There’s been a little storm erupting over Twitter regarding EA’s announcement of their new Charm Girls Club IP and corresponding line of “EA Girls” products, which suffer from pretty much all the issues that Michael Abbott so succinctly wrote about in a semi-recent Brainy Gamer post. Essentially, the vast majority of “girl games” promote a shallow, crass consumerist worldview that’s every bit as dangerous as the violence we see in games played by boys of the same age — perhaps even moreso, since said consumerism tends to be brushed off as perfectly normal and harmless. After all, you look at the magazines on the shelves and the TV shows and movies being targeted to young girls, and it’s pretty much the same thing, isn’t it? EA and co. are just giving these young girls exactly what they want… aren’t they?
Obviously, I can’t speak for everyone, but considering that I, unlike the majority of folks who work on these sorts of games,  actually used to be a pre-teen girl, I’d say my opinion’s got to be at least somewhat valid. Thus, here’s what I’d do if I were somehow given an opportunity to write a game for pre-teen girls.
Focus, above all else, on story and characters. As with most of my pet projects, this would definitely be a game about people rather than things. Most “girl games” are already like this, but on a very superficial “omg popularity contest!” sort of way. I’d like to take this a much deeper level, dealing with themes such as bullying and ostracism, parents getting divorced, the death of a loved one, pressure to succeed academically, moving to a new city (or country), falling in love, and I’m sure you can think of plenty more. Because, y’know, pre-teen girls actually go through these sorts of things, and it’s important for them to have something to relate to on this level. I know it was for me and my friends.
Pass the Bechdel Test. This means having 1) at least two girls who 2) talk to one another about c) something other than a man. In other words, the game should be about girls, rather than merely featuring them as sidekicks or love interests. This goes without saying.
Have girls doing things that are actually empowering. When I was that age, I was a sucker for books and movies about being the only girl on the football/baseball/hockey team. There’s just something enormously satisfying about proving you’re just as good, if not better, than all the boys, and I don’t think it applies to just sports, either. You could be the only female warrior in a fantasy setting, or, say, the only female hacker in a sci-fi setting. An even better variation on this theme is having an entire team of girls doing something un-stereotypically girly.
Deal with sexuality in a mature, matter-of-fact manner. It would be really awesome for there to be a video game equivalent to Judy Blume books. ‘Nuff said.
Have protagonists of many different shapes, sizes, and colours. That’s right. Stop giving girls self-esteem issues by insisting that the only thing worth being is white and skinny. I mean, seriously.
Don’t be afraid to include some educational content. I was twelve years old when Titanic hit the theatres, and all my friends were fascinated by it. Though at first it seemed like they were really just there for Leonardo DiCaprio, they soon wound up amassing enough trivia about the real Titanic to fill a whole history class report. In short, girls do care about the real world, not just “girl world”. Including history, philosophy, classic literature, science, and math as story elements might just whet a budding geek girl’s appetite to study these things in greater detail.
Speaking of Leonardo DiCaprio, where are the cute, non-threatening boys? Okay, so this may not be the most feminist thing to highlight, and it is a tad heterosexist, but the one thing I notice about girl games that I never see in other media aimed at girls is a complete lack of teen boy heartthrobs. No wonder girls don’t play games! Of course, in all seriousness, it would be rather nice to have male characters in games who actually know how to treat girls and women like human beings, unlike certain overbearing, possessive jerks that pass as love interests in other stories. Yes, I’m talking to you, Edward Cullen from Twilight!
Anyway, these are just a few of my ideas. Do you have any others to add? Let me know!