Today in social game heteronormativity: Crowdstar’s It Girl

A UI image from It Girl, with the header title "Get a boyfriend'. The text then says "The man of your dreams is out there waiting for you..go get him! Plus, once you start dating he'll give you SO many nice gifts!". There are rewards for completing this quest.

Facebook games are pretty synonymous with heteronormativity.  Most games attempt to appeal to women with feminine themes, plenty of “cute”, and the color pink wherever possible.  Women are the main audience of Facebook games and they spend the most money in these games.  In almost all of these games, they presume that the player is straight and interested in relationships with the opposite sex.

It Girl is a game released in 2010 by Crowdstar, one of the major social gaming giants.  In It Girl, you have a female avatar that represents you that collects clothing in order to increase style points and XP to win parties, complete quests, and unlock new locations.  If you’re not into fashion much, you probably wouldn’t enjoy the game.  It’s been awhile since I played it, and when I logged in today I noticed that the game now features “boyfriends”.

Getting a boyfriend involves going to parties and looking for the man of your dreams.  When you see him, you can click on him and “flirt”, which will tell you if you have what it takes.  All of the men I flirted with required me to have more friends who play It Girl, so I wasn’t social enough to get a boyfriend.  Getting a boyfriend is a core part of the game, because it fulfills your trifecta: Your car, your house, and your boyfriend.  Life complete. The benefit to having a boyfriend?  He gives you gifts.

So here we have the forced sexual orientation upon players, since you can only choose a female avatar and you can only pick a boyfriend and not a girlfriend.  It Girl also reinforces negative stereotypes as the woman being a “gold digger” seeking out men for the material rewards they provide.  What girl doesn’t want a man of their dreams to buy them things, give them attention, and spend money on them, after all?  I can think of many girls and women, actually.

About Tami Baribeau

Lead Editor and co-founder of The Border House, feminist, gamer, lover of social media, technology, and virtual worlds. Pansexual, equestrian, dog lover, social game studio director and producer. Email me here and follow me on Twitter!
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11 Responses to Today in social game heteronormativity: Crowdstar’s It Girl

  1. Glarrett says:

    It’s a shame that casual games, which are supposed to be designed for a wider audience, often include material that makes many players excluded. It’s an even bigger shame that, as the article points out, many (but not all) of the women in my life would love to have a real life, archetypal material-providing boyfriend as presented by the one in the game.

    I certainly don’t think the concept of finding a partner who provides for you disagreeable, but utilizing borderline offensive gender roles as a game play mechanic is a big disappointment.

  2. Seg says:

    To note, Farmville allows for same-sex marriages and children in these messages. AJ of GamePro helped to discover this.

  3. Dblade says:

    Well, problem though is that the majority of the target audience wouldn’t mind the boyfriend aspect. I think you may want to make a stronger case for designing for potentially 10% or less of your audience as opposed to targeting them directly. Wouldn’t it be better to make a lgbt it girl clone, since you can target more specifically to lgbt aspects of life, rather than tacking it on to a product whose majority audience is not really going to care about it?

    • Dani says:

      Because fashion, cars and houses aren’t part of LGBT lifestyles? It seems to me like if they’re going to have a mechanism for a significant other in the game it should be pretty easy to offer you SOs of either gender. Telling any non-hetero players to just go play a different game is a lazy solution.

    • EmmyG says:

      As I understand them, these are social games that are designed around getting as many of your friends to share the experience with you as possible, in order to get rewards. It’s beneficial to them to be inclusive, and shunting minority players off somewhere else is NOT an equal solution.

      Also on a purely practical level it’s much easier for them to add a ‘girlfriend’ option (a few new graphics, some pronoun changes, voila!) than to write an entirely different game; faced with the suggestion of writing an entirely different game they’d almost certainly not bother.

      It’s not like this is a game with deep story elements that can meaningfully tackle different life issues (as I understand it. I haven’t played!)

      • bubez says:

        I played it and confirm it’s not filled with deep story elements. “Story” is irrilevant (non-existant?), just a sort of trait d’union between shopping and ‘battles’ and shopping and shopping (and shopping). Collctibles. Exclusive collectibles.

        “It Girl” is one of the best Facebook games I’ve tried out recently (uhrrr, Playboy Party anyone?).
        It has certainly the problems Cuppycake wrote about.
        I have to say it’s the only ‘big’ game from 2010 (from this list: http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/31923/Gamasutras_Best_Of_2010_Top_5_Facebook_Social_Games.php) that works on my old computer without crashing the browser or filling up every bit of RAM. But if you switch to low quality graphics, every piece of text becomes unreadable.
        One good thing is that is not as invasive as other games when asking to buy something with real world money (=Facebook currency). It does not trick you with a messy interface, not even to invite your friends.
        “If you’re not into fashion much, you probably wouldn’t enjoy the game.” I disagree. I’m not into fashion neither I can identify myself with avatar and its objectives (boyfriends, clothes, overwhelming others), but I found the game enjoyable.

        Dark aspect:
        Even if it presents no physical violence (that’s good), I’m wondering about the consequences of the psychological violence (showdowns results are determined by coolness/exclusivity of your clothes + the size of your clique, the rich female bullying equivalent?) since the game is clearly targeted to young girls.

        Question:
        Are there any GLBT specifically targeted games on Facebook or other popular platforms (MySpace, Newgrounds, Kongregate, etc etc)?

  4. Ultraviolet says:

    Ouch. That’s just screwed up. Like it’d cost a lot to have a girlfriend option, e.g. Frontierville.

    And yes facebook games are full of villes and adding an insult to injury – none of them are the cute Finnish variety.

  5. Cinnabar says:

    Haha! I was JUST playing this a week back and thinking, “This would make for GREAT article-fodder for Border House. I should tell them about it.” XD

    I also love (and by “love”, I mean “spit at in rage”) the way you get to interact with other girls in the game: you can either add friends to your “clique” or you *fight them* to become “the most popular girl at the party”. And your fighting stats? “Hotness”. Yup. You buy equips- I mean *clothes* to increase your hotness points and if your hotness is higher than your opponents, you deal more damage to their “confidence” and you win.

    If this game existed in a cultural vaccuum, it would be no big deal. But we have enough unrelentingly toxic messages telling girls to value nothing about themselves but their physical attractiveness and engage in unhealthy competition with each other to get patriarchy’s stamp of approval. This game just doesn’t help. At all.

    I think a game that does it better (from what little I’ve played so far) is Totally Spies Fashion Agents (http://www.facebook.com/TotallyspiesFashionagents). You have clothes and a home as well as training in a gym, solving mysteries, beating up on bad guys and rescuing male and female kidnap victims. It’s still unfortunately heteronormative though (as far as I saw) so that sucks.

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