We recently came across a blog entry decrying a new cell phone game invented by ChampagnefortheLadies. In it girls are invited to “Lie, bitch, flirt your way to the top of the high school ladder” in order to “Become the Coolest Girl in School.” The inventors say, perhaps tongue in cheek, that Coolest Girl in School is Grand Theft Auto for girls. Parents seem to be upset. The blogger we read made some good points, for example, how are 10 year old girls going to get the satire? And how is this different from other video games like Grand Theft Auto? But when I went to the web site, I found something clever and I began to think that a sense of humor about this stuff could really be a saving grace. Here are some PR quotes for the game:
Experiment with fashion! Experiment with drugs! Experiment with your sexuality! Cut class! Spread rumors! But try to avoid dying of embarrassment- literally! (A witty reference to all those “traumorama” or “most embarrassing moments” sections of teen magazines, where girls say they “died of embarrassment” for things like dropping a tampon on the floor or talking to a boy with food in their teeth).
Wardrobe: Fashion totally matters! New friends will share their clothes and you can steal stuff from the mall. (A satire on just how much fashion has come to matter.)
Interrupt: Don't feel like answering a question? Try your luck with one of the four interrupt actions: suck up, give daggers (Australian for dirty looks), bribe or gossip. (Come on, just plain over the top)
Students are labeled according to the sub-culture they subscribe to, teachers exist to be manipulated and parents ensure the constant threat of social death. (The high school experience as found in any PG-13 movie)
This is really tongue and cheek and, well, hysterical. It’s different from the Mean Girls movie which never quite made it to the level of parody because it tried to give a social message –, “Girls. Be nice!” . It's the over the top part that makes it funny-- one way girls can confront the real stuff is to satirize and laugh at it in extreme form.. Experiment with drugs!!! Steal stuff from the mall!!! Suck up or Give Daggers!!! Parents ensure the constant threat of social death!!!
When I wrote to them they said the following.
“Coolest Girl In School is a mobile/cell phone game (not a video game) and was a co-production between my company Champagne for the Ladies and Kukan Studio. Co-producer Karyn Lanthois of Kukan Studio and myself would love to hear your thoughts in regards to our game. Essentially parental protest has turned out to be a good thing for us (although this was initially alarming as none of those up in arms have ever seen it, let alone played it, in Australia at least, parental groups calling to ban the game were doing so a week before a federal election in an attempt to raise their own political profile- context is important to understand here). The debate surrounding our game has been extremely interesting. We find that the moral panic in place of media literacy and critical thinking is a common response.This game is not made to please parents, it’s made to please young women.”
I buy it. And I think they’re two funny women! As Lyn wrote to me, parody may be the best way out of this mess, given that so many well-meaning folks keep reinstating the “girls better be supernice” message to combat all the “mean girl” stuff, instead of asking “wassamatter with this culture that sets girls against each other?”
My response to Champagne for the Ladies was a bit of marketing advice: Don’t pit parents against girls by saying that parents are old fuddy duddies who don’t understand this is a joke, but keep explaining to all, "IT'S A JOKE!!! ASK ANY GIRL! THEY KNOW WE"RE MAKING FUN OF A STEREOTYPE OF HIGH SCHOOL LIFE!!!" Then they would be selling the game not because of protest that makes it falsely "bad for girls" but because girls and their parents "get it.”
And after all, the problem is not really with such games, or even with movies like Mean Girls. The problem is the erosion of the boundary between childhood and adolescence so that preteen girls think all things “teen” apply to them. A ten year old daughter probably won't get the satire, but she also probably won't own a cell phone. Our advice to parents with daughters younger than 13-years-old is if they can’t get the satire, don’t get the game. On the other hand, as we write in our book, instead of saying “no” it might be better to just talk about it and explain the joke! If she says, “but that’s the way school really is”, you can say, “Yeah, and it’s so ridiculous, sometimes you just gotta laugh at it!”