Dads who know better and the powerlessness of pink

A few weeks ago, the Pharyngula blog had a post about the powerlessness of pink. A toy catalog advertised microscopes and telescopes for kids and they included “special” pink ones “for” girls. The best part, of course, is that the pink ‘scopes were not as powerful as the regular microscopes (600x magnification vs. 900 or 1200x and 90x vs. 250 or 525x).

This is of course, lame for so many reasons and it carries various absurd implications, etc., but it isn’t all that unfamiliar for anyone who has reviewed the types of video games that are designed specifically for girls. For the most part, video games for girls are insipid. Check out the screen grab from the Tinkerbell DS game: outfits and material possessions. Really? Just about every/any game that has ever been designed for the pink ghetto has a clothing/ outfit fetish.

Oh good, this game has outfits in it! Phew! AmIRight?
Oh good, this game has outfits in it! Phew! AmIRight?

I can say a lot on this topic, but for now I just want to focus on one thing. Why stop at “outfits”? Why not go the next level?

What annoys me most about the girl-game outfit fetish isn’t necessarily that 1) all little girls don’t really care about outfits (and the second a video game box goes pink, I promise you outfits are involved, if not for your avatar than for a horse or puppy/kitty)  or that 2) the idea of having content revolve around outfits paralyzes any hope of designing a cognitively captivating game. Rather, what bothers me is that this interest some girls have in fashion or styling can link into some legitimately challenging and fascinating problem spaces, and this never seems to be taken advantage of. Fashion design, as Tim Gunn has shown us, is tricky business. It requires serious spacial intelligence, design thinking, and problem solving. Looking at two-dimensional patterns and fabrics and cutting and stitching them to fit onto a 3D person is an engineering feat if ever there was one. So why stop at just “outfits”?

In the more male-dominated game universes of racing games or god-game strategy games, successful titles frequently have sequels, and those sequelsget more challenging. They add nuance and difficulty in response to faithful fans whose skill and thus thirst for challenge has grown. This is the real failing of the “girl game” genre. It forever infantalizes and flatters its players by repackaging the same cosmetics and ego-stroking easy puzzles. It never builds on itself and it doesn’t reflect on its own content, whether it is fashion or care-taking (and it probably is only those two things). It is ready to allow its player to grow out of it and leave games behind, because it sure as hell isn’t interested in growing with the player the way so many more typically male genres do.

…and I don’t necessarily lay all of the blame on the 4th tier game designers who are clearly out-of-the-loop regarding the  specifics of sugar and spice  that little girls are made of. Parents buy these games and I find it revealing that if a girly game is ever bagged in a review, the review comes from a father who probably knows that there is something better for his little girl out there, if only  these game companies ever wanted to get serious about expanding their market. What is great is that these dads not only cut in to the poor premise of the games, the recognize that all design elements are hurried, crappy, don’t utilize the current technology, and just not thought through.

Some choice angry-dad quotes reviewing a Wii “game for girls”:

“Great reinforcement of how a girl or a woman should look… Expect better from your kids and you just may get it.”

“It is a 2D side scroll game, poorly written…The graphics are lame. The game play is lame. Inventory…Lame. Character controls. Lame….Word to [redacted]- Your game makes me want to meet you in a dark alley outside a bar and beat the living tar out of you. This game sucks that much…”

“This is NOT a Wii game, this is a gameboy-level 2D platform jumper with decade old graphics….”

“I don’t know why they even bothered making this a wii game…The graphics are lame and the games are boring. Your duaghter will have to collect gold coins …which she [can] spend at the shop. However, they make the items overpriced and the girls can’t “try on” the clothes. They can just buy them and hold them in inventory. Lame….

…after a few tearful fits when the avatar wouldn’t do what she was telling it to do, we took it away from her. It’s going in the yard sale.”

I hope more dads that grew up with games continue to advocate for their daughters. Too many moms don’t even know what they were missing and what their daughters were missing out on. Home video gaming is ~30 years old, girls are one of the fastest growing markets, and yet the pink ghetto remains…