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Nintendo Girls Club—a hub of fashion, cuteness, and mixed messages
04.15.14

Nintendo Girls Club—a hub of fashion, cuteness, and mixed messages

Nintendo is the family-friendly modern game company. Nearly everything it does matches that image. The 2DS is made for young children and budget-savvy parents. The Wii U is a practical choice for households that don’t want one person hogging the television when Suburgatory is on. Mario and gang are all age-appropriate for dad, mom, and the kids.

So when it introduces a YouTube channel called Nintendo Girls Club, few bat an eye. Only the ladies of Kill Screen aren’t so sure. Stephanie Carmichael, Brittany Vincent, Kelly Burke, and Kelsey Sidwell watched the videos—from ordinary game trailers to bedroom rants with hosts Jorgie Porter and Mandy—and pooled their thoughts together in a roundtable. Is this club for girls a good thing, or is Nintendo living in the stone age?

Stephanie: It's probably not the most feminist thing to say, but the idea of a Nintendo Girls Club really excites me. Arguably any attempt at giving young women more of a voice in games is good.

Still, there's a dark cloud that hovers over things like this. Growing up, I never wanted developers to make games for girls, and I never thought about the way games were marketed. I wanted to play in the boys' club and be welcomed and accepted, not have everything change for me. Although looking back, a lot of the games I gravitated to were ones that might be more attractive to girls: games that are story-driven, that have good characters and adventures—the same sort of games featured in Nintendo Girls Club, like Animal Crossing and Luigi's Mansion 2.

So anything that's marketed "for girls" is usually seen as inherently negative. Developers don't know how to do it because, well, they're mostly male. And I don't think a lot of women care for this sort of thing because most of us never asked for it. Why can't we just have a Nintendo Club that welcomes boys and girls? But as much as I think Nintendo Girls Club is a step up from the DS days of pink handhelds bundled with Nintendogs and Cats, a possibly bigger problem here is that the videos sound like one big promotion for Nintendo. The actresses don't sound like real people having real conversations, so if this fails, I'm not sure it'll be because of gender issues as much as how Nintendo chose to approach the channel.

The actresses don't sound like real people having real conversations so if this fails, I'm not sure it'll be because of gender issues as much as how Nintendo chose to approach the channel.

Brittany: I'm a little less excited about the idea than Stephanie is, but only because I knew before checking out the channel how the videos would play out. Nintendo tends to paint themselves into a corner when it comes to handling "delicate" situations such as gender when it comes to videogames and what should be marketed to whom, especially when it comes to the campaigns I've seen so often in the UK. It's not so much that these videos are inherently a bad idea, but once again they've resorted to games like Animal CrossingStyle Savvy, and Mario to spread the gospel that "girls game, too."

I don't find these women believable or relatable, and each "video" and "conversation" feels more like a paid commercial for Nintendo, which is essentially what it is. Even the ideas that Jorgie discusses are painfully demeaning to me, given the fact that she's talking about making the perfect dress rather than meaningful strategies and ideas that players of both genders are actually discussing. It's frustrating to see such an entity with such reach assuming the best they can get away with is casting a well-known UK "bad girl" actress as a girl gamer when they could do so much more.

On the other hand, I get that Nintendo could very well be catering toward younger non-gamers with non-technical language and fluffy games. But why? Why use the same tired approach from back in the day when videogames are so widely accepted these days as an activity for children of either sex?

Kelly: When I was younger I was more like Stephanie. I remember first getting super into games and not caring about how they were marketed. Reading gaming magazines made me already feel like I was a part of a special club. I felt so proud to play games and be considered one of the guys. But now that I’ve grown up, I realize the advertising in those publications were far more insidious, littered with near-naked women and double entendres. And then there were the occasional ads in the back that had nothing to do with gaming—a bunch of phone numbers that may or may not be sex operators.

So that’s why the idea of a Nintendo Girls Club initially excited me as well. I obviously want more girls to play games, and ostensibly this marketing campaign would encourage that.

