Saturday, July 21, 2007

Things my mother never taught me

I have to admit to being such a bad mom, that I sometimes use the TV and internet as a babysitter. One morning, when I really, really wanted to finish reading my book, I let Iris use my laptop to surf the web. (I set up the iBook with her own profile and put a few approved websites on her bookmark bar.) She decided to see what's new at Barbie.com as it has been a while since she last visited.

In general, I am not keen on Barbie anything. But she can only play the PBSkids games so long and I discovered that the YouTube cute animal videos are not necessarily kidsafe. (But that is a whole 'nother story and we won't go into that now.) She decorates and redecorates the virtual bedroom in Barbie world and doesn't bother me about redecorating her real room. I can go along with that.

She asked me to come read something on screen so she could continue. That's odd, I don't recall that ever happening before. What does it say onscreen? She read something about how she has to be thirteen or else have a parent sign her in. Since when did kids have to sign in to Barbie.com?

Guess who just launched the fastest-growing virtual world ever? (Link goes to Scientific American blog entry about this.)

The site is not that easy to find for aging eyes. If you type in barbie.com, you will be redirected to http://barbie.everythinggirl.com/

It is a visually rich (or cluttered) entry page. Notice midway on the right, there is a link for Parents in a font that I can easily read. It doesn't mention the virtual world at all.

How did Iris get to the password-protected part of the site? Look up at the very top to the moving banner bar. In font about half the height of the Parents link, you will see links to Barbie, My Scene and Polly Pockets.

What's this new link, Pixel Chix? I visited the site and looked at the FAQs for PixelChix.com.
Q: What is the goal of play in the Pixel Chix™ Love to Shop™ Mall?

A: The main goal of play in the Pixel Chix™ Love to Shop™ Mall is to work and earn money, and then use the money to buy fun things. Each Pixel Chix™ pal can work and shop in any of the 4 available stores. Every time you buy a new item, you unlock new animations/games that will play when you select that item in the money/stuff screen. There are also games that you can play with your Pixel Chix™ Love to Shop™ Mall pal just for fun while she is shopping. These games can be played by pushing the smiley-face button (fun button) while shopping in any store.
It goes on in horrifying detail.
Mall FAQs:

* What is the goal of play in the Pixel Chix™ Love to Shop™ Mall?
* Are there levels of play in the Pixel Chix™ Love to Shop™ Mall?
* How does my Pixel Chix™ Love to Shop™ Mall pal earn money while working?
* How does my Pixel Chix™ Love to Shop™ Mall pal go shopping?
* What happens if my Pixel Chix™ Love to Shop™ Mall pal does not have enough money to buy something?
* How does my Pixel Chix™ Love to Shop™ Mall pal access things she has purchased?
* How does my Pixel Chix™ Love to Shop™ Mall pal play games?
* How do I make one Pixel Chix™ Love to Shop™ Mall pal go from her Pixel Chix™ Love to Shop™ Mall to an adjoining Pixel Chix™ Love to Shop™ Mall?
* How do I make the Pixel Chix™ Love to Shop™ Mall pal leave the Pixel Chix™ Love to Shop™ Mall and return to the Pixel Chix™ House?
* Can I connect my Pixel Chix™ Love to Shop™ Mall to a Pixel Chix™ Car and have them visit?
* Why aren't both pals shown in the Pixel Chix™ Love to Shop™ Mall when I call a pal into a Mall from another Mall or Pixel Chix™ House?
My drug regimen is nauseating enough, but I just about tossed my cookies when I read this.

NO! NO! NO! I do not give my permission. You do not teach my daughter that the point of life is to fritter away her life force to earn money to buy frivolous stuff that she doesn't even need. The point of life is not to be a "good little consumer". Advertisers has a different goal for our lives than we do. But I didn't discuss that with Iris. I wasn't ready for that discussion.

Instead, we had a little discussion about websites that put cookies on your computer and which ones we should avoid. I didn't go into the ubiquity of cookies because I don't know how to explain the nuances of when cookies are acceptable and when they are not.

My mother did not explain any of this to me she didn't need to. Advertising did not reach as deeply into our lives 30 years ago. Also, we didn't have this technology in the home yet.

Aside:
Notice I said in the home. This technology is older than commonly believed. It just wasn't in use outside of a few research labs. Markup languages that preceeded html had been invented decades before Barbie.com. I grew up on the fringes of what is now known as Silicon Valley and my father worked at a national lab. As a tween, I had a programmable calculator and my sister and I shared a home computer. On Family Days at the lab, I recall using a networked computer to play a game where I had to try to guess if there was a human or a computer program on the other end.

Links:
I was caught unprepared for the birds and the bees discussion as well.
MPAA Rating and Parental Complacency
Kathleen at Fashion Incubator explains Why Barbie dumped Ken

Addendum:
It appears that the virtual world mentioned in the Scientific American link is Barbie Girls, http://www.barbiegirls.com/home.html while I had stumbled upon Pixel Chix, http://pixelchix.everythinggirl.com/us/home/

The introduction for Barbie Girls is even more disturbing. The girls earn "Viva" a form of currency, by playing games or watching movies at the "cinema". I interpret that to mean watching commercials and helping them gather marketing data on girls' preferences.

I still haven't figured out how Iris got to Barbie Girls the other morning. She might have heard about it through viral marketing and typed in the url on her own. She learned about Webkinz and Club Penguin from other girls.

1 comment:

  1. UM games like PixelChix taught me that if I want something then I have to work for it excuse me

    Also we didn't rate the ads at the cinema or anything, so it was less collecting-marketing-data than applying-marketing-data

    ReplyDelete