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Color-Coded Pink and Blue

In this article, game designer Sande Chen explores the notion of girl and boy games and wonders if it's time to cease such labeling.

[This article originally appeared on Game Design Aspect of the Month under the topic of Diversity]

At last month's Digital Kids Conference, a panelist discussing gender barriers revealed that when 5-year-olds were informally surveyed, they tended to identify mobile app icons with the color blue as "boy" games and those with pink as "girl" games.  Boys would not click on a pink app even with a big robot on the icon.   I find it surprising that as a society, we are still so color-coded.  This superficial reskinning from blue to pink can really change the appeal to boys or girls.  According to a research study by Kids Industries, parents may be the ones reinforcing these gender conventions.  The panel noted that this labeling of pink or blue wasn't so prevalent 30 years ago when marketing to kids tended to be more gender neutral.

This year's Girl Toy of the Year


Even though 93% of parents say they shop by category (i.e. activity) rather than gender (as labeled by the manufacturer or retailer), 85% of the parents said they would not buy a pink kitchen toy for a boy, but had no qualms about buying the same product for a boy if it was in gender neutral colors.  They would in fact prefer gender neutral packaging.  The top 3 grossing kid apps at the time of the conference had neither pink or blue icons, but stuck to gender neutral colors like light orange.


This year's Boy Toy of the Year and Toy of the Year

While retailers like Wal-Mart definitely have pink and blue toy aisles, most popular kid game sites nowadays do not have a section for pink or "girl" games but rather, will categorize games of interest as dress-up, etc. games.  I think in the past, separate sections for girl games were created to encourage girls to play Web games and you can still see a special tab for girl games on FreeKIGames.  If you take a look at GirlsGoGames, which features games obviously marketed to girls, you'll notice a lot of pink.

Must we keep the Pink Ghetto for games?  Do we need to label games as girl or boy games?  Parents feel uneasy about the influence of marketers.  Boys can enjoy playing a hair salon game app, but won't touch one that is overly pink or labeled for girls.  A good game can appeal to both genders.

It seems to me that games marketed to girls tend to reinforce gender stereotypes by focusing on fashion, shopping, make-up, cooking and other stereotypically female activities.   Surrounding all these play activities with the color pink allows the color code to continue.

Pink = Girl = Existing Gender Roles. 

Marketing does influence our choices, but we can stop and think about how these choices may affect our children.  Parents do not need to follow the expectations of marketers.

I wonder:  Are we giving girls toys solely based on fashion, shopping, make-up etc. and not toys promoting STEM skills?

A game about space exploration could be marketed to girls and to boys and it doesn't even have to be pink or blue.  I don't think we need to label any game a girl game, just like we don't need to label a gamer a girl gamer.  Is it time to end this marketing convention of pink girl games?

[Sande Chen spoke at this year's Different Games Conference on the topic of female representation in games and game development.]

Sande Chen is a writer and game designer whose work has spanned 10 years in the industry. Her credits include 1999 IGF winner Terminus, 2007 PC RPG of the Year The Witcher, and Wizard 101. She is one of the founding members of the IGDA Game Design SIG.

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