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Videogame teaches teen girls to slither up social ladder


By Misty Harris

CanWest News Service
November 22, 2007

A controversial new video game for girls implies that stealing, sexual dalliances, drug use and gossiping pave the path to teenage empowerment, with the express objective being to "lie, bitch and flirt your way to the top of the high school ladder."

Coolest Girl in School is billed as the young woman's answer to Grand Theft Auto, the hugely popular series in which players steal cars, kill police officers, and indulge criminal impulses. The girl-centric role-playing game puts a magnifying glass to the darker side of school life, with participants encouraged to experiment with fashion, drugs, sexuality, cutting class and spreading rumours in an effort to win.

According to the game developer, "teachers exist to be manipulated," a looming parent signals potential "social death," new clothes are procured by stealing from the mall, and bribery is an exit strategy for sticky situations.

Although Coolest Girl in School won't be widely available until January 2008, its ongoing testing in Adelaide, Australia, has at least one organization sounding the alarm over content it deems "toxic" and "grossly irresponsible."

"The activities in the game have been shown through vast amounts of research to cause significant, long-term problems for young people," a spokeswoman for the Australian Family Association told the Daily Telegraph this month.

But Holly Owen, creative director of Champagne for the Ladies - the studio behind Coolest Girl in School - believes her game is being unfairly demonized.

"We have had a lot of press and, unfortunately the game has been misrepresented in some articles," says Owen. "It is ... a very tongue-in-cheek look at the perils of the quest for cool in high school. Key word: irony!"

Owen notes that although activities such as smoking or using drugs "might seem obviously cool," they can work against a girl in the game because she could be sent to virtual rehab or have foul-smelling breath when a love interest approaches her.

Christine Daviault, an expert on female gaming at Montreal's Concordia University, isn't sure the target audience will detect the game's intended tone.

"I just don't think most people will see it as tongue-in-cheek," says Daviault. "(Youth players) are at a crossroads in the formation of their personalities and a game like this basically fosters a warped idea of what constitutes success and how to get it."

Although Coolest Girl might prove initially popular because of the controversy and comparisons to Grand Theft Auto, Daviault believes players will quickly tire of the concept.

"The tween and teen girls who don't already engage in this type of behaviour may think it's an interesting fantasy for a short period of time, but I don't think it'll keep their attention for very long," she says. "For a fantasy to be successful, it needs to make you feel good. And I think this game is too corrosive to have that effect."

Anastasia Goodstein, a noted youth media consultant, believes the game's premise might hit too close to home for some.

"Coolest Girl In School sounds a lot like high school," Goodstein writes on her marketing blog "Do girls need to play a game to remind them of high school's depressing social hierarchy?"

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