Appropriate games for girls

// 20 November 2008

I was covering The X Factor for the Guardian’s website on Saturday night, and, during one of the breaks, was taken aback with one advert featuring Fearne Cotton and Holly Willoughby. Here’s what I wrote over at the Organ Grinder blog

“8.01pm: Right, Nintendo DS game inventors. Girls like PINK so you make them a PINK CONSOLE. They like LICKLE FLUFFY BUNNIES so you get Girls Aloud to advertise a looking-after-pets game. And they should all GET MARRIED so you get Fearne and Holly to advertise a wedding-design game. Fantastic patriarchal brainwashing. Good work. I shall step down from my soapbox now.”

And then I went into Woolworths today and saw not only Imagine: Dream Weddings but also Imagine: Babies and Imagine: Happy Cooking. As well as these domestic-focused games, there are some subtle nudges as to appropriate girly careers – Imagine: Fashion Designer, Imagine: Teacher, Imagine: Interior Designer…Any further suggestions for the next game in the line? Imagine: Loading the Dishwasher? Imagine: Sorting Your Delicates?

Comments From You

Laurel Dearing // Posted 20 November 2008 at 4:40 am

our life drawing teacher said yesterday tht he hadnt been able to do any gaming poses so far because all the models had been female. funny really as we are on an animation course, half of us are girls and many are aiming for the games industry…

he also did many new interesting “aggressive male fighting poses” which he could do now because he had a man.

this teacher isnt macho at all. why hold everyone else to that standard? does he have daddy issues?

if he wants to see ome real aggressive fighting poses he can keep saying this stuff in front of me.

JenniferRuth // Posted 20 November 2008 at 9:05 am

Girls Aloud are also advertising MarioKart for the DS, so it isn’t all bad!

A few years back, when I was at Uni, I worked in a Gamestation. Those “Imagine” games were out then (i remember curling my lip in disgust). I never saw one person buy them though. A number of little girls did come in to buy Pokemon games though. Warioware was also as popular. And Nintendogs sold just as much to little boys as it did to girls (my nephew loves his virtual dog – he called it “Sweetie”).

The thing is, people (I include kids, because they are people too) don’t want gendered games. They just want games that are fun. However, if developers really want to expand the female market, the best thing they could do would be to stop insulting the consumer base.

Well, I’ll be going back to playing Final Fantasy XII (again) after work. Imagine!

Lotus // Posted 20 November 2008 at 10:07 am

The imagine games have been around for a while now. I used to go into into HMV when I was in town last year, take all the copies of “imagine babies” out of the game rack and drop them down the side. There are just too many of them now. I do get really pissed of at the gaming industry with it’s ridiculous attempts at targeting women.

Eleanor T // Posted 20 November 2008 at 6:09 pm

“As well as these domestic-focused games, there are some subtle nudges as to appropriate girly careers – Imagine: Fashion Designer, Imagine: Teacher, Imagine: Interior Designer.”

Wait… WHAT? Being a teacher now makes you “girly”? Shit. I’d better tell my father he’s really a woman, and praise my sister and mother for making an appropriately gendered career choice.

Please, F Word… don’t dismiss a career that happens to have lots of women working in it as “girly”. You ain’t helpin’ the cause.

Carrie // Posted 20 November 2008 at 6:12 pm

Hi Eleanor, no, not at all saying that being a teacher makes you “girly” (any more than doing any other job does, really) – just that teaching is usually associated stereotypically with “nurturing” and “caring” and all those other “appropriately feminine” characteristics these game designers seem to be wanting to encourage in the girls they’re targeting. That’s what I’m getting at – these games are for girls and these are the interests and careers they should be thinking about.

And certainly not dismissing it – I teach, as does at least one other regular blogger here!

Anne Onne // Posted 20 November 2008 at 6:34 pm

I remember being pissed off about this when I heard about it a while back. It is SO irritating. Firstly, it only really works fairly if you give people a range of activities they can do, and this is quite boring. I mean, wedding planning? I don’t think wedding planning, babies or cooking appealed to me AT ALL as a kid. It was all science and animals all the way. Or fantasy. The point is, you can’t really appeal to a group if you seek to put them into a tiny, insulting category. Normally, Nintendo are miles ahead of PlayStation, but this was one of their stupider ideas. Just give people cool, diverse games, instead of playing headgames.

