Back in October I attended an Activision event called the Games For Girls Summit, highlighting their new lineup of video games for the demographic that makes up 40% of the gaming population. Hearing the phrase “for girls” always makes the hairs on the back of my feminist neck stand on end. Perhaps that’s because making something for girls generally means making it pink and cutesy. Indeed, I walked into the event a little pissy having seen the lineup of games that DID NOT include Activision’s new and fabulous Skylanders. My daughter and I had just started playing Skylanders before the event and loved it. Why wasn’t this among the games for girls?!
Then Nicole Armstrong, the Director of Marketing at Activision, started showing the line. Many of the games are based on existing toy brands, and she spoke about the desire to make the play patterns of the games complimentary to the play patterns of the toys. In the Zoobles game there’s a nurturing and caregiving theme. (I *might* have rolled my eyes.) It features freeform exploration of different worlds and you can customize your Happitat. (Wait a minute… I think Olive would really like that…)
With a similar caretaking theme is Lalaloopsy (more eyerolling – does it all have to be taking care of pets and baking cookies?) but then again, as I learned more, I think Olive would really like it. And a new ZhuZhu pet game? Olive loves the current one. This one’s about babies? Her little head might explode. My hardened shell was starting to soften. All the games they were showing were ones that I think Olive would really enjoy. Activision gave us the whole lineup to take home and try, and I must confess that I sent some to the North Pole to be delivered under the tree this weekend, but a couple we tried right away, most notably Wappy Dog.
Wappy Dog – yes, more taking care of pets – is the most innovative. It comes with an adorable puppy robot that can be decorated with the stickers included. I’ve been looking at my fair share of robot toys lately, and this one is my favorite. The robot is controlled by the DS. You play with the virtual dog on the DS and the robot responds. Feed her a treat and she responds happily. Teach her a trick. Play with a toy. She’s responsive both on screen and as the robot. You can take the game into travel mode, too, to play the minigames without the robot responses while still earning more treats and toys to give her. I was bummed that the robot didn’t do more on its own until Ozzie started playing with her. With his tiny toddler hands he figured out ways to get her to respond and bark songs at him. It’s a delightful game for both my kids.
Other Games for Girls include Moshi Monsters and Squinkies. I’ll have reviews of some of these games in coming weeks as we have a chance to play them after they’re unwrapped. I humbly acknowledge that sometimes things with the “for girls” label can be done well, though I still really wish Skylanders wasn’t only marketed to boys. Sometimes girls want to be Trigger Happy, too.
What’s gotten me thinking about all of this again is Lego Friends. I hopped on Twitter the other day to lament that there were 5 characters so far in our Lego City Advent Calendar, and not one was a girl. Hello? Two crooks, two police officers… we can’t have any of them be female? There’s even the arbitrary inclusion of a parka-wearing ice fisherman that gives the whole thing a Fargo vibe. (If tomorrow’s door reveals a Marge Gunderson minifig, all will be forgiven.) @Campcreek on Twitter made the excellent recommendation to buy up some Lego girl hair pieces and make whoever you want into a girl, but I was about to learn that Lego has a different response.
Business Week showed off the new line of Lego Friends created just for girls (along with a fascinating look at their previous attempts). One the one hand, new colors of bricks! Lots of cool accessories for interesting roleplaying! Most notable is the Olivia’s Workshop set which comes with a high-tech lab, tools, and robot. What’s not to like?
And yet something is really bothering me. Yes, this looks like a pretty fun toy that Olive would probably like. But look at that picture again. My problem is that I believe this toy has ceased to be Lego. How much actually building goes into that set? By the looks of it, not a lot. How well integrated will these pieces be with her giant tub of Legos? It’s hard to imagine these pieces adding onto our police station or my husband’s vintage outer space sets.
And those minifigs. I can’t even call them that with their mascara and Pantene locks. Lego gave them boobs. That goes beyond any research about “play patterns” that they’re using to sell these things. Lego has to be pretty, just like little girls.
All I can say is there better be a Marge Gunderson minifig tomorrow morning, and the only curves I’ll accept are on her pregnant minifig belly.