This is a bit of a departure from what I usually use this blog for (when I use it for anything at all). But I’ve read more articles than I can count in the past couple of years about how LEGO condescends to little girls by selling them female characters who only like to shop and groom animals. It really kicked into high gear earlier this year when a 7-year old girl’s letter to LEGO lit up social media and spawned a “LEGO is sexist” meme that will not die. And now that LEGO has released a Research Laboratory set featuring three female scientist minifigures, it’s making the rounds again.
As a big fan of LEGO’s product and company philosophy, I’ve found the whole thing extremely frustrating. The perpetuation of gender stereotypes is a serious problem, especially when it’s being inflicted upon young and impressionable minds. But to call out LEGO as one of the worst offenders is ignorant and unfair. And since I’m getting tired of the sound of my own teeth gritting every time I read another poorly researched article about it, I thought I’d take a few minutes and offer a rebuttal. It’s cheaper and less painful than having all of my molars recapped, anyway.
One of the very first things that jumped out at me was how every media outlet just seems to take it on faith that a 7-year old decided to write to LEGO and complain about the lack of female characters in their sets, and then that letter just happened to go viral. I don’t doubt that lots of 7-year old girls are insulted by the toys that are marketed toward them – and the same goes for boys. I remember loving My Little Pony and Strawberry Shortcake toys at that age, even though I knew they were “girls’ toys” and was embarrassed about that. But it never occurred to me that I should write a letter to Hasbro or Kenner and ask them to do something about it. It just doesn’t seem like the sort of thing that a 7-year old would think to do. Maybe I was an especially unsophisticated 7-year old, or maybe kids today are born with social media savvy wired into their brains. But Occam’s razor suggests that an adult with an axe to grind was involved somewhere along the way.
Also, getting lost in this whole conversation is that LEGO makes plenty of female characters! I have about 80 different ones that were released in the past couple of years alone, including the female deuteragonist of The LEGO Movie. And that doesn’t even count the wasp-waisted ones from the pink-and-purple Friends line, which seems to outrage people who are prone to being outraged at such things. (Those people tend not to be actual young girls, among whom the Friends line is extremely popular.) Are there still more male LEGO minifigures than girl minifigures? Yes. Are there more girls playing with LEGO now than there were five years ago? Yes. A lot more.
And I hate the spin that’s applied to LEGO’s decision to create a product based on a fan-submitted suggestion for a small set featuring three female scientists. In most of the articles I’ve seen, it’s portrayed as a) the first time LEGO has released female figures with science-y jobs and b) LEGO’s implicit admission that they had something to atone for. Fun fact: you could buy a female LEGO scientist in September 2013, months before that 7-year old girl’s letter lit up Twitter. She was part of a set that also included a grandmother, a waitress, a Bavarian girl with a pretzel and a lady robot. (Obviously, those characters were only included to counter claims that LEGO was ageist, elitist, anti-European and biased against non-homo sapiens.)
Finally, while I know it’s Issue Advocacy 101 to criticize something popular for not explicitly embodying the values that matter most to you, can we just take a step back and ask what was really accomplished here? LEGO is one of the very few toy companies out there that manages to be educational, creative, progressive and wildly successful, all at the same time. And yes, some of their products are explicitly marketed to boys, and some are explicitly targeted to girls. Many of them aren’t targeted to either. But all of those products are part of the same system!
If you’re a little girl who gets a Star Wars LEGO set and a Friends LEGO set, you can mix the two together and build whatever you want. If your little brother doesn’t want the girl minifig that came with his cargo truck, well, hopefully your parents will see this as a teachable moment. But if that doesn’t take, the solution is usually as simple as swapping little yellow minifig heads. That’s not the result of a Change.org petition; that’s been part of the company’s culture for decades.
I guess there are some people who will feel like they’ve scored a victory here. And to them, I say: let me know when all Barbie dolls have realistic proportions and GI Joe starts letting gay soldiers serve. Then I’ll congratulate you for actually accomplishing something.
Now this is service: the same day that Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days hits retail shelves, I get a FedEx delivery of my comp copies of the guide, which I co-wrote with strategy guide vet (and all-around top-notch human) Dan Birlew.
Once again, BradyGames‘ design team outdid themselves with a clean, attractive layout that doesn’t feel shoehorned into a generic template. It’s got plenty of room to breathe, which is essential for such a dense game, but it also doesn’t feel stretched to fill its 320 pages.
Many thanks to Dan, as well as Tim Cox, Leigh Davis, Michael Owen, Keith Lowe and everyone else at Brady for really knocking this one out of the park, and especially to Jeremy Blaustein, who provided some last-minute translation heroics that helped me hit deadline.
That’s all that Microsoft is going to discount their 802.11g Xbox 360 network adapter, once the new 802.11n adapter hits the stands?
The 360 might be my preferred gaming rig, and there’s not much that I don’t like about it, but the ridiculously overpriced wireless adapter has always stuck in my craw. Considering that the Wii and the PS3 are both in the 360’s price range, and that they both feature built-in wireless networking, it seems more than a little silly that Microsoft is planning on charging $80 for outdated tech that should have been included in the console in the first place.
(That being said, I’m probably going to pick one up as soon as it’s available, because I am a sausage.)
