A new doll with Felicia Day hair, thick-rimmed glasses that came out of an Oliver Peoples ad, and a silver headset showed up last week on Barbie’s official Instagram. Who is she? Game Developer Barbie – the newest doll in Barbie Careers series that aims to “inspire young gamers with this doll who is at the top of her game!”
Barbie’s careers have ranged from the gendered stereotype Ribbon Gymnast and Twin Babysitter to Film Director and Firefighter, careers typically associated with males. With the release of Game Developer Barbie, it’s clear that Barbie’s parent company Mattel wants to shake up its 57 years of blonde-haired, blue-eyed, big-boobed dolls.
The Careers doll is selling for $12.99 on Mattel’s website, but is currently out of stock. Already, eager buyers are shelling out upwards of $100 on Ebay and Amazon to get their hands on the doll. But what makes her so special? Game Developer Barbie trades in her trademark pink heels for laid-back white sneakers. Instead of a designer purse, she’s rocking a tablet and laptop with actual game code graphics. She’s a doll with a mission.
Not only is Game Developer a radically different career for Barbie, the doll is a direct response to Mattel’s controversial 2014 book Barbie: I Can Be A Computer Engineer. While the title was promising, the content propagated the stereotype that girls don’t have a place in the math and sciences. Barbie was flat out bad at engineering and had to rely on her male coworkers for help. She even infected computers with a virulent virus that could only be removed by the boys.
Public response to I Can Be A Computer Engineer was so negative, Mattel promised its consumers that future Barbie books and dolls would “portray an empowered Barbie character.” Game Developer Barbie seeks to do just that.
It’s good to have a healthy body image, but neglecting personal growth for spending hours in front of the mirror perfecting your selfie isn’t healthy.From a young age, girls are taught to seek praise based on their looks instead of skills. Compliments like “you’re so pretty,” “I love your hair,” and “OMG your outfit is super cute” are the norm. Even Facebook posts encourage grandparents and parents to share an image saying how gorgeous their progeny is. Boys on the other hand are praised on their talents and lovingly called “champ,” “sport,” and “buddy.” It’s high time girls have a doll who they love because of what she does, not what she wears.
According to a 2014 study by the International Game Developers Association, only 22% of those in game development are women, and almost 100% of those women were working as producers. This is up from a staggering 11.5% in 2009. But don’t be discouraged by these numbers. More and more women are studying game development at the university level and pursuing degrees that will help them succeed in the game industry. Universities too, like USC and NYU are working to create more niche programs for students wanting to work in gaming. People are acknowledging that gaming is becoming more and more mainstream.
The belief that only men play video games is becoming obsolete. According to the Entertainment Software Association, 48% of the gamers in the US are women, and 52% in England. Existing game developers are also noticing the increase in its female audience. We’re seeing more female character driven games like The Walking Dead: Michonne (a Telltale Game), Tacoma, and ReCore. We’re also seeing more playable female characters, like those in Overwatch and Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate.
Female gamers are here to stay, and so are the women who want to help create the games we love. We are more than our hair, clothes, and makeup. We have ideas and the tools to manifest them into reality, be it programming, animating, quest design, or composing for video games. And hey, if you’ve got an 8-year-old aspiring game developer in your life, think about giving them Game Developer Barbie instead of another Elsa doll.