The Princess and the App
Mobile devices are exploding in popularity around the globe and young girls are spending increasing amounts of time playing mobile games.
Yet the app stores are dominated by a plethora of apps featuring “princess culture.” A quick search for “girl games” reveals games featuring: shopping, makeovers, pets, fashion, baking, and candy. Many of the characters are fair-skinned blondes wearing tiaras.
A recent study out of Brigham Young University conducted by Sarah Coyne posits that engaging with Disney Princess characters actually changes the way girls think about gender roles. When the stereotypical behavior seen in Disney films is promoted in children, there are long-term consequences that appear in grown women. Self-identified “princesses” give up more easily when presented with a challenging task, “princesses” are more likely to prefer not to work, and “princesses” are more focused on superficial qualities. (We can debate the evolution of female characters such as Elsa from Frozen or the upcoming Moana—who still relies on a male demigod to get her where she needs to go. To me, they don’t seem like strong models that can help today’s girls face and overcome real-world challenges.)
“Girl power” is a term used so often by social groups and entertainment companies today that it’s beyond cliché. So why are mobile apps still shallow, stereotypical experiences? Does baking and decorating a virtual cake really give girls a sense of accomplishment? Or getting a makeover? Isn’t there anything better out there that we can do? Because I believe that app developers have a responsibility to evolve the form, to find ways to provide girls with rich content and good role models, drawn from a variety of voices and perspectives.
It’s disappointing when I hear that there’s no financial return in making girl games. Or when I learn that the developers behind a girl game are all guys, with no real perspective on what engages their target audience. Because what I then hear, later, is that “it doesn’t work” to invest in a girl-based app. It’s better to just keep churning out the stereotypical stuff and spend the big bucks on games for both genders (or just boys).
Splashworks is fortunate enough to be working on a brand that feels differently, and that boldly offers girls worthy role models and a rich, complex digital experience. I can’t say more at the moment—but check back. It’s going to be a game changer.