The media pays a lot of attention to violence in kids’ video games. But when we’re looking at messages in games, I’m also concerned about the troubling signals in games designed for tween girls. In an article in WIRED magazine, Tracey John asks whether games that encourage girls to be pretty and liked above all else could be just as damaging as games like Grand Theft Auto.
John mainly deals with console games, but I also looked at a variety of PC games and noticed similar lessons and messages. Mostly I tried time-management games where the player takes on the role of a young woman running a business, including Carrie the Caregiver, Pet Show Craze, Sally’s Salon, and Fix-It-Up: Kate’s Adventure.
1. Girls should be encouraged to pursue caregiving occupations.
Perhaps the most cringe-worthy of this type of game is Carrie the Caregiver. The first game in this series sees the ever-perky Carrie working in a nursery where she exhibits an unnatural level of enthusiasm all day as she feeds, burps, and changes babies. Check out the trailer:
Even the games where the main character runs a business involve small service-industry businesses like Sally’s Salon or the bakeries in Cake Mania, which reinforce the perception that all women are natural caretakers.
2.Ambitious older women are your enemies.
The back-stories for the games usually include an older, angry, cold, and ambitious woman who’s trying to put you out of business.
Most of these games have twin goals of earning money and boosting your reputation (usually represented by hearts), indicating that likeability is just as or more important than money. If you don’t worry about what other people think of you, these games suggest, you might end up like the frigid, older woman you’ve been fighting.
Do you know of any boys’ games that encourage the player to spend time collecting hearts to make people like him?
3. Your customers will reinforce race and gender stereotypes, and beauty is key.
Pet Show Craze has some of the best examples of this: each type of character owns one type of animal and your black customers are the only ones who own monkeys. Also, all the male customers gain hearts if you seat them next to the supermodel, but most don’t get a kick out of the sporty girl.
Rewards in these games include unlocking new outfits for your character and new dÃ©cor for the business.
4. You’d better end up in a (heterosexual) relationship
Many tween girl games include the main character finding love. For example, the entire story of Cake Mania 3 revolves around making sure the main girl character gets back in time for her wedding. Further, Carrie the Caregiver adopts a daughter from Africa and meets her future husband, Will.
Even the more unique Fix-It-Up: Kate’s Adventure, which features a muscular girl with dreadlocks repairing cars, revolves around a back-story in which she falls in love with a guy who helps her fix cars. The amount of attention given to this story and its happy resolution implies her ending up with the guy at the end is just as important as the success of her business.
So are these games as harmless as they seem on the surface? Or are they telling young girls that being beautiful and being liked are the goals, not just in the game, but in life?