Guest Post: Disney City Girl – Delusions of Grandeur and Reinforcing the Same Old Stereotypes?

This week, I’m excited to present cheeesetoastieandvideogames’ very first guest blogger post by the ever awesome and talented Simpleek! She’s written an interesting piece on the game Disney City Girl that I’d like to share with you guys and that I think you’ll enjoy. For more great articles by Simpleek, check out her blog here. She writes about a wide range of geeky things such as video games, manga and anime, as well as fashion, so chances are you’ll find something to suit your tastes! You can also follow her on Twitter for additional musings on the games industry and more entertaining tidbits, including frequently detailed discussions about pies.

We know girls game. This is hardly news, though, some would have you thinking otherwise. When we think of girl gamers, we aren’t talking about girls who play games based on Hello Kitty or Barbie. We play Halo, Gears of War, or any other “dude targeted” games you can think of. We like them. We like to think we have come a long way since the days of girl gamers having just games consisting of the cutesy and pretty variety. Imagine my surprise when I encountered Disney City Girl. Instead of attempting to break away from the usual stereotypes, we seem to play right back into them.

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From Playdom, Disney City Girl is an online game, like the Sims game, but targeted for women. The basic premise of the story is you are a small town girl who is newly graduated from college. You are looking for a change. Being completely doe-eyed, fresh faced, and innocent, you plan on making your change in the big city. Which big city, you ask? Where else? New York City, the city that never sleeps and the place for dreamers and artists.

The opening sequence of the game has your character stating a very overused saying everybody knows all too well, “If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.” For the purposes of this post, I played a little bit of the game on Facebook. Not a game I usually care to play with, not even to come back to on a casual basis, but I can’t fully write out what my reaction to this game is without trying it. Don’t call this a review of the game, but more like an analysis of what this game offers to the targeted audience.

After the opening sequence, you are immediately greeted by a perfectly coiffed, Blake Lively type of girl named Jenna who is your best friend and intro into the world of City Girl. You get to customize your avatar however you want her to look, such as hair, eyes, makeup, and race. You even get to choose your starter outfit from the default options, but to sweeten the pot a little bit, Jenna takes you on your first New York City shopping trip to add more variety to your wardrobe! Exciting stuff, huh?

You’re both tired and come back to your apartment from a long day of shopping, but Jenna points out you’re running low on cash. This means you have to be a big girl now and get a big girl job. Where do you begin? Filling out applications? Sending thousands of resumes to companies online? How about none of those! Conveniently, a connection of Jenna’s hooks you up with a job. The first two options you have to decide between are fashion designer or chef. Later on in the game, you’ll be able to unlock two other additional professions, such as book author or musician. I guess these are the only professions we have available in good old New York City, right? Right…

I chose to have my avatar become a chef in training. I am then told how I have an exciting opportunity to be under the training of a world renown female chef. If I want to become a sous chef, an important position to have in the culinary world, I have to pay my dues by doing the slog work before I can hit super prominence right next to this super amazing chef. I start off by washing dishes, mopping floors, and busking tables until I finally earn the respect I need to finally do some actual cooking.

In the course of pursuing your dream, you’re fostering your friendships with Jenna or anyone else on your Facebook who happens to play this game. Like the Sims system, you have to cater to your avatar’s basic needs, like bathing, hygiene, eating, leisure pursuits, etc. As you gain enough money, you can keep buying better clothes for your avatar and better furniture for your tiny studio apartment. I’ll be honest, I haven’t bothered to go any further with this game. I got tired after going back and forth between making my avatar climb steadily in the ranks of the culinary world and trying to foster a better relationship with Jenna, as she is the only “friend” I have.

There are some problems with this game, and it isn’t because I’m bored to tears with it. Okay, maybe that’s part of it too. What bothers me is how this game falls back into the tried and true stereotypes about women. Why is it the only careers women seem to want are a chef, fashion designer, author, or musician? I’m not saying these are bad careers. Hell, I wish I can be a best-selling author or well-known writer altogether. The point is, there are other professions, like being a teacher, doctor, lawyer, scientist, politician––whatever you can name.

