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LEGO Game Releases Shine A Spotlight on Gender Marketing

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lego-friendsThis week, two LEGO games were released on the same day. One is LEGO The Hobbit, which is the type of game I want to go out and pick up immediately. The other, another TT Games entry, is LEGO Friends for the DS (the 3DS version is already out).

Now, I’m going to regurgitate information from the press releases for your edification. Here, I’m quoting the LEGO Friends release:

“Whether meeting new LEGO Friends, building friendships or expressing a unique personal style, LEGO Friends for Nintendo DS delivers an exciting and fun adventure for players of all ages. As they explore the world of Heartlake City, players enjoy a wide variety of activities including competing in horse riding shows, taking photos for the local newspaper and mastering skills at the karate dojo. Players can also care for pets, training them to do tricks for the pet show, grooming and feeding them, and using their special skill to help them on adventures throughout the game. In a unique twist, players can even trade places with pets and play the game from their perspective!”

A trailer from last year:

And here is my description of the LEGO The Hobbit release, which I wrote up before deciding to tackle both games in the same post:

LEGO The Hobbit is based on the first two New Line/MGM films, “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” and “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.” Additional content from the upcoming third film, “The Hobbit: There and Back Again,” is expected to be available at a later date.

Locations from the films will include Lake-town, Dale, Erebor, Bag End, Mirkwood, Rivendell and the High Pass over the Misty Mountains. You can play as Bilbo, Gandalf or any of the hero dwarves (each of which, the press release assures me, possesses “a unique and hilarious” ability). A new feature of the game lets players utilizes abilities like buddy fighting, staff club, mace swing and belly bounce to fight Orcs and other foul creatures of J.R.R. Tolkien’s world.

LEGO The Hobbit will feature 16 levels, more than 90 playable characters and plenty of cool quests, from mining for gems to riddle games.

The launch trailer:

Which one sounds more fun to you? For me (a girl) LEGO The Hobbit is the game I’d rather go pick up today (if I wasn’t in debt from a $500 routine trip to the dentist on Monday).

These days, the level of choice we have in games is pretty incredible. We can cook, decorate, shoot things, pick up prostitutes, punch people out, move tiles around, bring up cute animals, dance, work out, become thieves, field a football team, or play game shows. Anyone can find something they like in the gaming world, no matter their personality type.

That’s the great thing about gaming. The not-so-great thing: gender marketing. Both boys and girls get labeled and shunted into certain categories. Girls like relationship-based games with lots of fashion/singing/pets/pink. Boys like to hit things, build things, and destroy things. Dark things. Oh sure, there are plenty of gender-neutral games, from Mario Kart to The Sims and Animal Crossing. And it’s okay for girls to like boys’ games. Just…not the other way around, so much. This is limiting for both sexes, and it teaches them some pretty outdated ways of looking at the divide between boys and girls.

Let’s look at the types of games available for girls. This particular LEGO Friends game is made by the same company as LEGO The Hobbit. They’re both based on the same licensed toy brand. But LEGO Friends (which has been out since November 2013 on the 3DS) has a Metacritic score of just 43.

Meanwhile LEGO The Hobbit is getting generally positive reviews, as many of the LEGO adventure games from TT Games do. At press time there aren’t enough Megacritic reviews to create a consensus, but it’s a safe bet that LEGO The Hobbit is better than LEGO Friends. And although it is surely plenty of fun for both genders, it’s mostly a gender-neutral proposition in a fantasy world that happens to contain more males than females.

I have a really hard time believing that what girls want is a whole category of mostly¬† sub-par games full of domestic chores, even if (as is popular nowadays) the game is full of “girl power” mantras and attitude. It certainly isn’t what I want, and I happen to be a girl who has a fixation with pink electronics. I realize I’m a little older than the intended audience, but I own Dance Central and I know how to use it.

However, I don’t know how to fix this problem in gender marketing. I can rail at the gaming companies to please stop making stupid games “for girls” and start making good ones. I can urge parents to be more thoughtful about what types of games their kids might really like regardless of color scheme, and to not buy games based on their children’s love of the franchise alone. I can create a whole list of safe, gender-neutral games for parents to give their children from off the top of my head.

But I can’t, all by myself, change a culture that makes this sort of thing possible, likely, and desirable. All I can do is make sure my own child doesn’t fall into this kind of thinking. I may fail. My son started disliking pink the first week he started at Montessori school and other kids told him it was a “girl color.” Yet, because of the messages in girl-centric media like “Frozen” (and, frankly, many of the Disney products these days) he thinks girls are better at everything and that their skills and qualities are more worthwhile than the ones typically associated with boys.

No, I don’t have a solution. But I do know one thing: games ought to be fun. That’s what gaming is all about. Fun comes in different shapes and sizes for everyone. I’m not going to judge those who don’t like the same games I do, but I hope that girls and boys alike learn to not feel limited by the games and other toys that are out there being aimed specifically at them.

 

 

 

 

About Helen A. Lee


Helen is a veteran writer with credits in The Learned Fangirl, Electronic Gaming Monthly, Gamespot.com, Chicago Tribune and nytimes.com, among others (if pressed, she may cop to writing instructional guides to pop star hair and interviewing "Desperate Housewives" stars). She's a huge geek and her son, age 11, looks to be following in her footsteps.