I Love My Game Developer Barbie

The last time I had gotten a Barbie was so long ago, I had forgotten how eerie and strange her figure is.

When pop culture decides to not only recognise my industry as not just a strange sub-culture but a thing worth making into such an iconic toy — a female doll on top of that, I'm the first one to buy it.

When Mattel revealed the Game Developer Barbie back in January, the internet lost its mind. The excitement over this release has been huge all over my social media feeds, a feed which features quite a bunch of people just like me: Female Game Developers.

Image: Supplied

However, with every new wave of empowerment for women in the industry there is a push back. The experience of the Game Developer Barbie has already been linked with the day to day culture a female Developer has to face before even hitting the shelves.

Game Developer Barbie has faced her fair share of criticism. Just like for real female developers, Barbie has had to battle the regular stereotypes around women in games: “crappy” casual games, accusations of being “not a real gamer” and people being critical of her looks or sense of fashion.

You may wonder why a single doll could make such a big difference. Let me tell you, it does. For many reasons.

When I was a young teenager, games were a huge part of my life. They always have been and I can’t remember a time when I didn’t play them. One may think this — paired with a talent for art, storytelling and design — would automatically lead me to a career in game development however — at the time — that wasn't the case. When I was younger, video games were still seen as a hobby for lonely boys. We have known for years that this is not true. I graduated from a private college with a Bachelor’s degree in Game Design and Development as their first batch of students in 2011 after coming across this career path by pure accident in a magazine in 2009. My course started out with 24 students of which 5 were female. Only 4 of us actually graduated.

Now, in 2016, university courses for Game Development and game theory can be found all over Australia and the world. For the first time in history, students have the unique chance to learn how to make games from people who have worked in this industry for years before them.

Image: Supplied

While I don’t make “crappy casual games” - whatever that means - I am an indie developer who has worked on eight released titles to date in various departments, currently working for a game called Objects in Space. I can safely reassure you: the representation on the packaging of this Game Developer Barbie is quite on point!

The back of the packaging is a fairly accurate representation of what Game Developers do. It mentions all kinds of different aspects of development, unfortunately leaving out my own profession — Game Design. However, this also is a pretty close representation of my real life experience. If done well, game design is usually invisible to the audience. The packaging definitely gets plus points for also mentioning table-top developers, who are often a forgotten species among us!

Image: Supplied

Walk into any game development office and you’ll most certainly see this. Chinese fast food and coffee is pretty much what sustains game developers. We cling to such luxuries when trying to get through the widely dreaded crunch.

Image: Supplied

My personal admiration goes out to the flow chart above the screen, which is one of the best tools Game Designers have for a whole lot of systems. Flow charts for screens, flow charts for conversations, flow charts for skill chains, flow charts for level progression. You can not ever have enough flow charts in a Game Designer’s life.

For everybody who still has doubts, I think you should see this photo of me and this Barbie, after I decided to increase her resemblance to a real Game Developer.

Because who wouldn’t want a miniature-version of themselves with eerily long legs? Turning a heavily-criticised cultural icon into something that I and others can identify with and is a great way to encourage more women to get into game development — something the industry sorely needs.

So why does this doll matter, you ask? The connection is simple: if I had a Game Developer Barbie when I was young, I could’ve aspired to contribute to the world of games from a young age instead of happening upon it by accident as an adult.

If Game Developer Barbie had been around when I was growing up, maybe my family wouldn’t keep asking me what this strange job is that I’m doing and if it actually pays my bills? Maybe I would’ve been less alienated by the heavily biased tropes of play-kitchens and house-wife Barbies? Maybe the world would know more about the wonderful industry I’m in, with all its quirks and flaws? Maybe I would’ve seen a doll that was just like me?

Representation in media and pop culture is hugely influential for our lives. Showing young children and especially girls that there are possibilities for them in male-dominated careers may change their lives for the better. Freedom and happiness heavily relate to making an educated choice, even if it comes in the form of a Barbie doll.


    Terrible. Still no male barbie.

      I'm still waiting for Action Barbie, the greatest heroine of them all, with real karate chopping, roller blading, missile firing, Hitler Ken slapping action.

        I could hear the advertisement in my head from the moment I read Action Barbie...

        If this actually become a thing then it would be awesome.

      He's called Ken.

      There's also Action Man, which was the manly man of dolls. With fuzzy arctic beard and "eagle eyes" creepy looking around feature and zip line and other manly man stuff.

        Hell yeah, I had an Action Man (one of the later ones)

    So all female game developers have red hair, glasses and sweet jackets. I feel the outrage train coming into the station again.

    Last edited 04/07/16 12:53 pm

      Female game developers are meant to look like Barbie, not the other way around. Barbie is a trendsetter, a role model, something to aspire to.

      Which is why all those bitches who don't have a pink car with stickers these days are missing OUT.

    That Barbie would be so easy to mod in to a Kinzie from Saints Row.

    The only thing I don't like about the Game-Dev Barbie (and hence why I didn't try to get one) is that it's not poseable. Would've liked to have had it sitting at a mini-desk.

      I feel theres a dirty 'pose-able' joke in there somewhere.....

    Representation in media and pop culture is hugely influential for our lives. Showing young children and especially girls that there are possibilities for them in male-dominated careers may change their lives for the better.

    That's an interesting topic when talking about Barbie. I remember back when I was a kid there were all sorts of Barbies doing 'men's jobs,' but my sisters and their friends didn't care about them. They didn't really avoid them but I get the impression that careers weren't part of the games they'd play with them.
    I don't think I've ever met a woman who says 'I used to play with [career] Barbie, and that led me to pursue it'. Like I know a nurse who used to play with Barbies but never had any interest in Barbie being anything related to that. The parts of her that made that career appealing were always there but it never translated to her toys. My sisters choices in Barbies didn't really reflect anything about themselves at the time or in the future. Anything about their Barbies that later applied to them seems to be purely co-incidental.
    Maybe my personal experience is just different to the average, but it seems to me that Barbie's choice in career isn't actually influential. Maybe your Barbie's career is like the blood and violence in video games. It's what an outsider observes and draws simple conclusions from but it's not usually a factor for the person playing the game.

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        I read that as "fucking a US Army Officer" and thought that the 80s must have been way different to how I remember if that was considered a man's job then.

    I use to work in game development....I'm a guy and my family never thought it a proper job. If only I got to play with GI dev as a kid??

    I think it's a good thing! No it isn't going to magically change things by itself but it's one more positive main-stream portrayal of woman in games development as being completely normal and acceptable. The ratio of men to woman in games had doubled to something like 76%M : 22%F in 2014 and it's things like this that will keep that ratio getting closer as attitudes continue to change more in the future.

    P.S - I bought one (and a few for me) for my 5yr old daughter today, best price I could find was Myer's who has them for only $9.95 right now!

    Can we get an ITSEC Barbie? Women in ITSEC are unicorns.

    One of the things I miss about working IT in the graphics industry.

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