December 10th, 2007

With or without a review copy, I’m determined to have something to say about Ubisoft’s babysitting sim, Imagine Babyz. Released this October, Babyz is part of the Imagine series, a collection of Nintendo DS titles Ubisoft is trying to market to young girls. Other games include Imagine Fashion Designer and Imagine Animal Doctor. It’s true: if there are three things women can do, it’s raise children, design clothes, and tend to wounded animal. Oh, and bake pies. That’s why there’s also Imagine Master Chef.

When the series was announced, it got heat for being, well, amazingly sexist. Sure, girls games aren’t all bad. They appeal to female players who might not otherwise take up gaming. Besides, professions like veterinarian or chef are hardly career choices to scoff at. Still, the fact of the matter remains: aside from being plain old lower quality than non-girl games, titles like these pigeon hole female players into “women’s professions.” Where’s the pretty pink version of Imagine Firefighter, or Imagine Corporate Lawyer?

Of the Imagine games, Babyz has incited the most finger wagging. Why? It turns child rearing into a game, it inspires young girls to want children, it seems to have the gender sense of a 1950′s health ed teacher: take your pick. Of course, early speculation that Babyz was a game about actually having children were quelled when it turned out the game was a mere babysitting simulator. Still, taking care of infants is taking care of infants–whether they they popped out of your uterus or someone just dropped them at your grandma’s house for the afternoon.

I’d like to be able to say Imagine Babyz is bad. Or good. Or anything. Honestly, I have zero gameplay input–though the singular review I’ve come across gives it a whopping 3.5. So in the place of actual constructive criticism, I give you sex and gender deconstruction.

First there’s the idea of “playing mom.” Pick up Babyz, and you’re doing this in two senses: first, as a babysitter, you’re playing the role of the mother substitute. Second, as the game player you’re playing the role of the babysitter. Lots of children “play mother” to their dolls, their friends, etc. That in and of itself is nothing new. What’s interesting is to see the role played in a structured, game format with preset gameplay rewards. Rock the cradle well, gain points. Forget to feed your charges, lose them. Oddly enough, what we’re being reminded of here is that motherhood itself–like gender–is a role to be played, not an inherent state. For such a sexist game, it’s a strangely feminist message.

We could also talk about why children play mother in the first place. Have you ever watched a toddler pretend to coddle a plastic doll? To tell the truth, it’s kind of creepy. Why would a child that small want to be a mom? Kristeva says (yes, I’m breaking out the psychoanalysis) it’s because the female child wants to be closer to her father. Subconsciously, she believes the father of her new baby is her own father. She replaces her mother as an object of affection by becoming a mother herself.

Now it’s time for the fun over-analyzing! Can we read Kristeva’s theory into girl games? Are Imagine Babyz players somehow usurping the power they currently lack as consumers in the games industry? If Babyz is the toy baby in question, then the industry would be its “father,” and us reviewers and players are the child busy coddling it. That would mean the attention we give to the game–both negative and positive–is really be energy diverted from the paternal “industry,” who’s love we’re hoping to turn toward ourselves. But then who would be our mother?

Tags: The "industry", children, feminism, gender, girl games, new games, psychology, reviews, sexism, thinking and over-thinking

21 Responses to “Imagine Babyz: Playing Mother”

  1. Woodstock Says:

    Following your analogy, I guess that would make the current target of the industry’s love – i.e. the 18-34 male demographic – the mother.

    Which is delicious, really, but also points at something that comes up whenever ‘girl games’ or even just casual games are discussed: there seems to be a real jealousy among hardcore gamers for the industry’s affection. Each time a developer makes a game that doesn’t appeal to the hardcore male demographic, they’re lambasted for it, and there’s a sense of “why aren’t they making games for me, dammit?” in the comments. Not to mention the (sometimes deserved) opprobrium towards existing titles. Barbie Horse Adventures is pretty much a running joke whenever developers gather.

