Editorial: Coolest Girl in School – Controversial New Game for Girls
High School was not the most wonderful time in people’s lives, well, at least not everyday, and for a lot of people it can be considered the most miserable era of their existence. Face it, we all went to school with a myriad of girls who could be cast into numerous social stereotypes. These were basically innumerable, but the majority could be broken down into cheerleader, outcast, artist, goth, redneck, egg-head, sociopath, prep, and then there was a subcategory of slut or ice-queen that applied to each group. Included in this vast hierarchy of culture, there were also those that did not fit into any particular mode and just hung out with bits and pieces from each group; therefore these girls did not have any official “term” applied to them. Amidst each social structure, the angst and inconsolable desire to be popular or wear the “correct” brand of clothing ran amuck through most teenage girls’ minds, and still do in the present. In this century though, these thoughts are occurring earlier – instead of starting in middle school, it is starting in grade school where young minds should be focused on learning the intellectual tools of life instead of what is on sale at Hollister.
While most adult women can look back on their teenage years and laugh at such notions of adolescent self consciousness, our future generation of women are going through exactly what we went through – sure, we all had “Heathers” at our respective schools, but now it seems the schools are teaming with “Uber Heathers”, and the media plays on this like a out of tune mandolin. The adulation of celebutantes like Paris Hilton, Lindsey Lohan, Britney Spears, and their ilk can take a devastating toll on what young impressionable teenagers deem appropriate behavior, and the media circus that surrounds these tarts on an hourly basis sends mixed signals to teenage females – no matter how anorexic, rich, spoiled, whorish, dense, or dug addled you are, the public loves you.
Adding to the growing trend of bitchy, spoiled female media hounds are the reprehensible characters seen in movies, reality shows on MTV, and “dramas” on Fox, and the WB. In accordance with the public’s voyeuristic addiction comes a controversial new video game for girls – the mobile based Coolest Girl in School. Emerging as a rpg for teens, the game sets a stage for girls where “stealing, sexual dalliances, drug use and gossiping pave the path to teenage empowerment”. In the game, the objective is to “lie, bitch and flirt your way to the top of the high school ladder”, and the developer, Champagne for the Ladies, is billing their new game as the young woman’s answer to Grand Theft Auto. In the game, the player is encouraged to “experiment with fashion, drugs, sexuality, cutting class and spreading rumors” in an effort to win.
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Champagne for the Ladies states that in the game “teachers exist to be manipulated,” a “looming parent signals potential social death,” new clothes are “procured by stealing from the mall”, and “bribery is an exit strategy for sticky situations”. Coolest Girl in School will not be ready for release until January 2008, but the ongoing testing in Australia has one special interest group up in arms over content it deems “toxic” and “grossly irresponsible.”
“The activities in the game have been shown through vast amounts of research to cause significant, long-term problems for young people,” a spokeswoman for the Australian Family Association told the Daily Telegraph this month. Yet, Holly Owen, creative director of Champagne for the Ladies believes her game is being singled-out .
“We have had a lot of press and, unfortunately the game has been misrepresented in some articles,” says Owen. “It is … a very tongue-in-cheek look at the perils of the quest for cool in high school. Key word: irony!” Owen went on to state that in the game, certain actions that “look cool” like smoking, and using drugs may get the player’s character sent to rehab or have potential love interests turned off by foul-smelling breath – thus bringing the “consequences to your actions” trend that has recently become popular in video games.
Keeping these consequences in mind, Christine Daviault, an expert on female gaming at Montreal’s Concordia University, is not so sure that the target audience will be able to see the “irony” in the game’s intended tone. “I just don’t think most people will see it as tongue-in-cheek,” says Daviault. “(Youth players) are at a crossroads in the formation of their personalities and a game like this basically fosters a warped idea of what constitutes success and how to get it.”
Daviault pushes the point that although Coolest Girl in School might prove to be popular in the short term due to the surrounding controversy and comparisons to GTA, she believes that interest in the game will not survive after the initial shock factor wears off : “The tween and teen girls who don’t already engage in this type of behavior may think it’s an interesting fantasy for a short period of time, but I don’t think it’ll keep their attention for very long,” she says. “For a fantasy to be successful, it needs to make you feel good. And I think this game is too corrosive to have that effect.”
A noted youth media consultant, Anastasia Goodstein, hit the nail on the head when she commented that, “[the game] Sounds a lot like high school. Do girls need to play a game to remind them of high school’s depressing social hierarchy?”
While I can agree with both Goodstein and Daviault on their sentiments regarding the game, I have to disagree with Australian Family Association’s stance on the game. While I tend to agree that “the activities in the game have been shown through vast amounts of research to cause significant, long-term problems for young people”, they are talking about “real life” situations, and although the situations in the video game reflect actual aspects of high school that one will run across, I personally do not believe that a video game would cause any more angst than what teenage girls are already feeling. In a way, it might be the perfect vehicle for these girls to vent their frustrations, get virtual revenge on that mean-spirited bitch that torments their lives on day to day basis, or live out a fantasy as someone that is the total opposite of them. While I do not condone any sort of drug use in adolescents, be it virtual or otherwise and denounce its use in games targeted at anyone below an “M” rated crowd – it is after all, “just a game”. If they would take out the use of said drug references and the option of doing them, or if the developers were to make this an “M” rated game for mature women to revel in – I am sure more people could possibly get on board with the game. The nay-sayers who decry the social ramifications of being the biggest harpy in school need to relax because, like I said, it is “just a game” – but the idea of condoning or encouraging teenage girls to revel in drug use, whether there are consequences in the game or not, is just too controversial for anyone to accept as appropriate for such an impressionable audience.
The developers have yet to announce what the consequences of being a square, nice, bargain basement shopper are, so until then, I think everyone needs to relax and hope that they take out the “drug use” aspect of the game if they plan to market Coolest Girl in School to teenagers instead of adults. Expect JT to be on this one like hotcakes at a homeless shelter before too long – in the meantime, parents need to step up to the plate and try and quell the need to “fit in at all costs” that infects our young girls so that our future generations will grow up to be responsible, adult women who embrace our female differences, instead of ridiculing them. They need to teach them that the air-headed tarts they see on TV are the minority, not the majority and that women of all shapes, sizes, and social class are just as wonderful as the other – and it is okay to be just as aggressive as a man as long as you maintain your sense of morality, dignity, and self-respect.