The usual BPM for this week got posted a bit earlier than usual, but you can check back here if you missed it.
As a substitute though, I thought I’d aggregate a few links to the growing discussion about video games that specifically target female gamers. An excellent post at Wired highlights some of the top contenders for most awkward thing to teach a young girl.
The games listed in the article vary in subject matter from using clothes and behavior to be accepted by the “Pretty Committee” to revolving around trying to get a boyfriend. Other titles only allow the female character to advance by purchasing clothes and jewelry. A similar post at Brainy Gamer summarizes the issue nicely:
Most video games for girls send a steady flow of narrow images and self-limiting notions about how to succeed in today’s culture. They reinforce all the worn-out essentialist tropes: be beautiful, be fashionable, be popular. If parents want to worry about the messages kids receive from video games, they should pay more attention to these.
Other than the inherent nature of the media a person playing these games are exposed to, it is hard to say what kind of effect these games may have. Craig A. Anderson, who is one of the psychologists arguing in favor of a connection between violence and video games, points out in a FAQ, “all games teach something, and that ‘something’ depends on what they require the player to practice.” Anderson is outlining how both positive and negative behavior is taught through games in that quote, but the potential for negative behavior outside of just the violence that he addresses is very real. A child who constantly acts out, achieving success through purchasing clothes and behaving how their friends want them to might be, absorbs some strange lessons.
These question are further complicated by the fact that these types of games aren’t even considered particularly popular in their target demographic. A post at Feminist Gamers points out that a survey at the Institute of Adolescent Health found that girls ranked Grand Theft Auto as their favorite game. It was followed closely by The Sims, which allows female characters to be or do just about anything. Considering that even the most violent games are just empowerment fantasies, it isn’t surprising that these can be enjoyed by anyone regardless of gender.
One of the ideas that Ian Bogost outlines in Unit Operations is that our relationship with games work as a sort of response to the game’s world. That is, we look at how the game is depicting reality and contrast that with our own perspective. The things that we can do in the game that conflict with how we believe the world works generates an emotional reaction. In a game like Grand Theft Auto, my reaction to stealing a car is one of excitement because I personally could never do that. There are moral reasons for this but also social concerns that intervene like law, friends, and concern for hurting another person by taking their car. It’s fun to do it in the game because of the conflict that the activity has with my perception that what I’m doing is not possible normally.
The issue with a child playing one of these games revolves around the question of which misconception about reality is easier to correct. An adult would reasonably be able to correct a twelve year old child’s misconceptions about violence seen in a video game. But a young girl believing that the best way to make friends is through buying clothes and being pretty might be more impactful.
Put another way, you might be better off with your kid playing Grand Theft Auto after all.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work as independent cultural critics and historians. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times where costs have risen and advertising has dropped precipitously. We need your help to keep PopMatters strong and growing. Thank you.