Monday, January 11, 2010

Why Can't I Be a Boy Fairy?

While this blog is geared towards girls franchises, the answers to the questions below its headline are really non-gender specific but seem to come up again and again in conversations about gender, narrative, storytelling and marketing the problem with most content driven towards girls is that it shows characters without much complexity and limited world that surrounds them. The same problem exists when you look at many male-oriented franchises, and when you look at characters in franchises without a gender-bias.

So, stereotyping of both genders, poorly considered secondary characters, and plots that make those characters act outside of their core personalities are major flaws that diminish storylines and diminish the possibilities to extend a franchise. (Tangent: this is a great article about the Plot vs. Story issue that was on last year)

In his review of Disney Fairies: Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure on Nintendo DS for IGN Jack DeVries said something that had me giggling manically: Why Can't I Be a Boy Fairy?
It would have been nice if players could create boy fairies though. I realize that a large majority of players will be girls, but there are male characters in the movies, and games, so it seems like the developer could have had the option. One of the cooler features in the game is that players can transfer their fairy and ingredients to the online multiplayer Pixie Hollow game, essentially turning this game into one giant mini-game for the online world.
There was something just so deeply charming and amusing to me about hearing a critique of a game that I've heard so many times in the opposite direction from women and girls, "Why Can't I play as a girl?" When Fable came out there was much hay made about the fact that a game touted as a game about choices didn't even have the option of creating a female avatar, which was addressed by the developers in subsequent chapters. But the inclusion or exclusion of male or female characters in franchises aimed at one gender goes way beyond video games.

I remember that as a little girl, I always wanted to play as a girl when my male friends and I made-believe on the playground that we were Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but playing as April was somewhat anticlimactic as playtime might dissolve into an argument about whether or not she could also be a ninja. Thank goodness Carmen Sandiego was around to steal landmarks and be totally awesome or I might never have gotten past the arguments to be a female submarine captain in the library bookshelves, or as a CEO trading basketball players from team to team during lunch hour. (I still have no idea why the exclusively sports playing guys went along with my friends and my nerdy machinations, but they did and it was great!)

My friends were always male and female; in real life kids have friends that are both male and female, but in the stories presented to them tend to show groupings that are overwhelmingly one gender or another. In games, movies, animated series, and books, there tends to be a lack of this reality shown. One thing that Mr. DeVries points out is that in the Disney Fairies movies, and the franchise as a whole, there ARE male fairies. Disney Fairies is actually a great example of a franchise that is doing something to actually show male and female friends in realistic situations, even though it's primary audience is female and likely to remain so.

TinkerBell has several male friends, her closest friend being Terence, a dust-keeper talent fairy. There is a great verisimilitude in this friendship that is explored in the most recent DVD TinkerBell and the Search for the Lost Treasure, and in the extensive book series. But there's more than just one male character, there's also Bobble and Clank, who are TinkerBell's friends and fellow tinkers, and they get as much time as TinkerBell's female friends when they aren't directly involved in the story. In addition to there simply BEING mixed genders the talents are not distributed by gender exclusively, TinkerBell herself is a tinker, an inventor and engineer, the Fairy in charge of Spring is male, both genders are equally concerned with bugs, flowers, fairy dust, and adventure.

It would be very satisfying to see some franchises aimed at young boys treating their worlds and the people, male and female, that inhabit them with the same sense of reality. There are going to be women around somewhere no matter where these boys go in real life, they will have to deal with them sensibly or face serious consequences. The same concern about whether girls are being shown positive images and realistic ones that make them aspire to do inspiring things and prepare them for adulthood should be asked in relationship to what boys are being shown, beyond the obvious critiques about violence so often thrown at franchises. Boys, as well as girls should be able to see cross-gender friendships and normal relationships between peers in their entertainment because not only is it interesting, it helps them understand the world around them and demystifies the opposite gender.

The next time you hear someone groan about how "they don't understand women" or "they don't understand men" think about what the male and female characters presented to them from infancy to adulthood have showed them, and the question of why they might not understand these mysterious alien creatures tends to answer itself.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Article on 221B on The Social Robot

Here's an article I've written for The Social Robot.
221B is a groundbreaking, immersive game that should be emulated as an example of social media applications, transmedia narrative and interactive gaming.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Sex Sells?

Sex! Look at that image, all sexy, alluring, drawing your eye.... for all of 10 seconds...

This article made me rather happy to read.

You’re not surprised, of course, because there’s nothing new about this. Sex has been selling products other than sex since products other than sex have been sold. The current sex-obsessed Axe body spray commercials are simply an updating of the Hai Karate commercials of yesteryear. Granted, today’s commercials demonstrate a greater corporate tolerance for pseudo-pornographic content, but that’s primarily a function of the increased difficulty of attracting eyeballs in the digital age. We’re not looser than we used to be: we’re just more desperate for attention.

So sex sells. That’s nothing new. But the use of sex to sell nonsexual products is also atell. To understand what you’re being told when you see sex in a commercial for a nonsexual product, you need to know Barrett’s First Law of Marketing:

When your product is indistinguishable from the competition, add sex.

