Stereotyping in online games

Open Google in two tabs

Type games for girls in one

Type games for boys in the next

Count the number of sites which have stereotyped the two. – Innumerable.

All game sites have two new categories – Girls games and Boys games.

Stereotypes are generalizations about a group of people which can be positive or negative, such as when various nationalities are stereotyped as friendly or unfriendly. The most common stereotyping occurs on the basis of gender. Most of us suffer from stereotype threats as people from stereotyped groups experience an apprehension (stereotype threat) of being treated unfairly.

Media stereotypes, esp. in advertising are bound to occur as products are specific for use of a particular target audience. It is this factor that has made the gaming sites hugely popular. Game designs are made on specific target audience demands.

A basic principle in needs analysis is to identify target audience and profile this target audience. All good elearning products are pointless without this principle. However, design output in the gaming sites has resulted in negative stereotyping and fact that it perpetuates social injustice and prejudice.

Girls gaming sites are mostly pink, with emphasis on cooking, dressing up, salon and such other games on activities and skills, traditionally associated with a woman.

Boys gaming sites are black or green, with emphasis on action, sports, war, and fighting.

In real life, women are enrolled in the army. In real world women are very much competing with men on equal terms. While gender sensitivity will always be an issue, most gender differences are fast becoming a myth and only the physical characteristics define the difference.

But in the virtual world, we seem to be more comfortable with the gender specific scenarios. While the games tackle basic skill building and are suitable in some cases for young kids who are at the ‘gender-awareness’ stage, it does make the girls think that that girls cook while guys play.

Well,unless that is the kind of mental makeup that you want for your child, I suggest you avoid the sites. And ensure that your child avoids them too. After all parental locks are pretty useful in all cases, right?


Game Review: Pixie Hollow – Fairyland

I am a great fan of Enid Blyton. Her boarding school series as well her mystery series were always a part of my childhood must-reads. But my favorite was always the Enchanted Tree series with Moon Face, Saucepan Man and other pixies residing in the cloud lands above the trees. So, I was delighted when I saw Pixie Hollow –Disney‘s online MMORPG. It is a fairy land atop an enchanted tree of pixies. The big difference is that you can be a part of it too.

The game starts by allowing you to create a fairy. Unlike other games where character design is limited to appearances, this design allows you to select your particular talent or skill. As the game is based on the story that the fairies look after the natural world, each fairies’ skill is related to nature. All quests in the game are based on this theme. Each talent has a lead fairy who will assign the tasks to its team fairies. The central fairy in charge is Tinkerbelle. She welcomes you into the pixie hollow with a quest. As you enter, you report to her. 
If you are like me – fascinated with anything fairylike and enigmatic – you will get addicted to the game. No matter your age. Pixie hollow is a huge magical tree. It has four top foliage groups, each of which represents a land based on a season. You can flit around from land to land as a fairy. The land is full of collectibles, shops and ‘addas’ or hideouts. When you visit the hideout, you can either chat to a fairy or get a new quest from her. 

 The quest normally involves gathering natural things such as berries, twigs, dewdrops etc. Some things can be obtained naturally lying around as you explore the land. While some others such as dewdrops or bubbles involve playing a mini-game. Mini-games are also available when you choose to learn a skill such as tailoring or baking. These are cleverly designed theme games.
The social aspect of the game is limited in scope. It is similar to another MMORPG only in certain aspects such as chatting and shopping. It does not have any joint quests or duels or demons to fight. You cannot form a team to solve a quest. Thus, you do not interact with another player in game play but only to chat with. As you flit around in pixie hollow, you will meet other fairies. You can make friends with them, whisper, chat or just ignore them.
The game is based on sound ID principles. The player is constantly engaged by beautiful graphics excellent music and more importantly the game play. There is always a task that she can do. Even if the fairy simply hovers in air, a honey comb or a leaf or berry might appear from nowhere and she simply clicks to collect it. The music is soothing and relaxing.

The game builds motivation constantly. Each task has a reward. Just gathering twigs can be useful It allows you to buy something. Or it may be useful in a quest. A shade or a color for your dress would cost you 25 twigs or a pretty bauble may set you back by 75 snowflakes. In a quest, the animal fairy might ask you for berries to feed the deer. And if you have already gathered them, you will complete the quest faster. After a few quests, membership is required, which is again payment based. 
The instruction is clearly written and audible. Instructions are even repeated as instruction text if needed. The game guide and characters build the atmosphere of calm, peace, magic, enchantment. 
It has a non linear navigation, which allows you to jump from anywhere to anywhere. It also has a very useful mini map which acts like the game menu. The game information and help etc. is contained in a cleverly designed menu in the form of a leaf journal. The leaf journal has information on quests, fairies, a help document, etc. There is also a pouch to store all collectibles. At every stage the leaf journal gives you menu options to do things, go places, make changes etc. 
Overall the gaming experience is pleasant, engrossing, lovely, and musical. It took me on a nostalgia trip back to my childhood and all those wonderful books by Enid Blyton which I have long given away. It recreated the world of fairies and Disney characters online. While nothing can ever replace the Disney cartoons and animation flicks, this game allowed me to interact with them in an intelligent manner. In this game Disney probably found a new target audience- that of the older and grown up ‘kids ‘rather than the five year old who watch Mickey Mouse Playhouse and learn Math with Mickey.