Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Girl on Girl Games: Lovely Lisa

I'll admit it: I usually come down on the side opposite staunch feminism, because I feel the extreme view robs femininity of its inherent value in favor of masculine attributes. I celebrate the things about womanhood that enrich our lives and, in turn, the world. I like skirts, nail polish, and sewing. I generally do all the cooking here in the Electric Frankfurter kitchen. But, I also salute the strides made by women throughout history that have made it possible for me to also enjoy things beyond that sphere--like job opportunities, generalized education and birth control.

I think I usually give "girl games" more of a pass because I know there are bigger battles out there. If a girl likes a Barbie doll, what's the harm? Barbie has had all kinds of careers and drives a Corvette. She's had lots of wedding dresses, but somehow, she's never settled down. Barbie is practically an independent woman. 

Then, there's Lovely Lisa. No game, not even Chronotrigger, has so successfully pulled off time-traveling in such a thorough way.

Lisa appears to be a doll, but a thirty-five second internet search only revealed other dolls and a few porn websites, so I'm forced to assume this doll doesn't exist in this country. She, and her doll-like family are here to help young girls, ages 5 and under, learn to be nice young ladies. That's not my choice of words: it's the game's own parlance.

Lisa's world is represented as a town. From the town, you may access Lisa's home to perform household chores, the "career center" to try out "fun jobs", or the "charm school", where you can learn ladylike talents. Other options from this screen allow you to buy or design outfits for Lisa with points earned in the other activities.

 First, home. Lisa's mom looks a little tired to me, like perhaps she's been downing a lot of little yellow pills while running for the shelter of her "mother's little helper." And who could blame her? She's been busy, what with having six children under the age of 6, buying them all matching outfits with ribbons and bows. Dad seems like a nice guy, though; a little young for the father of a large family, but what the heck? I'm sure he can afford it.

From here, Lisa can choose various household tasks that are appropriate for a girl to do. When she helps mom, she can do the laundry, the cooking, or the shopping! Helping out with her younger siblings yields cleaning and babysitting chores--and finally, helping Dad allows her to build furniture. This is Dad's only possible chore.

Lisa's Stepford Family
Mom's Tasks
Even when pink with hearts, giving a knife to a three year old seems odd.
Luckily Dad only likes building pink furniture. Otherwise, Lisa might get bored.
 Leaving the home, charm school yields young Lisa the ability to learn necessary skills: sewing, "computers" (which is actually a typing game), and piano. Ok, I guess. If I'm going to accept the possibility of a 21st century game for young girls including a charm school, I'm not sure what I'd expect to find within it. None of these activities make me feel like I just warped to the 1950s. Father knows best...

The real galling component of the game, beyond the charm school and the sexist home life, is the "career" center. Here, you can try out gender appropriate jobs for Lisa: retail (candy store), food service (hamburger shop), childcare (preschool teacher), healthcare (nurse), retail (flower shop), cosmetology (nail salon), and entertainment (pop star).

Now, I don't mind the rather simplistic nature of these tasks. When you are a nurse, you give shots in a very stylized way. This game is for very small children, and I don't expect anything more than that. What I object to is the way in which these things are presented. "Nurse" could have just as easily been "Healthcare"--leaving it up to the parent or the child to decide whether or not you are a doctor or a nurse. There could have been other professions represented in this section--but we get a disproportionate amount of retail.

Within the home, I really have the same problem. Why couldn't cooking, shopping, or laundry be a task Dad had? Why couldn't Mom build the furniture? Why couldn't there be a lawn care or gardening task for both Mom and Dad? Lisa's life, as a girl, is in the house; she only goes outside to shop or to held Dad with the furniture.

The interface for this game is overwhelmingly girly--pink ribbons and bows. It addresses a lot of girly things--like make up--that little girls are fascinated with. This, I don't really mind so much. Make up and hot pink unicorns are just the window dressing of the super-feminine, and I don't see anything wrong with that. What I take issue with is the association of the ultra-girly with degrading careers, closed opportunities and stereotypical housewifery. This game could have just as easily presented a more balanced, gender-neutral approach to house, career and education, even in its ribbon-and-bow trappings. A girl could play a game like this and realize it's okay to enjoy make up but also become a doctor...if it had been presented fairly.

Unfortunately, the only thing coming out of this game is the "ladylike" ideal of the 1950s--pretty, perfect, quiet and stifled. My advise is to avoid this game like the plague if you're shopping for your little girl.  Buy her games like the Professor Layton puzzlers that will help with critical thinking as you play together. Buy puzzle games that test the reflexes and help with spacial reasoning. Buy her games that are fun for everyone. Tune into her interests, even if they ARE girly. But don't buy this tripe.

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