made available on PDF to the public as well as printed and directly mailed to heads of game companies/famous lead designers/editors of leading magazines that this could be really effective.

Jennifer // Posted 11 March 2008 at 10:54 am

Leigh – that is an interesting idea, but I am not sure that it would be possible to say what women/girls want in a game because everyone is different. I think the problem is that male gamers are the default (no-one makes games “for boys” they just make games) and the assumption is that girls aren’t playing them and there needs to be special games created just for that market.

I like your idea about putting together something of how not to patronise female gamers though (and how generally not to be offensive when creating female characters!).

It would be quite a thing to go about doing though, because it would need the input of a LOT of female gamers.

Leigh Woosey // Posted 11 March 2008 at 1:01 pm

Well it was only an idea. If you think it’s worthwhile trying to put a document telling game producers how not to patronise women and if you think people would be prepared and able to provide input then I would be happy to help collect and produce something for distribution.

Seph // Posted 12 March 2008 at 4:17 am

I think the only thing game designers need to know on how to not patronise women is:

Don’t assume we’re all fluffy kitten loving 6 year olds who would only approach a games console if it was painted pink and contained makeup tips.

soup // Posted 3 February 2009 at 10:08 am

Hi, I have been following industry analysts’ comments regarding virtual worlds and there seems to be a lot of expectations towards virtual worlds / MMOs etc. to niché audiences. Muxlim is one example but also these “boys’ games” or “girls’ games” are there. GuppyLife is out in beta now (or soon in English), Pixie Hollow game by Disney is another very girly product… for boys there are carzz and other car driving or building MMOs.

Of course not all girls are girly-girls but it is certainly interesting to see how these communities evolve. Look at Barbie with its tens of millions of reg. users! Dolls and plush toys (Webkinz) seem to hand there pretty nicely.

Have Your say

To comment, you must be registered with The F-Word. Not a member? Register. Already a member? Use the sign in button below

Sign in to the F-Word

Further Reading

Has The F-Word whet your appetite? Check out our Resources section, for listings of feminist blogs, campaigns, feminist networks in the UK, mailing lists, international and national websites and charities of interest.

Write for us!

Got something to say? Something to review? News to discuss? Well we want to hear from you! Click here for more info

  • The F-Word on Twitter
  • The F-Word on Facebook
  • Our XML Feeds