These computer games tell girls, 'Looks aren't everything' By Jane Huth
My mother was a beautiful woman, admired for her appearance. But when she became ill, she lost her looks and her self-esteem. I mention this because I've been looking at software designed for girls, a big chunk of which is all about hair, makeup and clothes. There's nothing wrong with wanting to look attractive, but it's dismaying how early little girls are pushed to perk up their looks. Wouldn't that time be better spent doing things that spark their budding imaginations with art, music, poetry, history and geography?
Sadly, there's precious little software designed for girls that encourages them to achieve and way too much “makeover” software for girls as young as age 4. Some makeover software is well-designed and fun, but I don't recommend it. Here are some reasons: bulimia, anorexia, depression and teen suicide.
Sure, it seems harmless for your little princess to be putting on makeup, changing clothes, styling her hair and preening in front of a mirror—even a virtual one-but imagine that precious one at 16 obsessing about her appearance. I want my daughter to grow into a creative, active woman who bases her self-esteem on what she's able to accomplish, not on her looks.
That said, here are some new software programs for girls that are cute and fun. Girls will find lots of jewels, flowers, horses, ribbons, rainbows—pretty, glittery things that capture the hearts of our little darlings. Sure, these games may nauseate them in a few years (or not), but they are pleasant and harmless.
NOTE: Read hardware requirements carefully. Some of these programs require a 3D video card or extra video memory. I had trouble running a few on my old (Windows 98) computer, even though it met the minimum requirements.
STRAWBERRY SHORTCAKE: AMAZING COOKIE PARTY, $19.99, www.learningcompany.com, (800) 223-6925; ages 4-6.
The Amazing Cookie Factory is almost out of ingredients, so Strawberry Shortcake and her cat, Custard, set out to collect ingredients for the cookies for a cookie party. Players use counting skills and logic to collect oranges in the orchard so Orange Blossom can make orange juice. They navigate around obstacles in River Fudge to collect fish pops and candy pops, and use their artistic creativity to build cake houses in the Cake Walk. In the Amazing Cookie Factory, players unpack the ingredients they've collected and follow recipes to make cookies. This very sweet program is at just the right level for my 5-year-old daughter, a big fan of Strawberry Shortcake. The four activities will challenge a 4-year-old, but this program will not have more than brief play life for a 6-year-old. There are also recipes to print, but they are sugar-laden. Since I'm trying to save my children's teeth, I have not tried them.
BARBIE SWAN LAKE: THE ENCHANTED FOREST, $19.99, www.vugames.com, (310) 649-8033; ages 5 and up.
My 5-year-old daughter was truly enchanted by this program, which features Barbie as Odette with her sidekick Lila, the unicorn, familiar to my daughter from the “Barbie of Swan Lake” video. Lila accidentally breaks the charm that enchants the forest, which turns dark and gray, so players must create five magic wands to bring back the color and magic.
I found this program somewhat tedious (maybe it's all the pretty, sparkly colors), but I'm not 5 and girly. My 7-year-old son was heard to say, “Oooh, that's beautiful,” as he helped his sister find hidden objects, play games (such as hatching swans, of course) and put together the ingredients in the right order to create the flower, jewel, rainbow and other wands. But my daughter insisted on decorating the forest herself by sweeping the various wands over trees, rocks, bridges and streams to bring the scene to colorful, enchanted life. Girls enamored with Barbie will like this game (some boys will, too), which will help their skills at following directions, matching and putting together puzzles.
BARBIE HORSE ADVENTURES: MYSTERY RIDE, $19.99, www.vugames.com, (310) 649-8033; ages 5 and up.
It's hard to go wrong putting together girls, Barbie, horses and a mystery. Although there's some changing outfits (Barbie must be properly attired, as well as her horse), I like the program's emphasis on taking action to solve a problem.
Barbie's friend Teresa's horse, Lucky, disappears just before the big horse show. Teresa suspects another competitor has stolen her horse, so Barbie saddles up and rides out on the trail to find Lucky. Always well equipped, Barbie has a cell phone, metal detector and sling shot in her saddle bag to help find clues. She rides down three trails, visiting a town, tree house, caves and other stops searching for Lucky's trail. The program has just the right amount of help. When faced with two trails, one's always blocked by a gate, so players aren't wasting time searching down blind alleys. And Barbie tells players when to use equipment such as the metal detector to find a buried clue, or the sling shot to collect apples to feed Barbie's horse. Without too much trouble, and no scary scenes or violence, Barbie solves the mystery and proves which of 12 suspects stole Lucky. Players can play again and again with a different suspect each time.
THE POWERPUFF GIRLS LEARNING CHALLENGE No. 2: PRINCESS SNOREBUCKS, $19.99, www.learningcompany.com, (800) 223-6925; ages 6-10.
Bubbles, Blossom and Buttercup are at it again, fighting evildoers in Townsville in this entertaining and educational CD-ROM that will appeal to boys as well as girls. The evil Princess Morbucks sends a package to the Powerpuff Girls containing a music box that puts them to sleep. Players must play games to release the sleeping superheroes from their nightmares. They solve math problems by dividing garden plots and kicking Fuzzy Galump before he wrecks the garden. In the park, players feed nuts to the squirrels by smashing piñatas that match Spanish words, and they use reading skills to unscramble sentences in Blossom's book. By matching music patterns, they can break the evil music box and free the Powerpuff Girls. My children and I found the games challenging, the characters engaging and the entire program thoroughly entertaining.Jane Huth is a writer who lives in the north suburbs with her husband, a first-grader and a preschooler.