Recently iTunes and Google Play pulled the game Plastic Surgery for Barbie from their app stores after Mattel had brought to their attention the unauthorized use of their brand’s name in the title.
Mattel issued a statement to the publication notifying them that the use of Barbie’s branding was not sanctioned by the company. “At Mattel, we take our commitment to children seriously and work hard to ensure there are no unauthorized uses of our brands that may be unsafe or inappropriate for children.”
Clearly a violation of the iTunes guidelines, the name wasn’t the only cause of concern associated with the game. A media firestorm soon erupted on Twitter as women voiced their opinions on the inappropriateness of the app’s concept.
In the game Plastic Surgery for Barbie players are instructed to perform various plastic surgery procedures on an overweight woman, primarily focusing on her six problem areas. Throughout the different procedures before and after snap shots are taken to compare results.
The visual of the woman’s bulging stomach wearing a fitted bra top and shorts combined with the derogatory underlining meaning of the game caught the attention of the volunteer project Everyday Sexism, a program where women discuss their experiences with sexism in the modern world. They received a tip that even though the game was pulled off of iTunes a carbon-copy under a tweaked title had resurfaced on both of the platforms.
Laura Bates the founder of Everyday Sexism started a twitter campaign to get the apps removed. In an interview with ABCNews.com she said, “This was something that just raised a real red flag with us. To send those messages so blatantly to girls as young as 9 seemed really damaging.”
Followers’ @EverydaySexism were retweeting and posting their take on the app in droves. After an onslaught of complaints the campaign was a success, Google confirmed with the BBC that the app has been removed, stating that while it doesn’t comment on individual apps it “will remove apps that breach our guidelines.”
“With great power comes great responsibility.”
We often forget that there’s an unspoken power associated with making games. Although defined as entertainment, games are influential. They make a huge impact our lives by opening up our imagination to new possibilities. Angry birds fly, candy getting crushed becomes a good thing, and fishing gets ridiculous. In the midst of all the fun we’re all subconsciously learning about ourselves. Games take us to a different world while changing our own in the process.
As the wise Uncle Ben advised young Peter Parker, “With great power comes great responsibility.” It’s important not to have age inappropriate messages or tones in a kids’ game. Devs creating apps geared towards younger users must be responsible. The FTC is really cracking down on applications in the app stores that are not up to policy standards. And consumers are starting to pay closer attention to the quality of apps appearing in iTunes and Google Play. Now this doesn’t mean a game has to teach a child moral conduct but it shouldn’t carry harmful scripts either.
The app business is all about being creative, doing what you love, and making money in the process. Despite the twitter backlash, I’m pretty sure; the developer of the app, Plastic Surgery for Barbie did not create it with the goal of ruining every young girl’s self-esteem in mind.
“Every bad idea will seem like a good one at the time.”
In the app brainstorming process most devs look at what’s already out there, what people are playing to get ideas. Kids’ doctor and makeover/celebrity genre apps are popular right now. Girls have loved Mattel’s Barbie since its debut in 1959 and although the company has struggled a bit in the digital age it’s still one of the top grossing toy brands to-date. The idea of merging the trends into something new and piggybacking off of the trademark name of Barbie, at the time probably sounded like pure genius. But in hindsight it was a big mistake that could have been avoided.
Her sticky situation is the perfect example of what can happen when you don’t use feedback as a sounding board before launching your game. It’s crucial during the development process to step back, stop, and analyze your app. Ask yourself, “Would I allow my child to play this game and why?” And then seek feedback from peers in the gaming community or use other parents you might know as sources for suggestions to gain a better perspective. Taking a few minutes to ask a friend or relative, “Hey I’m making this game for kids, what you think about the concept?” could save you months of grief later down the line.”
Although, ABCNews was unable to reach the game developer, Corina Rodriguez for comment, other devs can definitely learn from her experience.