Girls get bored on car trips too. However, for an 11-year-old girl, blasting aliens or playing the back nine on a Game Boy Advance isn't necessarily a better alternative to staring out the window at the hundredth amber wave of grain.
Enter Disney Interactive, the digital arm of Walt's empire, which is prepping a trio of go-go games aimed at fans of the Disney Channel's afternoon lineup of "Kim Possible," "That's So Raven" and "Lizzie McGuire."
The industry long has called for more games for female gamers. While some enjoy the same thrills as male gamers -- including such violent fare as "Grand Theft Auto" and "Counter-Strike" -- there are plenty who don't. This presents a unique challenge: How to offer different game-play experiences for girls without indulging in stereotypes that can turn off the intended audience?
Disney Interactive has done extensive focus group testing to determine what female players want out of a game designed for them. Dana Long, director of marketing for kids' games at Disney's Buena Vista Games, says the message they received repeatedly was, "Don't make pink games for us." Which is probably advice other game makers should have heeded before bringing "pretty princess" games to market.
The audience those games targeted -- girls 6-11 -- typically does not play video games, much less own a Game Boy or PlayStation 2. And, as the game developers discovered, girls enter their 'tween years eager to grow up; they turn their backs on entertainment that features such girl stuff as dolls and unicorns.
Much to its credit, Disney does not offer traditional, girly-girl femme fare such as "Barbie." The company is known for creating powerful, self-reliant female characters such as Ariel and Belle from "The Little Mermaid" and "Beauty and the Beast." Disney's newest alpha-female is the titular star of "Kim Possible." Sure, Kim is a cheerleader and enjoys clothes-shopping, but these activities take a back seat to her life as a secret agent. In "Kim Possible 2: Drakken's Demise," available this week, players drop the pompoms, put on Kim's gadget-stuffed cargo pants and take on the only suitable enemy for a secret agent: a mad scientist.
Across four episodes, Kim (with the help of her sidekick, Ron Stoppable), must stop Dr. Drakken, Shego and three other villains using high-flying kicks and a plethora of gadgets, including hot sauce packets, glue bombs and a stealth suit. It should appeal to the show's huge fan base (which includes a sizable male crossover audience, according to Long) as Kim comes across as a strong, clever hero whose feminine side is not sublimated.
This fall's GBA game "That's So Raven," on the other hand, does cater to some of the expected pink game stereotypes. As Raven, who uses her psychic premonitions to solve problems (which, in turn, just create new mini-disasters for her friends), gamers can choose outfits, hit bad guys with a purse and visit the My Lady Hair Salon. Purse swinging? That's so Mary-Kate and Ashley.
The same goes for "Lizzie McGuire 2," an action-oriented fall platformer where players earn points as they go from school to a family trip to Hawaii, and finally, the mall. However, the girly-girl elements in "Lizzie" and "Raven" are taken directly from the shows they are based on -- they were not constructed just for the game. And since these shows are so heavily watched on the Disney Channel, the theory goes, audiences can just as easily accept them in game form with the girly-girl touches.
All three games "have scenes based on the go-girl mentality," says Long. But are simple settings enough? The strong female fundamentals found in each show -- the girls' independence and their smart dialogue -- may not translate as well into a pocket-size video game as "Kim Possible's" bad guy takedowns. Will fans of the show enjoy a Raven who swings her purse, but doesn't sass-talk the bad guy down to size?