Laurel: Actually, It IS really sad that there isn’t that much reference for kickass female poses that aren’t sexualised. I just doodle now and then, but whenever I look at reference for something kickass, all I can find are lots and lots of really muscly male physiques, which don’t relly help for reference for less developed guys or women. And you can bet your bottom dollar that most poses I find women in (whether it be stock photos, reference books, comics, etc.) are passive or sexualised.

There’s nothing wrong with liking to cook, liking babies, liking fashion or even wanting to plan weddings, or teaching. The problem arises when games designers assume that only girls should want to go into these fields, and that all girls want out of games is really stereotypically ‘girly’ caring games with pink hearts all over them. There’s more to us than that. I’ll admit to liking fluffy things now and again, and I have nothing against pink as a colour. But I really have strong issues with using stereotypes to put girls into a category so that society can then insult them for their preferences, and decide they are weaker, less cool, and special princesses that should only exist to make mens’ lives more easy and pleasurable.

maggie // Posted 20 November 2008 at 7:20 pm

My seven year old son wants a pink DS – he has a black one (we’re not millionaires). When he brought the DS into school along with his selection of Mario games he told us he shared them with the girls in his class.

We don’t care about the colour.

Men look great in pink ties and shirts.

maggie // Posted 20 November 2008 at 7:21 pm

Sorry forgot to add that I enjoyed the blog.

Laurel Dearing // Posted 21 November 2008 at 6:55 am

Anne: we have had a female model right there and he had a book of poses and chose the same ones every week. when a male model came suddenly he changed to interesting poses in the same book. it was his own choice and interpretation. either way its a drawing class and not an acting class. the point is to see how the body works and looks in different positions so we felt it was really stupid. i know the girls that played/wanted to make games were quite turned off by the one comment even if they didnt care about the positioning (we were so tired of the old poses lol) and none of them had been sexy or particularly “feminine” either. he just made the male ones particularly aggressive (eg. f – swing a baseball bat, m – youre going to smash someone around the head with that.) i found his so odd and honestly i think the model did too.

Leigh Woosey // Posted 21 November 2008 at 10:27 am

Laurel Dearing- Call him on it! If he doesn’t take you up on it write out the issue, with dates and evidence and submit it to your department’s equivalent of a staff-student liaison. He’s you’re teacher, he has to listen.

Anne Onne // Posted 21 November 2008 at 7:42 pm

Laurel Dearing: Oh, I get that. He was undoubtedly a douche for limiting female poses, and insisting on the neanderthal interpretation of male behaviour.

Sounds like a really wasted opportunity, when you could have got the chance of a female body modelling kickass poses you don’t get much reference for!

Laura // Posted 23 November 2008 at 8:02 pm

As a game designer, I dread this kind of game. Gave a lecture recently about women in games, and I loved to see how the girls cheered in agreement when I talked about agency, gender roles, sexism in the language and other similar topics. The boys, by other hand, got angry at me when I criticized characters they liked, like Princess Zelda from The Legend of Zelda or Lara Croft from Tomb Raider, and this led to an inflamated discussion after the lecture.

I came to the conclusion that game designers don’t aim at female gamers to sell this kind of pink-glittery-barbieish games. They aim at their parents. Female gamers, like all gamers, like solid gameplay, well-constructed characters, interesting visuals and to have fun while playing. They wouldn’t buy the pink-glittery-barbieish games anyway, not because they are “too girly”, but because they usually have awful gameplay, recycled graphics, irritating sound design and are unoriginal and simply not worth their price. No, the designers of those game aim at parents. Parents who don’t game, and have no idea of what to look for in a game. So they go for the stereotype. This is very common for parents of very young girls, specially first daughters, for a girl who has an older brother may be able to experiment a greater range of videogames.

