Wired’s recent round-up of games being marketed to “tween” girls has stirred up a few emotions recently. With titles such as The Clique: Diss and Make-up, Top Model and My Boyfriend, the list reads like a list of the worst stereotypes of the “in” junior high cliques I was so never a part of. They were reading YM. I was reading The Communist Manifesto. Somehow, we never hit it off.
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? Wired
Dangerous because it is worse for a teenage girl to obsess over fashion than it is for a boy to steal a car? Salon.com’s Judy Berman extends the thought a little further.
I think these games can be even more harmful than “Grand Theft Auto,” because they have more potential to influence their players’ lives. Your average “GTA” player is highly unlikely to, for example, climb to the top of his city’s highest building and start shooting cops on the street below with a machine gun. But it doesn’t seem unreasonable to suggest that a game called “Dreamer Series: Top Model” could take its toll on an awkward 12-year-old’s self esteem, or that the multitude of dating games could subtly perpetuate the idea that a girl’s life is incomplete without a boyfriend. Salon.com
I can see the point…except that the problem with Grand Theft Auto is not that boys are really very likely to go out and really steal cars, any more than girls who play Top Model will suddenly find themselves on the catwalk. It is the subtle messages which redefine what is cool, what is desirable, what is good that make these games dangerous. As these games have undoubtedly become a part of the feedback loop of teen marketing, it is not merely their prescriptive qualities which should concern us, but their descriptive qualities as well.
CatieCate of Shakesville takes a swipe at the marketers:
As usual when a strongly men-dominated industry
hurls itself headlong without the most basic researchtreads carefully into the (no doubt to them) bizarre world of girls who like games, the results are pretty spectacularly misogyriffic. It’s not Wired I’m after here, but the game companies. Shakesville
And that’s just it. They tread very carefully. These games were not created by a room full of men throwing out random ideas based on this “bizarre world” they don’t really understand. Millions of dollars are invested into the development of a new video game, and that isn’t the kind of money you throw at a project without some market research. The deeper problem here is that they do understand their market. They are actually quite intimate with it, coming right into the bedroom, “hanging out” and finding out what “the market” thinks it wants so that the company can package its goods accordingly. They do their best to find out what the market thinks is cool so they can package it and sell it right back.
The video game companies had nothing to do with the wild popularity of The Clique series, for example. They are just trying to capitalize on it. They had nothing to do with the development of the cliques in my junior high. They are just trying to market to them. In so doing, they reinforce certain values and attitudes.
But then, so do parents every time they give in.