The New Game Developer Barbie Is What Little Girls Have Been Waiting For
In its continued efforts to reflect a more feminist idea of what “being a girl” entails, Mattel has stepped things up by releasing a new Game Developer Barbie. She wears skinny jeans, a headset, glasses, and flat-sole Keds (!!) and comes with a laptop decorated with robot and personalized barcode stickers, but this isn’t just a makeover of the same old Barbie.
Game Developer Barbie is a response to Mattel’s possibly well-intentioned but ultimately insulting 2014 book, Barbie: I Can Be A Computer Engineer. In it, Barbie does design work on a game that centers on a cute puppy and colored blocks, but needs her male colleagues to “turn it into a real game,” and ends up having to turn to the guys to help her get rid of a virus. It was 1992’s “Math class is tough!” Barbie fiasco for a new generation. Women, especially women in tech, were understandably outraged, with some even reworking the book to provide a more gender-equal picture of the profession. Mattel withdrew the book from print and made a public apology promising that all future books would feature “an empowered Barbie character.”
Now, in 2016, Mattel seems to be doing its best to make good on that promise.
This isn’t just a vague attempt at appealing to the digital generation; Mattel worked with developer Molly Proffitt, CEO of Ker-Chunk Games, to ensure that Game Developer Barbie’s look corresponded to what real tech professionals might wear and that the code on her laptop was genuine.
In a world where gaming and tech are thought of as male arenas despite the facts that more than 50 percent of PC gamers worldwide are women, the numbers of women in tech is rising, and computer programming started out as a mostly-female field, Game Developer Barbie is seen by many as a sign of the changing times. And not a moment too soon, either, because young girls are starting to erode the restrictive gender boundaries that adults place on gaming and tech pursuits.
I used to work with kids, and pretty much all of them were into online games. Little popular blonde girls with One Direction schoolbags would come in talking about the server they created for last night’s game with their friends. One particular girl who wanted to be a game developer was looking forward to the day when she’d be old enough to attend her first Minecraft convention. Then there was the tiny girl who loved acting, drawing, and Grand Theft Auto.
That’s who Game Developer Barbie is for: those girls, and the ones who maybe don’t want to go into tech but do want to go into another predominantly male profession. It’s not enough to just tell them that being a girl shouldn’t stop them from going after a certain job; they need to see what that looks like. Until they can see that in real life, they need more models like Game Developer Barbie.