Are other professions, aside from the default ones you have in the game, less glamorous? Is it because these girls cannot do any other professions unless they are wearing cute little outfits while doing them? It’s hard to say, but the preset professions they give you are incredibly hard to obtain. Your avatar is also a girl living alone in what can be described as a studio sized apartment in New York City. Seriously, don’t make me laugh. I can tell you one thing, rent is not cheap in the city, let alone in Manhattan, which I’m pretty sure is where your avatar and her friends are living in. If you are living in New York, you will need at least two or three roommates to make up a month’s rent. There is subsidized housing complexes, where rent is more affordable, but your application to qualify and to be selected is lottery based. If this were reality, I wish you luck, Miss Doe-Eyes, in your search for affordable places to live on your own.

The entire game is a fantasy where all the girls are beautiful, fashionable, and can live the glamorous city life while “struggling” in the process. Believe me, I’ve struggled post-college to land a start in my chosen career and it certainly isn’t like the one portrayed in this game. Considering this game came out in a post-recession world, I can’t see how this girl will realistically survive.

My avatar makes it insanely easy to be able to live alone in a modest apartment, has a friend who easily connects her with a job upon moving to the city, and if I finished the game, she’d probably be head chef of her own restaurant after one year of playing second fiddle to the top chef and she’ll be living in a mansion on Long Island with her drop dead gorgeous husband who is a surgeon. Who’s delusional now?

Another thing that bothers me about this game is how the only interest your avatar and your friends have is going shopping. Whether it’s shopping for cute clothes or furniture to furnish the apartment, this seems to be the only thing your avatar has going for her. You live in New York City. Do you know what you have access to? Art, culture, restaurants, bookstores, and theaters! You are honestly telling me you have no interest in taking advantage of these things? I thought you left your small town life just so you can live a more exciting life. You really disappoint me, Miss Doe-Eyes. Besides, where are you getting the money to shop for all of this? A rich daddy? Shouldn’t you be spending less time looking “dazzling” and more time on saving money for the basic necessities like food, rent, and bills?

I’ve read a few articles about the game, where supposedly the target audience for City Girl is for the twenty-somethings set. It also has been dubbed a “Sex and the City” style game, but a much cleaner version of it with the Disney stamp of approval behind it. I don’t know how many twenty-something women will be playing this game, but one article I read pointed out that this game may more than likely attract the tweens and teens set. This I can actually see happening. However, this game does not set a great example at all.

City Girl sets the bar incredibly high for girls who think it’s so easy to gain success in whatever it is you pursue. I’m not saying you can’t pursue what you want and not succeed. I’m an example of someone who has pursued what she wants to do and is finally seeing some favorable progress on the road to success. I can’t say I’m 100% there, but I’m getting there. But easy? Not even close. I’ve dealt with the blood, sweat, and tears of trying to prove myself a thousand times over. I’ve been rejected, told I wasn’t good enough, and I’ve been sidetracked for the sake of surviving and earning money.

What the game fails to show players is you will have to do more in life than just wash a couple of dishes and busk tables. Disney City Girl needs an injection of reality. Yes, the game is meant to be escapist, but it should be within reason. If teens and tweens play this game, they should be encouraged to pursue their dreams, but to be prepared to have to deal with a lot to get there. There also shouldn’t be an assumption that every girl likes shopping and every girl wants to be a fashion designer. If girls rather spend time reading books than shopping, then show her going to the library to improve her mind. Is she a theater geek? Show her spending some time catching that Off-Broadway show she read about in the paper. There are other perfectly fine professions and interests out there, and they can be pursued with as much dazzle and style this game seems to try to project onto its players.

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8 responses to “Guest Post: Disney City Girl – Delusions of Grandeur and Reinforcing the Same Old Stereotypes?

  1. I love this post! Like you pointed out, it seems ridiculous to me that this game was supposedly made for 20-something women. This is going to appeal to young teens, and it doesn’t sound like a healthy example of what it is to be a young career woman in a big city.