What to do to fix this situation? Parents must be more conscient of what they’re buying. People usually disregard all videogames as they’re considered “children toys”, without knowing they may be used to tell deep, interesting stories, sometimes even better than the ones you usually see in a movie. And they HAVE to know that these games are shitty games that aren’t fun and aren’t worth their money.

And, of course, we need more female game designers. Most game designers are male, and though the representation of females in videogames is getting better, they’re still far from perfect. For each Jade, for each Samus, for each Faith, we have a ton of helpless princesses.

The problem goes deeper and deeper, but to make a simple conclusion out of this, girls should be able to experiment. You gave your daughter a pink Nintendo DS? That’s OK. You gave her games about cooking and cleaning and taking care of bug-eyed pastel-colored ponies? That’s not so ok, but it’ll pass. But since she now has a DS, pink or not, give her some other titles too. Give her “Metroid Prime Hunters”, so she can play as a strong, independent female hero. Give her puzzles and action games and racing games and RPGs. Let her CHOOSE what she likes and what she doesn’t, instead of forcing her to think she likes what society wants her to like.

Leigh // Posted 24 November 2008 at 11:24 am

@ Laura- Great comment :) I would add two points:

1. It is possible to educate men to be more sensitive to what female gamers actually want, so as well as getting more women into the industry, it’s also important to change the thinking of those already in it. This is of course difficult because some men in the industry will LIKE the idea that princess Daisy Needs rescuing/Lara Croft poses and pouts because it fulfils their sexist expectation of women.

2) Some parents really want their female offspring to grow up to be pink, girl, meek and subservient. A grim reality, but I firmly believe that by providing positive images of females with ability, intelligence, strength and freedom in media such as computer games can provide those children with an alternative and escape from sexist expectations of how they should be.

Lucy M // Posted 24 November 2008 at 10:28 pm

Really interesting discussion. My nearly 7 year old is getting a DS for Christmas. She’s been asking for one since last Christmas and, tbh, I was feeling a bit ambivalent about the whole thing because of the apparent tendency for gender stereotypes (in particular) to be so strong in games and in choices of games. But it was the one thing she really wanted. Now she wanted a pink one (yuck), and a High School Musical game…we’ve got her a turquoise one (she did say she wouldn’t mind and we’re so sick of pink as a default in this house), and after much review reading and asking around (I’m not a gamer), she’s getting Animal Crossing (because she loves sim-type games), Hannah Montana: Music Jam (the only game of its type that gets good reviews) and Big Brain Academy. She doesn’t like dogs, and she’d be getting the Imagine: babies or the white wedding one over my dead stinking corpse, but unfortunately she might find that she has different games from her friends – they seems to have Nintendogs and Cooking Mama. I’ve never heard of “Metroid Prime Hunters”; I like that there’s a game like that with strong female leads, but I’m not sure I’d give it to a young child of any gender – maybe when she’s older?

Anna // Posted 24 November 2008 at 11:53 pm

Lucy, three words: Lego Star Wars!

Leigh // Posted 25 November 2008 at 3:57 pm

Lucy M: Thanks for reminding me that not all parents are like the ones I described :)

Pirra // Posted 28 January 2009 at 2:50 am

Hey now, not all those games are bad. I own Cooking Mama, and frankly, I only acquired it as a joke, but once I started to play, I found out that it really is fun. Mindless fun, yes, but it’s a good game to kill time if you’re waiting for something but you don’t know if there’ll be time for a Pok√©mon battle. It’s like Wario Ware, but with kitchen mini-games only.

My boyfriend laughed at it at first, but then he started to play and got so much into it that before we knew it, we started competing for gold medals on recipes. And his youger brother got into it too, so you see, boys like these games to.

Cooking Mama 2 is trash though, too many flowers, ribbons and sparkly sounds. It ruins the whole game.

B // Posted 8 June 2009 at 8:50 pm

i agree that its very stereotype (although i do like music fest and fashion designer).

people need to stop being stereotype saying that girls will want a pink DS or little-est pet shop styluses and such.

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