But now that I’ve watched the videos, I’m less optimistic. First off, I can’t figure out what demographic they’re trying to reach here. When I think of girl-targeted "clubs" I was into when I was younger—The Babysitter's Club, Minnie Mouse trading cards, Grand Champions—they were clearly aimed at girls, and I enjoyed them at the time. But now that I think about, I abandoned that stuff as I entered middle school. I mean, I had a pretty pink princess room like Jorgie's when I was 5, but by the time I turned 10, my walls had changed to a much more gender-neutral lime green. Jorgie’s affected tone and cutesiness would come off as condescending to me as a preteen. On the other side there’s Mandy, who mentions she games during her work commute and directly addresses “parents” when explaining the target audiences for the different DS models. This all adds to my confusion about who they're attempting to talk to.

Most of the videos don’t need to be labeled with “Girls Club.” Aside from the occasional gender-specific video like how to make the perfect dress (and hey, boys can do that too!), I just see a couple of women talking about Nintendo products. Why not just include these videos on the main channel? Now I’m simply concerned that if this is the only type of content girls get exposed to, then they’ll miss out on games they would otherwise try (say, the ones discussed in a Nintendo Direct). There’s also the point that these videos don’t discuss aspects like meaningful strategies, as Brittany mentioned. The underlying problem here seems to be the idea that the default audience for games is male, and Nintendo is simply reinforcing it with this club. If companies would just abandon that mindset, we wouldn't need a Girls Club.

Kelsey: Personally, I think it's a good thing. While being at a place where we can have young boys and girls conversing about the games they love and and trading thoughts about them is the ideal, that's not always the case. We're still working toward that. And at that age it is probably hard for girls to even talk to boys about their gaming because it's not thought of as something that girls do. So I really think that having a safe space like Nintendo Girls Club is a great idea. It's other girls encouraging them to play and share and allow them to build confidence.

I really think that having a safe space like Nintendo Girls Club is a great idea. 

That being said, I don't think NGC is where it should be yet. Like you all mentioned, most of the videos are pretty simple and address the basics of Animal Crossing and, yes, making the perfect dress. Admittedly, I would have loved the crap out of that when I was younger. I was a girly girl. I still absolutely lose my shit when a game has loads of customization features. I love it. But that's not the only audience NGC should be reaching for. Mandy's videos do a good job of reaching out to address hardware features and how to operate things, but Jorgie does have a tendency to talk down and assume all the viewers are going to be little girls in tiaras squeeing about the pink dress they just made. And that's cool if those girls want to do that, but Nintendo needs to go further.

Adding more women to the channel would be a start, and looking at a variety of different games as well. Definitely do some walkthrough videos, show them how to find hidden areas and Easter eggs, etc. It would even be great if they could do videos that address stuff like "My Best Friend's Brother Made Fun of Me and Told Me Girls Suck at Videogames, What Do I Do?" Let's be proactive!

So I don't think it's what it could be yet, but I think NGC could be really awesome. Ideally, a space like this should not be necessary, but I think it is a good thing. At least Nintendo is acknowledging that girls play games. And I don't agree at all that NGC's presence is reinforcing the idea that only boys play games. It's a step forward. They just have a ways to go yet.

Stephanie: There is disparity between these hosts, which is a shame. Mandy does seem to be the more relatable of the two. Unlike Jorgie, she doesn't try to act overly girly. But why aren't these two ladies in a video together? I think that would go a long way in making the conversation down-to-earth instead of sounding like glorified trailers or feminized Nintendo Directs.

I remember in one of the videos, Jorgie sounded genuine to me for a brief moment—she actually made me laugh. She was talking about how she might miss a birthday in Animal Crossing, and her neighbors would make her feel guilty and get angry and demand presents ... "which is cool because I would, too." And I've gotta say—when Mandy was making a Mii? I've totally done the same thing and picked the “prettier” face shape over the one that maybe best matches mine. I want more of that honest commentary. When you love a game, you point out the details like that, things you'd only notice if you were having fun playing it and not reading from a script.

