I want to ask you all to do something personal: Take a moment, close your eyes and imagine the first time you ... played a video game. For me it was in fourth grade, when I installed an Alphabet Blaster typing game onto my parents' computer and spent three hours every Saturday morning "blasting" letters as they dropped from the top of the black and yellow screen -- and inadvertently learning how to touch-type in the process. Next up were Hot Dog Stand and Oregon Trail, two games pushed by my computer teacher. They, too, weren't particularly exciting: In Hot Dog Stand one learned how to run a concession booth (Will I sell four dozen hot dogs or five? How long do hot dogs keep?). And in Oregon Trail, which appears to have gained something of a retro cult status recently for reasons I do not understand, one spent time trying to ford rivers and shoot highly pixilated squirrels. I can't say it taught me much.
Fast-forward to 2008, and check out this latest online game soaring in popularity with British and French preteens: Miss Bimbo. Trust me when I say it's no Oregon Trail.
Instead, girls adopt their own "bimbos" (which look sort of like anime characters) and compete to become the "hottest, coolest, most famous bimbo ever!" And how does one do such things? Well, first you have to find a cool place to live and a "fun job to pay for your needs and all the clothes a bimbo could possibly want." Then you should probably "become a socialite and skyrocket to the top of fame and popularity" and date a "famous hottie." But everyone knows that hotties don't like fat girls, so make sure to keep your weight down, and even consider "resort[ing] to meds or plastic surgery" as you "stop at nothing to become the reigning bimbo!"
Oh, how I wish I were making this up.
We were tipped off to this bimbobsession by an article in the Times Online, which reported that a group of parents and healthcare experts are condemning the game, which pushes girls to provide their characters with diet pills and get boob jobs -- and charges a tidy pound and a half every time you send a text message to buy "dollars" to spend on your bimbo. One eating disorder expert who specializes in treating girls ages 8 to 18 is quoted as saying that the game -- which is aimed at 9-to-16-year-olds -- "is as lethal as pro-anorexia websites. A lot of children will get caught up with the extremely damaging and appalling messages." The article then points out that the game was launched just as research was showing that kids as young as 6 were developing anorexia and bulimia, and a growing number of teenagers were getting breast enlargements.
To which the game's founders, Nicholas Jacquart and Chris Evans, basically say, "Lighten up!" "It is not a bad influence for children," Jacquart is quoted as saying. "They learn to take care of their bimbos. The missions and goals for the bimbos are morally sound and teach children about the real world." Wait, wait, it gets better: "If they eat too much chocolate in the game, it is bad for their bimbos' bodies and their happiness levels compared to if they eat fruit and vegetables, which reinforces positive healthy messages."
Really? Perhaps we should look at some of the "targets" of Miss Bimbo's levels to check how healthy those messages are. "Level 7: After you broke up with your boyfriend you went on an eating binge! Now it's time to diet ... your target weight is less than 132 lbs." Or maybe we should look at Level 9: "Have a nip and tuck operation for a brand new face. You've found work as a plus-size model. To gain those vivacious curves, you need to weigh more than 154 lbs." But that's nothing compared with Level 11: "Bigger is better! Have a breast operation."
(Jacquart is also quoted as saying that "the breast operations are just one part of the game and we are not encouraging young girls to have them.")
Jacquart claims that the game "mirrors real life in a tongue-in-cheek way" -- which I suppose might be true for a very small subset of very narcissistic women who have an awful lot of money on their hands. But there is a difference between looking at the world portrayed by Miss Bimbo when you're, say, 30, as opposed to when you're 9 -- which is a concern not considered by Jacquart and Evans, who "admitted that the story in the script had been created by 'lads' and [that] no professional advice was sought about how girls may interpret issues surrounding weight loss and gain.'"
Which is kind of too bad, since just in the time it's taken me to write this post, the number of registered bimbos has climbed from 215,616 to 217,154 -- and counting.