Barbie Goes Digital, Girls Get Online

By McCord, Virginia; Abrahms, Doug | Insight on the News, May 11, 1998 | Go to article overview

Barbie Goes Digital, Girls Get Online


McCord, Virginia, Abrahms, Doug, Insight on the News


Still sporting an invisible waist and double D bust, Barbie plays the lead role in what may be the first successful computer games just for girls.

Finally, a computer game for girls. But, to the chagrin of feminists, it's designed around Barbie, the hour glass-shaped doll with measurements no mortal could match.

Although computers have become increasingly popular--almost a necessity--computer games typically are designed for and marketed to boys. Girls are excluded at an age in which their computer knowledge is just budding, argues Roberta Furger in her new book, Does Jane Compute? As a result, they fall behind their male counterparts.

A columnist and contributing editor for PC World in San Francisco, Furger wanted her 9-year-old daughter to feel comfortable with computers. But she would have to buck the trend: Only 16 percent of children using the Internet are girls, says Furger, although 65 percent of all career opportunities require computer skills. In addition, 63 percent of CD-ROM game buyers are male, according to the Software Publishers Association's 1996 consumer survey, and the same holds true for most users of the games.

Mattel Media came up with the first successful girls-only CD-ROM games in 1996. Barbie is the main character of these games, the most popular of which, "Barbie Fashion Designer," revolves around Barbie's clothes. The game became a best seller and contradicted the popular theory that girls don't like computer games.

"There used to be a concern that girls do not play or buy computer games ' says Furger. But Barbie was cool. "It was different. It was, well, fun."

Heather Kelley, the director of on-line development for Girl Games Inc. of Austin, Texas, believes girls get bored with traditional computer games. "Girls like to play the computer together, as a collaboration, not a competition," she says. "They think the repetitive games are boring and do not like the gore element."

Girl Games created alternatives aimed at teenage and preteen girls. (One game, "Let's Talk About Me," includes a diary, horoscopes and sports, for example.) The Girl Games World Wide Web site (www.Planetgirl.com) now receives 125,000 hits a week.

The market only will expand, say industry watchers. A study conducted by Jupiter Online, a research organization that conducts studies on technology-related topics, discovered that 37 percent of girls age 13 to 17 currently are online and 19 percent of those girls have built their own Web site. Among those girls, 32 percent use the Internet every day, and 45 percent spend at least two hours online each session. "Girls are interested in computers," says Furger. "It is just a matter of giving them opportunities."

Women in the workforce also are feeling the effects of a male-controlled computer field. …

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