But as Kelsey noted, Nintendo Girls Club is a "safe place" (though I'm wondering about the conspicuous absence of comments on all the videos). This is supposed to be about fostering a community for girls, and I think that's much easier to do through a YouTube channel than through, say, an all-girls website, which I've actually been a part of at one time in my life. It doesn't work quite as well off paper.

Girls Club is sore for more diversity. Where are the Wii U videos, for instance? Maybe they're coming, but so far everything's been geared toward playing on 3DS, which is a missed opportunity for Nintendo to be connecting its female audience to a device they don't have to stash in their purses or hide away playing in their bedrooms. As Brittany mentioned, Girls Club seems only interested in what's squeezable or stylish here in terms of games. Luigi's "adorable." Tanooki is "cute." Although I thought the Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask trailer had a nice touch, being narrated from the perspective of its female characters, until I realized they were waiting for the good professor to literally ride in on horseback to save the day.

As I touched on earlier, I would be playing some of these games when I was younger. But I'd also be playing a lot more, and that needs to be represented here.

Girls Club seems only interested in what's squeezable or stylish here in terms of games. 

Kelly: There's something to be said about providing a safe space for girls. I'm privileged in that I was never picked on for playing games. In fact, I became friends with boys specifically through games, simply because all of my other hobbies were pretty girly. So initially the idea that little girls need this sort of club kinda baffled me. Then again, when I was younger I didn't have the Internet to complicate matters. I wish I knew more kids so I could ask them what it's like now.

That being said, I don’t think Nintendo created this YouTube Channel to create this space we’re talking about. It just feels like a play to a specific demographic—namely young girls who may not be into games yet. I mean, they disabled the comments (understandably so), despite their request for audience feedback. You've all mentioned wonderful ideas—conversations between the two hosts, more honest commentary, videos concerning gender issues in gaming—but realistically, we probably won’t see these. But hey, if Nintendo Girls Club does become a confidence-booster for girls, then good on ‘em.

Do you think you would be into this if you were all preteens right now? Originally my answer would have been a resounding "no," but after hearing everyone's points I can't say for sure. I've never followed this kind of exclusively female videogame coverage, but that might just be because it didn't exist.

Brittany: Like Kelly, I grew up simply able to game without any kind of pretense. It was just something I did, and something I grew up doing, especially with my father, who got me into it in the first place from our very first PC to our NES and these days with our next-gen consoles. I would have gotten into it anyway, however, given my interests and penchant for violent and bizarre games as well as RPGs and fantastic storytelling. I also made plentiful male friends through strong bonds formed via games like Pokémon or Final Fantasy. I had always hoped other girls would come around and tried my best to "mold" them into becoming my perfect playmates, but I always ended up having to game with the boys. It wasn't something I endured bullying for—it just was.

If I watched these videos when I was a young girl, even without my early exposure to gaming and the surrounding culture, I feel as though I would have avoided them like the plague. Given that my interests skewed more toward cartoons, Batman, and typical "boyish" hobbies even then, I would have grown bored with the constant talk about fashion and dresses and "cute" things. I don't feel as though this is any kind of safe space for girls at all, and having read over our discussion and several others online, I'm inclined to think it's doing more harm than it is good.

Stephanie: Yeah, as a child, fashion was farthest from my mind (I only got into dresses, like, recently), so I doubt I would have enjoyed that video, either. But I was also into Batman (like Brittany) as much as I was probably into cute things—my friends and I were seriously addicted to Neopets and spent hours sitting around a computer, and this was back when we all used AOL and had dial-up Internet.

Right now, Nintendo Girls Club essentially exists in a vacuum. What's the value without discussion, without community? There's no emotional connection between hosts and viewers here.

Kelsey: So I think we can probably agree that Nintendo is aiming this stuff directly at girls who are not into gaming yet. Because girls who are already into gaming could obviously give less than two shits about this stuff because they already know it all. They aren't interested in building the perfect house with Jorgie because they already have. What Nintendo is doing is showcasing the design and customization options these games have for girls who like to play dress up and build homes and who may not realize they can do that with a 3DS.