In the wii hours of the morning, Engadget confirmed that Nintendo’s flagship console would be getting a $50 discount, effective this wiikend:
For nearly three years now, the console has sold briskly at $249.99, but beginning on September 27th at Best Buy (and everywhere else, naturally), the happy-go-lucky machine will be offered for just $199.99.
Considering that two of the three versions of the Xbox 360 are currently priced at $250 or lower and the PS3 Slim is just $50 more, this shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone. In fact, considering the true cost of Wii ownership and the fact that the Big N has managed to turn a profit on every single Wii sold (unlike most new consoles, which are loss leaders for at least a year or two), it’s a little surprising that it’s taken this long for the little white box to come down in price.
Apologies to my regular readership (both of you) for the long delay in updating. I was up against a crazier-than-usual deadline for my latest project, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned as a freelance writer, it’s that you never spend time writing stuff for free when you’ve got editors banging down your door for the text that they paid you to write.
But now that I’ve finished that project (and have finally recovered from the 28- and 33-hour all-nighters I had to pull during the last week of it), I can finally get around to writing the piece that’s been floating around in my head for the last couple of weeks.
• • •
I got my start in the games industry in May of 1999, when my girlfriend, my best friend and I packed everything we owned into a 4′ x 6′ U-Haul trailer and made the great pilgrimage from Vermont to the San Francisco Bay Area to seek our fortune. Holly had a Barnes & Noble job waiting for her in Berkeley, Matt had some savings that would get us through a month or two if things got dire, and I had nothing except a vague, “contact us when you get here” email for a job at a startup online games magazine.
At the time, I knew almost nothing about the games business. I hadn’t really played games for fun since my early high school years, and I’d only recently picked up a PlayStation, 3 1/2 years after it had first come out. My recent gaming résumé was limited to the Myst franchise, D&D-based RPGs like Baldur’s Gate and Squaresoft’s epic Final Fantasy VII. But a half-hour phone call to my hardcore gamer brother the night before armed me with enough knowledge and buzzwords about the state of the industry to bluff my way through the interview. It also didn’t hurt that they were looking to launch a “lifestyle” gaming magazine (i.e.: interviewing celebrities about video games), and I had managed to cobble together respectable entertainment journalist credentials by being one of three working journalists in Vermont who interviewed the few rock stars who came to town.
That job turned out to be one of the greatest jobs I ever had, and my co-workers wound up becoming some of my best friends on the West Coast, despite the fact that most of us have since fled the Bay Area. It was one of those rare gigs where the daunting amount of work that had to be done on a daily basis didn’t feel much like work, because every workday also brought ten hours of hanging out with two dozen of the best people I’ve ever worked with. I even managed to repay my brother’s interview prep by getting him a job at the magazine a few months later.
Of course, I had to spend some serious time getting up to speed on the industry I’d doubletalked my way into. Through sheer coincidence, I was entering it just as Sega‘s final game console, the Dreamcast, launched in Japan. And did I mention that our offices were located at 650 Townsend Street, the (now former) Sega building?
But all of the synchronicity in the world wouldn’t have helped the Dreamcast win me over if it hadn’t also been the best game console on the market at the time, hands-down. Even once the PlayStation 2 launched, the Dreamcast’s crisp, colorful graphics absolutely blew away any other console hardware on the market, and the lineup of games it featured in its initial 12 months remains the most impressive first-generation game library in history: Soul Calibur, Sonic Adventure, Virtua Tennis, House of the Dead 2, Space Channel 5, Power Stone 2, Star Wars Episode 1: Racer, Resident Evil: Code Veronica, Chu Chu Rocket, Crazy Taxi, Sega Rally 2… the list goes on and on. It was the first console that I ever went online with, and its innovative VMU memory device predated Nintendo and Sony’s efforts to link their handheld gaming devices to their consoles.
If there was any justice in the gaming world, the Dreamcast would have established itself quickly as the dominant console and secured its place in history as one of the all-time greats. Sadly, as it turned out, it only achieved the latter, and only among those of us who were there for the ride. It had the misfortune of launching at a time when its parent company was hundreds of millions of dollars in debt, when the Japanese and American arms of the company could not overcome their cultural differences, and when Sony was preparing a marketing offensive for the PlayStation 2’s launch that would make the Dreamcast’s record-setting launch look like someone selling old VCRs at a flea market.
In a sad bit of tragic irony, Sega Chairman Isao Okawa forgave $40 million owed to him by Sega Corporation and gave it control of his nearly $700 million in Sega stock, shortly before his death in March of 2001. That was the same month that Sega discontinued the Dreamcast.
The magazine I worked for in San Francisco had gone belly-up less than a year prior, one of many casualties of the dot-com bust. And despite the fact that I’ve landed quite well and am fortunate enough to earn a good living from doing a number of things that I love, my memories of 1999-2000 will always exist on an untouchable plateau. I might have been born a generation too early to enjoy the Summer of Love, but I don’t think I’d trade the Year of the Dreamcast for anything.
• • •
Hey parents! Here’s something else that you should be freaked out about when it comes to your children and the internet. From today’s Gizmodo:
If you buy software to protect your kids from the scary parts of the internet, you should be careful that it’s not spying on their private conversations for profit. Because that’s exactly what they’ve been doing.
Much as I love the internet, I don’t think I’ll be letting my as-yet-unconceived children get near it until their 43rd birthday.