To get real brand recognition for an indistinguishable product in a generic market you need to do something radical — like mate a partially nude, gyrating, grinding, blond bimbo to a bucket of suds, so nature can take its course with whatever demographic (dad and his wallet) you’re trying to attract. That’s how everything from toasters to antiperspirant to shoes to cars to dental floss to insurance to fast food becomes steeped in curves and innuendo. It’s not that sex sells everything, it’s that sex helps sell stuff that otherwise cannot compete on its own merits.

Which leads us to the inverse of Barrett’s First Law of Marketing:

If sex is used to market a nonsexual product, that product is generic.

To put it bluntly, sex in commercials is increasingly making companies look like desperate attention whores. Frankly, people, and young audiences specifically are getting less and less willing to buy it.

From CNN's Graphic Sex and Nudity Don't Sell at the Movies:

A recent study concluded that nudity and explicit sex scenes don't translate to success for major motion pictures.

"Sex Doesn't Sell -- nor Impress! Content, Box Office, Critics, and Awards in Mainstream Cinema" examined more than 900 films released between 2001 and 2005.

The study found that, contrary to popular belief, sex and nudity failed to positively affect a film's popularity among viewers or critics and did not guarantee big box office receipts.

One of the study's co-authors, Dean Keith Simonton, said theirs was the largest sample of its kind used for film research. The results surprised him, he said.

"Sex did not sell, whether in the domestic or international box office, and even after controlling for MPAA rating," said Simonton, who is a professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis. "In other words, even among R movies, less graphic sex is better."


"Nothing is as shocking anymore," Detweiler said. "You can see it in Britney Spears' kiss with Madonna and Janet Jackson's Super Bowl performance. Things that were a big controversy among some, the next generation kind of yawned at it."

This leads me to hope, I like hope, I even liked it before it was a trendy campaign slogan, and I still like it now that people hate on it because the world wasn't magically fixed by hope. While more kids want to be "celebrities" these days, and "celebrity" increasingly means "desperate attention whore" young people seem somewhat inured to the bombardment of sexually explicit imagery foisted upon them.

Like bacteria mutating to become resistant to certain types of drugs, audiences are constantly changing, and they have been exposed to enough marketing to become resistant to certain types of "extreme" attention grabs. Audiences increasingly want to interact with their entertainment and when limited thrills are all a product is offering, not distinguishing itself in any other way, there's no incentive to follow up. Audiences and Consumers are becoming increasingly sophisticated in how they receive advertising and how they are lured into seats and purchases.

As I stated in my post about Jennifer's Body last year, if you aren't effectively describing what you're selling, you're not doing it right. Even something with substance can be undercut by a bad marketing campaign, and stereotyping the characters in a narrative, like that a female character is only sexual, or that a 30 year old man is only interested in football and sex, objectifies both character and audience, doesn't allow any lasting connections to be made between the two and alienates a lot of potential audience members.

These studies show once again that stereotyping, limiting the scope of what one is presenting and going for a short term eyeball grab is not building the same amount of interest or loyalty that allows a product to thrive. Especially important as generations who have seen it all and had access to it all mature, shock value and gimmicky sexualization are not the tools they once were in the arsenal of getting ones message across. Seducing, enticing, showing that there is substance beneath the gloss of an initial reaction is essential to creating a relationship with a piece of advertising, or the creation of a character that people want to engage.

Friday, January 1, 2010

2010- Franchises aimed at Girls and Women

Happy New Year Everybody!

I don't know what all of you hope for in the new year, I know I'm looking forward to my second baby and consequently being able to eat sushi and drink again. But what about Entertainment Franchises aimed at girls and women? What possible gems and... "not gems" are in store for us all in 2010?

So here's a list of franchise extensions and potential franchise starters on major mass media platforms in 2010. The most exciting part of the whole chore of listing these is the certain knowledge that there are going to be a number of things that are going to pop seemingly out of nowhere to charm, delight and surprise.

In Feature Film:
(Before July 2010, thanks for not looking at August yet)

Twilight: Eclipse
Sex and the City 2

On Prime Time Television:

Cougar Town

Ugly Betty

The Good Wife


Gossip Girl

America’s Next Top Model

Life Unexpected

The Vampire Diaries

Nurse Jackie

My Life as Liz

The Real Housewives of New York

The United States of Tara

Fly Girls

The Secret Life of the American Teenager

Make it or Break It


In Video Games: (For Major Consoles and MMO, does not include casual games)

Hello Kitty Online

Let’s Play Flight Attendant (Nintendo DS)

Let’s Play Ballerina (wii/ds)

This list is nowhere near comprehensive, there HAS to be more out there, but it does represent what I can find out about online in one afternoon by searching major sites, which in and of itself says something. If I can't find more easily, people with less desire to can't either. Regardless, girls in 2010 should have plenty of time to create their own new work if these are the pickings being aimed at them.