January 2013 Feminist Book Club:
From Barbie to Mortal Kombat: Gender and Computer Games
“Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.”
― Groucho Marx
Now that ‘Half-Way’ is down the rabbit hole that is Tumblr, I’ve been noticing the sheer number of ‘Help me! Help me learn!’ book recommendation requests. Apparently, y’all are in the market for some of our favorite socialist, anti-family tomes that will help you figure out how to leave your husbands, kill your children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism, and become lesbians. (This has been a Pat Robertson reference). I hear you, baby feminists, and Mama Half-Way is here for you. With a monthly book review. A monthly feminist book review.
January 2013: From Barbie to Mortal Kombat: Gender and Computer Games, 1999
Author/Editor: Edited by Justine Cassell and Henry Jenkins
Purchased: Myopic Books, Chicago, IL
This book of essays may be a bit dated (a sequel is available), but its conclusions remain apt and its video game references a nice trip down memory lane for children of the late 80s (Purple Moon, anyone?). With the overall thesis being that, in an increasingly technological age, isolating girls from an early familiarity with computer use can be detrimental to their careers as grown women, From Barbie combines research-based essays and interviews with game developers.
So what is the difference between ‘girl video games’ and ‘boy video games?’ The main conclusions of From Barbie seem to be that (a), girls dislike the overly violent content of boys’ games, (b), girls like to be involved in group-based problem solving or cooperation, and (c), girls enjoy games that provide them with a private space and options for non-rushed, un-timed exploration.
At times, the overly essentialist slant of the text can be off-putting to modern feminists. However, with the exception of assertions made in the interview portions, most of these generalizations are supported by focus group data and research. Rather, most of what dates the book remains its exclusion of LGBTQ children in its considerations (when it has been proven beyond a doubt that the brains of such individuals differ at least in part from heterosexual, cis-gender individuals).
Runaways, a video game mentioned in the text that I have no recollection of (which is no condemnation — sometimes I live in a cave), appeared to be on the right track as far as LGBTQ representation goes — including a character creation mode that allowed for separate gender, sexuality, and biological sex choices. But the research provided in From Barbie still fails to imagine past what a successful ‘girls’ game’ would look like to discuss what a lesbian girls’ (or a trans, or an asexual or bisexual girls’) game might consist of.
Overall, Half-Way feels confident in recommending From Barbie for you dear readers . . . If only as the most basic jumping off point for your interests in media criticism.