Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Pixel Chix (Tamagotchi x Barbie) - ludic aspects and gender issues

I saw an advertisement for the Pixel Chix toy (and that's how it looks like).

(Manufacturer's Description):

Pixel Chix pal is a 2-D Girl Living in a 3-D World, (...) Using the input buttons on the fashionable, handheld house, help your Pixel Chix pal decide all kinds of things(...) Your Pixel Chick pal will talk to you and tell you what she wants. She'll tell you if she's happy (or not!) about the choices you make. There are five levels of play. At each new level accumulate more choices of foods, fashions, games and places to go! The more you play, the more stuff you get but if you ignore your Pixel Chix pal, the more stuff you lose! Connect two houses together and then the Pixel Chix pals can visit or have a party!

It sounds like a good idea, and my guess is that it could not only sell quite a lot, but also get a series of dedicated studies in electronic toys and gender representation.

The reason i am saying that is because I am not quite sure if girls interact with dolls in the same way as with virtual pets. When playing tamagochi or nintendogs, the user is quite aware of his presence as a provider. On the other hand, dolls and figure actions have a more, say, 'proactive personality' during play. It's like they have a mind of their own, and make things for themselves through the player. In a way, it's like playing a 3rd person game instead of a god game (which is more applicable to virtual pets).

There is another fundamental difference: virtual pets and their behavior are nurtured and maintained with whatever tools and resources implemented by the designer. Dolls, however, can behave and have pretty much anything the player imagines. So while Tamagotchis have their lives very much structured inside quite narrow boundaries, Barbies can do the most different and unusual things.

My fear is that when you have the functional aspects of virtual pets embodied in a doll (or a dollhouse to be more precise), you end up having the designer's vision as a definitive statement on the life of those characters and whom they represent. In this particular case, you might never see the Pixel Chix going to the army, a church or a demonstration (just to give some really bad examples). For a user, it might fell like playing with dolls that live in a really constrained universe. Of course, children are quite smart, and I don't think that they will think that everything a young woman does is contained in the Pixel Chix set of activities, or that they have to be kept alive and happy by an external provider. Still, because of issues like these, the crossover between dolls (or action figures) and virtual pets should get some attention.

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Copyright, Chico Queiroz