    Also, it’s interesting hearing this from someone with an awesome blog dedicated to gaming as well as fashion. That just goes to show that there’s nothing wrong with being well-rounded and enjoying femininity, etc… but there is definitely something wrong with expecting women to be perfect and subtly hinting that the only suitable careers for women are ones where they can look pretty doing them, as you mentioned.

    Anyway, I also really like what you said about how you’ve been pursuing your own career, and the ups and downs with that… because I can totally relate! You summed it up really well. Great post all around. =)

    • I’m so glad you enjoyed reading the article! 🙂 Playing the game for those few minutes I put into it just for this post left me with a lot of bad feelings. I mean, I did like customizing my avatar and the clothes they created for the avatar was fun to browse through and think what she would wear.

      But at the end of the day, the message this entire game seems to convey left a bad taste in my mouth. For a game that’s obviously a fantasy, I couldn’t suspend my disbelief at all to get into it. I think it’s because I’ve been through the experience of struggling to chase after the career I want. This game just says, “Everything will be handed to you on a silver platter with zero hardships.” It’s not an idea you want to plant in a young girl’s head. Reality is harsh, but you have to find the strength to deal with a lot to get to the success you want. This also means making a lot of hard decisions along the way.

      The limiting career options in the game was definitely unsettling. I’m a full on girly girl who likes to wear pink, look dressed up, or whatever! However, just because I’m the typical ultra feminine girl does not mean the only career I want is to be a fashion designer. That notion is ridiculous. It’s like saying because I’m super feminine, I won’t be into video games or comics. These aren’t stereotypes we should be enforcing at all.

      Anyhow, I really went on too long with this comment. Sorry about that! 😛

  2. Nice post! It’s sad that this game sounds not only incredibly boring but offensive. The stereotype that ‘all women love shopping’ has always bothered me because from a young age I hated shopping. Depictions like these make females appear superficial – the only thing that matter in the world of the game is spending money on looking good. But not only does the game perpetuate negative stereotypes about women – it also reinforces the idea that media made for women are automatically bad. And it’s a shame this game is made for women in their twenties – it insults our intelligence, in my opinion.

    • Thanks! It really is sad that there are still games like this one that doesn’t do much to break down these stereotypes. They keep playing it up when these assumptions are horribly erroneous.

      As you said, you hate shopping, and this game apparently is saying you should love shopping. It’s practically in our DNA if we want to believe what this game is saying.

      You bring up an interesting point, “media made for women are automatically bad.” I agree with this statement. Almost anything targeted for women is written off as fluffy, sentimental, and shouldn’t be taken seriously. When you have games like City Girl, it’s easy for others not to take media made for women seriously. It’s seen as a joke. If more developers focused on something smarter, and less like City Girl, we can finally get rid of these tired and overly done stereotypes. I would love to see more games that depict strong and realistic women. Not these empty headed dimwits in City Girl.

  3. Being a female in my thirties who has played video games since Atari was originally cool I’ve always hated “stereotypical” female gamer stuff. I love Zelda, I play Halo and I’m about to play Borderlands. I’ve played pretty much any genre you can think of. However, I have to disagree with this article. I had absolutely no interest in playing Disney City Girls at all until one day in a sleep deprived haze at three in the morning I said what the Hell and clicked on it. I have always had a lack of interest in shopping and honestly I don’t care about what people think about the way I dress. Today I wore a tank top and my pajama shorts all day with my hair tied in a knot. I figured the game was just something to kill time until I could fall asleep or what not. That was a few weeks ago and now I’m level 26 and almost done with my first profession and all of the side quests including the trip to Venice. It was mentioned in this article about how the game shows that girls only like shopping and they’re in NYC there’s so much more like art, culture, ect… There is mention of these things in the various quests you have to do. It ranges from going to the opera to Broadway and even, as mentioned before, a trip to Venice. The Venice trip even talks about various parts of art and the difference in culture. You even have a “guide” named Marco that gives you information about Venice. The article also mentioned about how there are more careers out there than the few you have to choose from as well as how there’s all the glamour and cute outfits. Well, it’s a game on Facebook… a social networking site. The game probably wouldn’t be played as often or make nearly as much money if the girls we’re appealing to the eye. You can buy professional clothing as well as athletic apparel, ‘costumes’, party/nightlife designs and of course the cutesy outfits that were mentioned in the article. My toon wears a long sleeve, non revealing shirt, a black straight skirt that goes down to about her knees and flats for her professional garb. None of the outfit is that appealing to me, but I know if I dress professionally I make more money on my jobs. My point is I don’t think enough credit was given to this game. Although it is a fantasy world with how things just fall into place for your character, I still think the game has potential for teaching various things to people. They include promoting artistic creativity from both putting outfits together as well as how to decorate your apartment. To me this is important. Decorating your apartment, oddly enough, can also teach or sharpen space management skills. Time management as well as money management and multitasking can also be taught or improved by this game. I think sometimes people get so focused on a stereotype for a game even though they believe that they’re go into testing out the game with an opened mind the verdict was made before the game was ever played. Already having a jaded point of view on something, whether you realize it or not, will keep you from seeing potential good in anything.

