Sunday, July 06, 2008

Seeing Pink

I'm a guy and I like to window shop. I think I get it from my mom. When I was younger, we would go shopping together. It was a time to bond and talk. Most guys get bored with wandering the endless aisles, and become laconic and brooding when dragged to malls just to shop. Not me. I love to browse.

Anyway, my wife and I were out doing some lazy Saturday window shopping. At Toy's R Us, as it happens. My favourite sections of the store are the board games and the video games. They are my passions and I like to see what has become "mainstream". The current big thing for board games is co-branding. If you have a hit TV or Movie IP then you need to get it on a board game.

Some of these make great sense: like Dora the Explorer in Candyland. That's an awesome idea to bring a favourite (and often beloved) children's game to a new generation of players. Most of the co-branding makes little sense, and is basically unnecessary: like Transformer's Stratego. It doesn't really do anything for the game except add a novelty that might get you to play the game, but will do little to make you want to re-play it. The novelty of branding wears thin the older you get (... usually).

I browsed through the games, smiling and shaking my head. Then I saw something that stopped me dead. Something so awful that I had to share it. This.

This is Monopoly Boutique Edition. It claimed to be a Toy's R Us exclusive, but a quick search reveals you can also purchase this abomination from Amazon. In case the picture isn't graphic enough, here is the product blurb from the TRU website:

This is Monopoly like you have never seen it - dressed up in pink and all about things girls love! Buy boutiques and malls, go on a shopping spree, pay your cell phone bill, and get text and instant messages. You and your friends will adore the funky tokens, cool buildings, and cute illustrations. Best of all, the game is stored in a beautiful keepsake box which doubles as a jewelry box. Cool game features include: 8 collectible tokens just for girls, keepsake storage box with removable tray and mirrored insert, pink gameboard with fun properties, pink and purple translucent boutiques and malls instead of houses and hotels, Instant Message and Text Message cards instead of Chance and Community Chest, pink Title Deed cards, redesigned Monopoly money, flocked banker's tray, 2 pink dice, and instructions. Paint the town pink with Toys R Us Exclusive!

This is why games are never taken seriously. This is why girls are relegated to a mythological place in gaming. This is why someone is currently developing Pink Princess Pony Adventure 3 for the DS. THIS.

Before my vision goes completely pink, let me just say a few things about why this kind of game marketing (for board or video games) is a bad direction to take. Ignore the pink, ignore the stereotyping, and ignore the misogyny that oozes from these "Games for Girls". Marketing these games is almost always a cover for making bad games, but trying to trick the consumer into buying them anyway.

Games should never need to be developed for a market so exclusively that they lose track of what really makes a game enjoyable. If someone wanted to make a game about shopping at a mall, then they should have built it to reflect how malls work, and what makes malls interesting. Oh, wait: someone already did. Of course, if that game was really fun then shouldn't there be a version where you have to get all the latest electronics?

Slapping a name or a recognizable face onto a game in order to slip a few dollars from easily distracted individuals may be good marketing but it's bad business. Failing to make games that are fun to play, and get others to play, will only lose you future players. We who know there can be more to games already have to work twice as hard to change our friends' and colleagues' minds, and get them playing again. Too many people have "grown out of games" because (mainstream) games never grew with them.

And painting a game pink just demeans us all.

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