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What we learn from games for girls

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.

What is Carrie the Caregiver really teaching our kids?

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 older woman enemy in Pet Show Craze
The older woman enemy in Pet Show Craze

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.

All the male characters in Pet Show Craze gain hearts if you seat them next to the supermodel, even the little boy
All the male characters in Pet Show Craze gain hearts if you seat them next to the supermodel, even the little boy

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 décor 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?


7 thoughts on “What we learn from games for girls

  1. Yeah, the power-seeking female villain is a big one. Think: nearly every Disney princess movie. Even Pam from The Office is always one step below Jim on the corporate scale. Kids sincerely don’t understand that these things don’t depict life as it is and qualities that are reasonable to expect from each other in life. Believing this stuff has caused me a world of pain.

  2. LVBI -thanks for that. I agree that people can have fun playing these games (I enjoyed some of the challenge and the music was cute) but I don’t think we can count on all 8-12-year-olds being able to critically evaluate the messages in the games. And there’s nothing wrong with enjoying taking care of kids, but I really wish there was more thematic choice so girls wouldn’t get the impression that there is something wrong with NOT wanting to be a caregiver.

  3. You know what I really love is Disney’s Fairies because, it encourages girls to be proud of their accomplishments and brains, and it also doesn’t focus on finding a boyfriend as the major goal.

    It’s about working together as a community, to help the seasons change, and I feel as a part of being involved with the Fairies games, like Pixie Hollow, I have much more of a respect and awe for nature.

    There also are different types of fairies one can be, so it’s focused on what is that person’s interest, like if you like flowers and gardening you can be a garden fairy, or if you like animals you can be an animal fairy. There are some care giving roles, but they’re unique and cute. Like Rosetta taking care of a bunch of plant bulbs that had legs and were able to walk.

    It really to me, is such a wonderful and intelligent way of engaging girls, and guys who are called sparrow men, in a game that is more about being a community then worrying about relationships.

    I also want to mention Club Penguin because it’s very similar in the idea of being a community. And penguins, they’re so cute right! Okay maybe some of you might think these games are focused too much on the cute appeal, but they’re aimed at kids. Also, I really do enjoy cute things, even though some people might think that’s um..being stereotypical or something.

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