    My apologies for any strange sentences or typos it’s nearly four in the morning and my brain isn’t functioning at it’s peak. Also no offense is meant by this post. We are all entitled to our own opinions of things and my opinion just happens to differ from that of the blogger that wrote the article. =)

    • I appreciate you taking the time to write your own thoughts and views about the game. I respect all people who give their opinion on the matter, even if it doesn’t agree with mine. 🙂

      I admit, I lost interest in the game before really investing more time on it. I was more focused on what the game represented on the surface without thinking maybe there is more to it than what meets the eye.

      I have played a similar game like this on Facebook, but I forget what the name of it was. I spent more time on it than this game, but it had a similar set up of completing tasks and having your character dressed up in cute outfits. Eventually, I was bored with it and got rid of the game from my Facebook.

      Considering I haven’t given more time to City Girl like you have, I can’t argue against the points you made in favor of the game. I don’t doubt you are right and it is all the things you have said. However, it comes down to City Girl not being a game for me. If you or anyone else think this game is deeper than what I believe it to be, then play what you enjoy!

      At the end of the day, what one person may think is a terrible game, another may find it to be the most enjoyable game they have played in a long time. That’s what matters––playing what you want to play.

  4. Not a bad post. But, to be fair, you really didn’t get far enough into the game. Yes, it’s unrealistic and totally made to be glamorous. Last time I checked, it wasn’t a crime to want to get away from real life struggles and indulge in another ‘life’ where things were a lot easier. Granted, shopping IS the only ‘real’ thing you can do, but there are other options. Quests are constantly popping up that require your character to do different tasks. There was a New Years Resolution quest that revolved around maintaining a healthy diet and staying fit. There’s a quest for Martin Luther King Jr. Day and bringing hope/inspiration to people. There are tasks required to help other people, do volunteer work, and interact with neighbors. There were also quests about visiting museums, reading up on history, running marathons, participating in cultural activities, going to an opera, etc. However, you wouldn’t know that because you were too bored from the beginning. Which is understandable. Tastes vary. However, you can’t be too quick to judge. Additionally, they released a new job in the game. This one – an Environmental Scientist. So, perhaps they DO target a good amount of positive aspects. It’s also easy to say that everything in this game is ‘fluffy’ and ‘girly’, but after at that IS the target audience. I highly doubt they’d be sitting down and saying ‘How do we appeal to women? OH yes! Monster trucks, football, wrestling, etc. Make them do that!’ In the end, things are bound to get somewhat stereotypical. But then again, aren’t all of those games that come out that are targeting men? With all of their zombies, car races, and wars? But I don’t see too many people complaining about that. Some games are overly ‘manly’ and some are ‘girly’. Perhaps there are girly girls who will enjoy this game. I am not an overly ‘fluffy’ girl but I don’t have any problems with playing this. It’s a good time killer, I can get my occasional fashion-cravings out of the way with shopping I’d never afford in real life, and in the end.. It’s JUST A GAME. It’s not meant to mimic life as well as possible.

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