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Damaging Education with Virtual Environments: BarbieGirls

BarbieGirls is quite possibly a very sick and twisted virtual world. It is heavily drenched in indoctrination marketing aimed at young kids, attempting to leverage them to make their parents buy Mattel toys. The world is full of locked areas and 'advancement criteria'. It does its best to draw young children into a safe environment, then give them the option to customise their account. The only problem is, to unlock most of these optional extras, the kids need the physical Mattel products.

Buy one of the special products (the first one sells for $60 us) and you can plug it into your computer. When the world server detects you have the toy, it unlocks a little more content, trying to draw the child in further, ready for the next little upgrade.

This alone is shameless exploitation marketing, praying on the minds of young children. However, this world goes further still. It features cinemas that show own brand film trailers, if the kids watch them they earn points that can be redeemed on unlocked accessories - yes, even when unlocked, you still have to pay for them. At 10 points per trailer watched, and with items starting at 90 points each and going up, the children will end up watching the trailers and product marketing spiels (which change slowly over time), over and over again, just to get that 'cool' lamp that the spiels keep saying they must buy.

This is ironically making use of the power of the interactive medium which comprises virtual reality. It has great power to educate and inform, to engage the participant, with positive feedback and reinforcement. Virtual environments make great tools for teaching and learning, but can do great harm when they are loaded with a bad message.

Arguably the worst message BarbieGirls teaches, is the quite disturbing attempt to shape young minds into a world system where it shows the boys having jobs, but the girl's don't. There is not even the remotest possibility of holding down a job, all the players in this world can do, is look after the home, arrange furniture, shop, hang out, make themselves look pretty, or go to the spa.

All the money required for these activities, of course, comes from watching more of the company's commercials, over and over again, but it does not try to teach any responsibility for money, instead it teaches to shop, do housework, and chat - the money comes from elsewhere.

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