The "Pink Plague" and Female Gamers: Should the Industry Pander to Gender Stereotypes?
There's been a lot of buzz in the past few days about the "pink plague," the marketing phenomenon of getting young girls "hooked" on the color pink (and therefore pink toys and clothing). It looks like the pink plague extends to another segment of the market as well--girls who play video games. If slapping pink on Barbie makes her fly out the door, why shouldn't it work to put Lara Croft in some pink pants? Maybe give her a pink gun?
The "pink plague" is defined as something that happens to little girls around the age of three. They see pink, and they WANT THE PINK. It doesn't matter what it is, really. It could be a bucket of dead fish. But is it a PINK bucket? This happened to my own daughter. Red or green clothes went unworn, non-pink popsicles went unlicked, dollies wearing unpink clothing get chucked to the bottom of the bin. I had a jolly baby who wore vivid blues and reds until the day she turned three. I found a vintage Japanese dress at a resale shop that I thought was beautiful, in her size, and she looked mortally offended when I showed it to her. It seems that pink is the opposite of black.
One thing I have always noticed is not only is Barbie pink, but her friends who are different, with different hair or skin colors, are not allowed to don the sacred pink vestments. My Teresa wore blue, and I had a Barbie friend with auburn hair who wore green. If clever marketing convinces girls that pink is the best color, does that make Barbie's friends chopped liver in comparison? I always had this nagging feeling that her friends were not as good.
Apparently the pink plague extends to video gaming as well: witness the "Girly Guitar Hero." Oh, finally, I can play Guitar Hero too, now that there is a pink heart-shaped guitar accessory! Phew. The comments on that piece are cracking me up. "I would sooner chew glass" and "They could've at least called it 'guitar heroine." Seriously.
An Amazon software and video games editor created a list of "Video Games for Girls." Topping that list is The Sims 2. Recently I had a chat conversation with a group of dedicated "Simmers," people who play the wildly popular (and wildly pirated) Sims 2. "Why is it considered a girly game?" I asked the mix of men and women I was talking to. "It's dollies," one person immediately snapped back. "It's a dollhouse," said another, just as quickly. "But the game features real life situations and interactions between both men and women," I said. "There's no violence," said another. What about the many ways they can die? "Well, nothing blows up," they conceded. It's still a girly game, apparently.
Is this a chicken-or-egg problem in the industry, though? There are comparatively few women in the gaming industry, so is the problem that male creators are grasping at straws, trying to figure out how to capture the female audience?
"Historically, the people who play video games have tended to be more
male," said [Kathy] Vrabeck, president of EA's casual games division, which specializes in games that are easy and quick to play. "So it's not
surprising that these boys grow up and aspire to work in the industry.
That's why we've seen fewer women think about it as a career choice."
Leigh Alexander at Sexy Videogameland makes the excellent point that female
gamers could feel alienated because of characters like Tomb Raider's Lara Croft and their presumed audience:
Lara has a reputation as a bombshell -- okay, okay, sex object.
She's perhaps the game biz's most famous piece of eye-candy, and
somehow over the years she's become iconic of the concept that
18-year-old boys drool over pixelated boobs. I can see how this has
made some women feel as if Tomb Raider games are not "for them."
How do designers find the balance? Is it making pink toys for women or
giving them dollies to play with, or casual games that are "easy and quick" as a previous article mentioned? Pink hearty laptop.
As Leigh Alexander says, "I also think the idea of "female-friendly" is by itself a little
bit cringeworthy, because it assumes that all women have the same taste, and all women are interested in the same ideals."
Many girls who love pink grow into women who hate it, for various reasons. All women gamers are different, and come into it with different wants and interests. There has to be another way besides just slapping pink on controllers. Keep trying, game industry.
SJ also writes at I, Asshole, where you should not read too deeply into her pink hair.