When I was a wee sprite of a thing, I remember changing my idea of what I would be “when I grew up” frequently. I wanted to be a fisherman like my Papa and uncles at one point. I believe I spent some time thinking that being a firefighter sounded cool because the hose truck looked like fun. I had aspirations for several years to become an animator for a major studio, though looking back, hand-drawn cartoons and movies were long gone by the time I would have entered the field. I had an ulcer in my eye at sixteen and spent some serious time considering ophthalmology, should music not work out.
I am sure there may have been some time where I thought that baby-sitting or raising kittens might have been fun as a career choice. I still like kittens, really. I never, though, imagined that my choices were limited. It probably had to do with the strong influences around me who always said I could do anything I put my stubborn mind to. I think that young girls are influenced by the powers that surround them when they imagine what their future lives could entail.
As a fan of the Nintendo DS, a portable console that I think has been instrumental in getting younger girls interested in video games, I like seeing games that appeal to a broad audience. I myself have several games for the DS, a couple that are rather like Harvest Moon with a RPG twist, having fighting mini-games. My daughter has several of the Pokemon iterations, and more Harry Potter games than I can remember. One of her favorites is a game called Diner Dash, where the objective is to seat, feed, and keep customers happy in order to keep your restaurant flourishing.
The Imagine games, however, took the young girl DS game line to the next level, marketing stereotypical games with a driving force that screamed “These are just for you, girls, these are what you WANT!”. Ubisoft presented a line of games with a variety of jobs that girls can “imagine” themselves doing, such as wedding designer, superstar, or, yes, babysitter.
I want better for young girls and future woman gamers. Sure, design and give them games like Imagine: Fashion Party, but maybe give them some variety, like, Imagine: Police Officer, or Imagine: Architect. If you have them taking care of babies on one cartridge, let them design and plan cities with another. I hear Urban Planning is quite the career aspiration. Widen the horizons, and help spread the message that young girls have a future where their limits are becoming boundless and their opportunities are beginning to encompass what they can, well, imagine. Hell, give them Imagine: Video Game Designer, because we obviously need more women in this field with the sense to make decent games.
Ubisoft had, and still has, an opportunity here to speak to young girls, to show them that their worth is beyond their ability to soothe a toddler and look pretty. The Imagine line, in my mind, is falling short and missing this chance for a reaching out moment. All they’ve managed to do, again, is repeat old messages of limiting gendered roles.
Who is to say, also, that despite the aggressive “girls only” marketing that young boys wouldn’t like–or aren’t already playing–some of these titles? Perhaps there are young boys out there who genuinely would like to learn to maintain his A-list celebrity status, or play at being an animal doctor. Or even be a babysitter. The problem with this targeted, segregationist, marketing is that it has been excluding girl gamers for years, and is drawing more unnecessary gender lines where none need exist.
I am not against games that get young girls interested gaming. More girls and young women gaming could mean that more women tackle the gaming industry in years coming. I am, however, angry when I see them brushed to the side and presumed to not be important enough to present with proper variety or good games. My younger self wants to know where the firefighter game is.
More reading: Ubisoft’s Imagine series for girls: Wonderland Blog