  2. Bonnie Ruberg Says:

    Ah, but by that logic the target demographic sure seems like another child, not the mother… Well, maybe the whole analogy doesn’t 100% work, but I totally agree with you. Then again, there’s a lot of jealousy on the non-demographic end of things as well. “I’m female, I’m not hardcore; why isn’t the industry paying attention to me?”

  3. Anne Packrat Says:

    Generally I think toddlers like to play mother because they’re merely imitating what their own mothers do and they’re trying to learn what’s proper behavior and what’s not.

    And if we’re hitting all the major traditional “female” professions then where’s my Imagine: Call Girl, Ubisoft?

  4. Bonnie Ruberg Says:

    Good point, Anne, though less fun than wanting to be the mother of your father’s child ;).

  5. LinkoGRAfia (3) « Altergranie Says:

    [...] Ruberg pisze na swoim blogu o przeznaczonej dla dziewczynek grze Imagine Babyz, w której opiekować należy [...]

  6. Girls read comics » Blog Archive » Farewell To Meat Says:

    [...] the topic of real world little girls, Bonnie’s Heroine Sheik writes about the appalling sexism of Ubisoft’s line of “games for girls”, but takes a deeper look at the Imagine Babyz game: Lots of children “play mother” to their [...]

  7. Lauren Says:

    Anyone remember the pocket sized Digital Pets?

    One of the first ones that came out in America had you taking care of a little human baby. If you were successful at it, it grew into a child and you got a second baby to look after. Succeed there, and after six days, you had a mini-family to call your own. Variations of these toys are still around in any Target or Toys’R'Us. They have the babysitting version, too.

    This has been done before. In fact, most of the stuff they’re planning for this series has already been done in various forms, especially by the Japanese. (Though I say that with the realization that the Japanese are not ones to bring up in a discussion of gender equality.)

    In all truth, my hard-core gamer girlfriend plays her copies of “Cooking Mama” or “Animal Crossing” as readily as she plays “Soul Caliber III” or “Fire Emblem”. And I know guys who enjoy the milder care-taking or building type games such as “Harvest Moon” and “The Sims2″ over the shoot-em-ups like “Halo”.

    I don’t find anything wrong with making games like this (and only some with marketing them specifically at girls), I think the real problem is a lack of balance. Not only is there is there no pretty pink Imagine: Corporate Lawyer, there also isn’t a boyish blue version. Games marketed at boys are as violent as games marketed at girls are full of socially approved gender norms.

  8. Mindywith3boys Says:

    While I don’t find anything wrong with little girls wanting to play a game that encourages nurturing, I think it is terribly sexist that you don’t have and option to make the caregiver a boy. There are boys out there that want to be dads and who love babies and want to play with babies. My seven-year-old son wanted this game and we got it for him for Easter. I was shocked that When he entered his name, and started the game, he had no option than to be a girl. A white girl at that. Would it have been that much harder to have let them pick their sex, skin color and hair color? I would rather my son play a nonviolent game like this, but I think it’s awful that our society isn’t doing everything they can to encourage our sons to grow up and be good dads!

  9. That Fuzzy Bastard Says:

    Kristeva’s theory is amusing, but nonsense. Little children play at being parents because parents are the only adults they know, and they’re obviously more powerful and capable than the kids are. Much as us old folks romanticize being a kid, most little kids want to be big. So they imagine themselves in the role that gives them power and autonomy (from their limited perspective, maximum power and autonomy—a five-year-old can barely process the *idea* of being, say, a lawyer, but they know who gets to make the decisions about what you wear, what you eat, what you do and where you live).

    Anyone remember the piece in the New Yorker about Mr Ravioli? The author, an NYC freelancer, was concerned because her daughter had an imaginary friend who was always too busy to play with her—all her interactions with the imaginary friend involved trying and failing to set up a time to meet. She was, understandably, nervous about this, but a child psychologist reassured her that children’s imaginary friend play is just an imitation of what she sees adults doing, and doesn’t necessarily have any implications beyond that.

    As for finding little kids with dolls creepy… well, I think most of us childless people do. But that says more about us than about them.