And I was that girl. I didn't play games when I was younger. I had lots of girly friends. The first game I really got into was The Sims, because I could basically create little people and dress them up and make them fall in love. It was like my Barbies, except more realistic. And then gradually the same friend who let me play her Sims game got me into Mario, and the rest is history.

So yeah, I think I would watch them. I was never really a tomboy, and playing dress up with customizable characters is still, like, my favorite thing in the world. I would totally want to see what Jorgie made her house look like and then go beg my parents to buy me a 3DS so I could play Animal Crossing.

So it’s fair to admit that isn’t a cultural play but a marketing one. And it would have worked on preteen me. But it still has the potential to be super cool. I might just be too endlessly optimistic, but I think if they pushed past that and started to add more content it could really be something. But the channel is almost brand new and we have yet to see steps in that direction. At the very least, it could start discussion between girls about gaming. And that's always good.

If we started our own, I think it would definitely be the idealized space we've been talking about. More diversity, more conversations on a wider variety of topics. I would certainly want it to be more than a YouTube channel with the comments disabled. Which, I know why they did that, but it is still discouraging. A website would be better, with a membership and forums for discussion.

A website would be better, with a membership and forums for discussion. 

Brittany: If I were to participate in a "club" like this one (granted, as a young girl) I would look for a way to communicate with other girls and boys about the ideas and games communicated in these videos. I'd ask for a way I could participate in the discussions, either by way of a vote about what I'd like to see covered in the next videos, or how I feel about the topics being covered. Anything that would allow me to have some sort of voice or interact with other like-minded individuals would have appealed to me both then and now because it was always difficult finding other girls to game with in school or anywhere else I traveled. I'd want to see tips and tricks, strategies, top lists, and more, all of which that could focus on additional content beyond fashion and being cute.

Kelsey: Definitely agree with all of that, Brittany. Votes or polls, discussions, etc. It would be neat to have girls that age writing some of the articles as well. Do any of you check out Tavi Gevinson's site, Rookie? They're aimed at teen girls and it is largely written by teen girls. It's brilliant. If we could have something like this, but for a younger age group and geared toward gaming and tech, that would be awesome.

Kelly: Rookie is so sleek and mature I would have guessed it was targeting 20-something women.

But I'm going on the assumption that NGC’s videos target 10 to 14-year-old girls, and I would like to see girls in this age range featured in videos. They don't need to host, but I think it would be more encouraging to hear actual girls talk about the games.

I would also love to see the videos ask specific questions and address viewer answers. Get a real conversation going, even if it does just circle back to a product launch at the end of the day. There's only so much you can do with just a YouTube channel, but it's a great place to start. The Animal Crossing dress tutorial doesn't bother me, but I agree the content needs more diversity. How neat would it be if Jorgie showed us how to get lots and lots of bells on the island at night?

Even if they started branching off with a Facebook page, they could do so much more. Like Brittany suggested, they could easily make polls and get conversations going more easily. But if it could become an entire site like Rookie that would be pretty cool.

And by the way, comments are now public on the videos!

Stephanie: We may have to concede that Nintendo itself might never sanction the Nintendo Girls Club we want. Any publisher taking tight creative control over its creative channels is going to spin it into promotion, not real, meaningful conversation.

To return to a point Brittany made earlier, I'm not sure how positive of a role model Jorgie is for this. Should Nintendo be hiring a celebrity who does sexy photo shoots for their videos, or should they be letting more people like Mandy, whose last name isn't listed, steer the show for more of an average-girl vibe? I get the business sense of bringing a celebrity onboard, and Jorgie doesn’t say or do anything negative in her videos, but some girls, particularly Americans, are going to watch her for the first time here and then see what she does elsewhere. Whether or not she’s intending to be a role model, she is positioned as one here, and that matters to shaping what impressionable young girls aspire to. Nintendo should have taken more responsibility with that decision.

But I think what Nintendo Girls Club could ultimately benefit from is more inclusiveness. Some girls are going to identify with these videos, but if we want women to have a larger place in games instead of feeling like they’re part of a niche, we need to challenge our ideas of what appeals to them. Don’t just give us dresses in Animal Crossing. Give us the whole damn town.