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So, considering the piece I wrote about gender swapping in MMOGs got some interesting comments from readers who game, here’s another story on the subject of sexism in this genre.

Via Wonderland, we learn of an MMOG “for girls”. For all the hip architecture in the screenshots, Guppylife sounds like yet another Tamagotchi-like game. These are aimed at girls, and seem designed primarily to get mothers-in-waiting to exercise their parenting skills. And if that seems a bit harsh, I may as well admit that my own experience of playing this type of game is that whatever fun may be involved is quickly replaced by brain-numbing drudgery. The more sophisticated versions (the Sims, etc), provide other rewards & challenges, both most seem… well… a bit on the dull side.

The game designers describe Guppylife like this:

GuppyLife is an MMO for girls. The overall purpose of the game is to take care of the small furry inhabitants of the world, the guppies. A guppy is a small life loving creature with an innocence of a child and a thrill for fun and adventure. Guppies are quite intelligent. With a little guidance they learn to sing, dance, and most importantly be nice to both friends and strangers. Without guidance however, they will pickup bad habits or get sad and depressed.

So, on the one hand it’s good that this game-world seems predicated on something other than violence. Dancing, singing, adventure, happy innocence. Good stuff.

But.

I think these games take as their premise the idea that girls like to play with dolls. While there is an obvious feminist critique of this (go read your Roland Barthes if you need more info), I would argue that these games are even more troubling. Dolls and other toys of the same type (action men, whatever), can act as characters in a narrative that opens up imaginative space for children. But when transferred to game form, all that is left is repeated, narrowly focused and gender-stereotyped role playing (in this case, seemingly, parenting small, cute creatures). A bit like those practice baby dolls they give teenagers in American TV shows that actually cry all night, to demonstrate the consequences of pregnancy.

This MMO is meant to replace, “for girls”, the adventure and strategy-based games that more typically dominate the genre. So, instead of swords and sorcery, we have cuddly creatures and lessons on care-giving. Joy.