I talk to a lot of parents about video games, and many of them continue to worry about the negative effects of games on their kids. If you dig a little deeper in these conversations, you quickly discover their concerns have little to do with their daughters. It's the boys they're worried about. When I say "video game" they hear "violent killing game," and they fear the messages these games send to their impressionable sons.
They should worry more about their daughters.
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. The "dangerous" M-rated games that provoke all the parental hand-wringing are intended for adults. A game like Drama Queens (Majesco) is targeted and marketed directly to young teenage girls.
I'll let Majesco's marketing speak for itself:
- Chelsi stole my boyfriend but Hayden is totally crushing on me - must be because of the little black dress I bought after landing a promotion at Fashion Boutique. Step aside, ladies!
- Play a fierce cat fight to see who is the most popular queen diva.
- Play in four environments from the shopping mall to the fashion runway.
- Show up to three friends that you're most popular in two multiplayer modes.
Search for games designed for girls, and you'll discover that Drama Queens isn't exactly operating on the outer fringe. Style Up for Wedding; Style Up for Prom; Hair Stylin Salon; Bratz Makeover Game; Sue Hairdresser; Lovely in Pink; Bride and Groom; Nail Art Salon...they're mostly online games, and they go on and on and on just like this. Sure, there's probably a place for such games, but in the "games for girls" market, it's pretty much the only place.
If a boy gets his hands on Gears of War 2 or Call of Duty 4, he'll see things his parents may not want him to see; but he may also be exposed to a series of messages expressing ambivalence about violence and pondering the devastation of war. I'm not suggesting 12-year-olds play these games, nor do I think these games function as anti-war treatises. But they at least reflect, if only cursorily, on some thought-provoking themes. Ironically, the game genre parents find most troubling is the very genre most likely to contain thematically subtle content these days (see also Far Cry 2).
It's hard to find anything subtle in the little pink games made for girls by mostly male developers. Drama Queens and dozens of other similar games for girls are gameplay renderings of self-absorbed consumerism. As a parent of a small girl, I think I'd rather let her play Far Cry 2 when she's 13 (and discuss it with me) than to de-program her from the cultural brainwashing of a game like Drama Queens.
Note: You may be tempted, as I was, to interpret the promo video as a tongue-in-cheek critique, suggesting the game may be intended for older players. Majesco's online and print promotion of the game, including ads in teen-focused mags, suggests otherwise.