  10. Feminist Says:

    To start off, I’d like to mention that “Psychoanalysis” is entirely Freudian and your source is referring to Freud’s “Electra Complex” which summarizes as “GIRLS WANT TO HAVE SEX WITH THEIR DADS.”

    Freud is a SEXIST, he came up with PENIS ENVY for crying out loud “Girls hold their mother responsible for their lack of a penis and do not forgive her for their being thus put at a disadvantage.” if you want to pull Feminism at least know your sources.

    That being said, what is sexist about the game? You spent the time to make an entire rant about Babyz being sexist… so how is it sexist? Because it assumes girls want to care for children? Or is it that (thanks to one of the comments) the game assumes the player is female and does not accommodate the reverse? If the worse you can pull is the game is about babysitting and has pretty pink flowers then the point I wish to make is valid.

    The game isn’t sexist YOU ARE. I am sick of Radical Feminists making sane Feminists look like idiots. (I am fully aware of the subjective nature of sane, idiot, and Radical but am unwilling to explain much in the nature.) GTA is more sexist than Babyz could ever hope to achieve, not only is the main character male (“blah blah implication that a woman couldn’t do it blah blah”), but the game constantly uses derogatory terms towards women, allows you to asault them, allows you to practice polygamy, has LESS female models (not fashion), has actual whores and allows you to “pimp them”, and even had an interactive sex game so that you know women are just sexual tools.

    Now tell me again, this game is Sexist? The company may be sexist (hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was not one female executive on board) but how does that make the game sexist? Oh, I know, the game’s premise is “Single Mom Hires Babysitter While Looking for Breadwinner.”

    No, I say again, You Are Sexist. You’re nitpicking about a company who makes games and saying its totally unfair they don’t make a game that empowers women to rise above having children, above the need to survive as a species, and, most importantly, to kick men in the genitalia because you can.

    If this sounds like the perfect game to you then get some help. Radical Feminism is Sexism, and if you want your daughter to practice it you should teach it to her, not rely on Videogames… Yes, I know with the advent of technology the need to actually be a good parent has subsided, allowing you to let your daughter’s brain to rot while watching TV instead of, god forbid, you stoop so low to actually play with her. (And what do you know, Babyz is a game about playing with children)

    However, You Are SEXIST, complaining about some “Imagine Female Executive” game… WHERE IS “Imagine MALE Executive?”, “Imagine MALE Corporate Lawyer?”. If you’re going to start a fuss over “female versions” of games not existing make certain the “MALE versions” exist. The only point of argument you have is Tycoon games and… well… they don’t really have a Male Lead. (And don’t go gibbering over Imagine not having a Tycoon game…)

    YOU ARE SEXIST. Name ONE THING about any lead FPS that says “male”. Aside from the desire to hurt and maim people. Yes, yes, most of the “main characters” are men, but if, god forbid, any character is female then the Radical Feminists come up saying that either X character is a sex toy, X character portrays women as helpless, or X character furthers the victimization of women by allowing men to brutally conduct experimental abuse/murder. Of course if the game has no women then the Radical Feminists dismiss it as another “boy game” (except the occasional “why are there no women in games”).

    My point should be very clear, if there is little that is decidingly male in boy games, why is the converse false? What about caring for a baby strikes you as DECIDINGLY FEMALE? What, only girls care for babies, this is EXCLUSIVLY RESERVED FOR YOU? HOW DARE YOU MAKE THAT IMPLICATION. Wait, your implication is that women should NOT care for their children, right? Or wait, I’m confused…

    You see, your argument is Women Do NOT Exist to Care For Your Son… but you must acknowledge that Parents Exist to Care For Their Children and Female Parent’s do exist. This is the classic example of a Radical UNEDUCATED Feminist Theory. This whole “web”, calling this game sexist, talking about the 50′s… it’s all about Men not sharing in Parenting… well there is one simple solution, threaten divorce and relinquish custody of the child.

