My favorite Purple Moon games revolved around the Rockett Movado eighth leveler. Each title focused on one or more important days in his life. At crucial points in the story, the narrative would cut Rockett under three thought bubbles. When you hovered over one, Rockett’s facial expression would change and his disembodied voice would describe a potential response to the current situation. Like a digital Choose Your Own Adventure, the unfolding of the story will depend on the choices you made for it. Rockett could be optimistic, suspicious, fearful, confident – any of the ways a girl might experience in her everyday life.
No discussion of Purple Moon would be complete without a nod to its website. For me it was an equalizer. At school, I was often excluded, but on Purple-Moon.com, making a new friend was as easy as finding one of its 240,000 registered members with whom you shared a common interest: “Your Pokémon favorite is Gyarados? Mine too! Are you a Neopets guild leader? Same here! Let’s be virtual correspondents. The Purple Moon website, in my opinion, was also a forerunner of modern social networking platforms. Members could exchange treasures (cute and colorful GIFs depicting various facets of a girl’s personality), send each other postcards (primitive DMs), and read and contribute to an online edition of the school newspaper by Rockett who featured articles with new character details between games. .
However, Purple Moon was not immune to criticism. Laurel has strived to design games rooted in data from real girls. However, children develop a sense of gender consistency by the age of 7. In other words, by the time she and her team studied them, Laurel’s subjects had probably already internalized the old-fashioned conventions about the good things girls would like. This raised concern that Purple Moon, too, was perpetuating existing gender roles, albeit inadvertently.
Then again, how are you supposed to design games that girls would be inclined to play if they don’t even realize they would like to play it? Should you create products that you think you’re buying or that reflect the feminist values you want girls to embrace? And what effect would these games have?
The jury is still absent. Before it was possible to draw any conclusions about their short-term implications, let alone their long-term impact, girls’ games came and went. Some individual franchises, including Nancy drew, rose from the ashes. However, in the beginning, the genre of games for girls no longer existed.
But I take it upon myself to finally settle this debate: the effect of girls’ games has been positive.
Until recently, I didn’t know that girl’s games were controversial. I was well aware of sexism when I got into computer games; I never realized that computer games could be sexist. I only knew that my father sometimes came home from Costco with a CD-ROM that gave me endless escape fun. And yet, while I may not have viewed them as harmful, I also did not understand their value. Fortunately, my Masters program in Women and Gender Studies has helped me recognize girl’s games as the sources of women’s empowerment.
Originally, games for girls were about the right to choose your own adventure, your own path, your own destiny. As a child, I found detective work fascinating, but the opportunities for me to solve mysteries were, in fact, somewhat limited. However, Detective Barbie: Mystery of the Carnival Capers (1998) allowed me to live my girl-gumshoe dreams. Society teaches the youngest of my gender to be passive participants in their lives – that outside forces do things at them and decide things for their. On a computer, on the other hand, it’s the girl in the driver’s seat of the office chair. Girls games gave millennials a degree of autonomy that we couldn’t achieve elsewhere. It’s my kind of female power.
As Laurel explained in her TED talk on Purple Moon, “What we offer girls… is a sense of the choices available to them.”