    But jabbering about how a VIDEOGAME based on actions that a child AUTOMATICALLY performs reinforces those actions is bunk. The PARENT reinforces those actions. Hell, given how many women are totally unfit to be mothers (EXPECALLY with the Radical Feminist Spew (Good Parental Help Books [Even the ones written by a man] SHOULD ALWAYS be read… you aren’t born with the knowledge… you’re born with impulse and intuition [And take a Developmental Psychology Class])) this game, at least, teaches them you can’t have a smiling baby if you just yell, scream, and then put a pillow over it’s face to get it to shut up. I even remember reading of some “magic spray” some person allegedly invented to “make baby stop crying”.

    Look, if you want to practice Feminism, there is no problem there… but TRY to be intelligent about it (McCain for Women? More like Palin for “campaign tool designed to get female votes and will promptly be pushed into a secretaries office the instant in office [blah blah, sexist congressmen, blah blah]“)

    Blogging is a pathetic way to spread feminism. This is ONE WEBSITE, out of 100,000,000,000,000,000 (enough zeros?) websites… you want your views heard? Go make forum accounts… and with your immense wit and intellect make UNIQUE posts, REPLY to controversial topics, ESTABLISH a presence. Blogging is akin to complaining in secret… even the most popular blogs don’t get the numbers that Forums do. And if your goal is to forward feminism, you have to step out and spread it. (And NOT on Forums that support your cause, then you have a group of people saying, in secret, all their plans they’ll never do).

    And if it is not blatantly obvious yet, I REALLY REALLY REALLY Hate Sexist Females and REALLY REALLY REALLY hate that they label their movement as Feminism and REALLY REALLY REALLY hate that the few “Men” who do listen get confused with Radical Feminism and, in turn, protest Feminism. Heck, with women going about screaming how men are evil and should all be killed except for a few for breeding purposes (all in the name of feminism) there can be a bit of confusion. But Radical Feminists (or in some cases, Uneducated Feminists) extend their practices to absurd regions, like Pro-Life. HOW IN ANYWAY is the debate over if a fetus is living or not have ANYTHING to do with feminism. Oh RIGHT, because WOMEN are involved. Again with Anti-Life arguments you get people making stuff up left and right (Women should be allowed to have abortions because it’s cruel and unusual to punish THEM instead of the MAN who impregnated them) and labeling it as part of the feminist movement.

    I’m a Feminist, and few people seem to understand what that actually is anymore. Alot of people seem to think it has something to do with hating men, and while I do hate Men (not gentlemen, but the ruthless sexist pigs of society) I in no way associate that with my feminism but my Zero-Tolerance against sexism.

    There’s this idiot, who thinks it’s funny that some youtube-idiot got banned for posting a video of “him having sex with a woman” as an attempt to get back at another man. He can’t even understand that what’s truely wrong with that is that the youtube-idiot violated the girl as a means of revenge… his idea is that this Youtube-idiot should have asked the girl and then posted it. (Yes, because obviously she wants the video that you made with the hidden camera to be on the internet.)

    And Admist scum like this, you think that Videogames… that are marketed to girls (who, mind you, aren’t FORCED or anything to play them… there are plenty of “genderless” games out there [like katamari]) by trying to appeal to their maternal side… is the biggest offense? There is probally only one thing you are correct on, the game is probally a flash rip game with a score system… (I remember the old flash games… play with baby by pressing one of four buttons (well, you get animations but nothing else))

    Tamagotchi achieved it better, and well… Digimon (the Tamagotchi ripoff for boys [amazing that the only difference is that the Digimon Fights and the Tamagotchi doesn't... Boy vs Girl toys again?] Eitherway, the problem with sim games is they are simply stock animations… there is no life in the baby…

  11. Arcade Gamer Says:

    Great site. I’d like to exchange links with you – is it possible?

  12. jocelynne Says:

    i love this game

  13. Tom Matow Says:

    This game rox! :-D but how does ella LEAVE! her mom never came!?

  14. Tom Matow Says:

    get my name tomato?? ha haa

  15. Tom Matow Says:

    :-D LOL u rite bout SEX!!! thats gross ewwwwwwwww
    do u watch people doing it??

  16. Tom Matow Says:

    I agree feminest

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