Is Cooking for girls and Gaming for boys?

Last week Owen was pretty ill so I stayed home with him, nursing him back to health. The side effect of spending most of your day on the couch with a sleeping toddler on your chest is that you watch a ton of daytime TV.

And contrary to popular belief, the fact that I work in TV doesn’t mean I actually watch a lot of it, not during work hours anyway. Sure, I watch screeners and such and I have the TV on in my office for SportsCenter or re-airs of some of our originals, but I’m hardly ever really watching; it’s very passive.

So anyhow I took advantage of the time by watching some neglected HD channels on the HD tier namely Food Network, History, HDNet and Animal Planet.

And then a funny thing happened. An ad came on.

Not that funny in and of itself, but it was more than that. It was an “integration” – one of those ads where the host of Food Network show actually talks to you about the product. They call it “host selling” and in this case it was Aida Mollenkamp talking about a Nintendo DS game, Personal Trainer Cooking. Her show’s website is currently being sponsored by the game too.

Now I can’t find that particular ad on the internet but I did see another ad for the same game, this one starring Lisa Kudrow. Here’s that ad:

From the YouTube description:

Watch the DS Chef take Lisa Kudrow and her niece step-by-step through how to prepare Kung Pao Chicken with Personal Trainer: Cooking.

But why didn’t Kudrow appear with her son, Julian Murray?

I don’t know what I’m driving at here since, in general, I really love the fact that the Nintendo DS is marketing itself as the destination for female gamers of all ages. They’ve recently featured Liv Tyler and America Ferrara in their ads and I think they send a really important message about games and gamers to young girls and women: games can be about more than murder, fantasy or sports AND games are meant to be social.

I think games and game systems geared at males – boys AND men – do a good job of showing gore and graphical power and objectification (of both women and hardware/software) but they rarely show the social benefits of gaming. The camaraderie. The fun. We get one-ups-manship and the glorification of victory, but it’s winning in a very narrow field. We forget that the real reason to play any game is to have fun.

Wii ads are the notable exception, especially Wii Fit, which shows how everyone no matter their sex or age can get fit using the system. And the Rock Band/Guitar Hero juggernauts are especially adept at selling themselves as family fun and I dig that, mostly because Jenn and I are addicted to Guitar Hero.

But something about the cooking game sticks in my craw. Maybe it’s the choice of spokesperson, both Kudrow and Mollenkamp.

Maybe it’s the Food Network in general which only had male “Iron Chef”s until Cat Cora joined.

Maybe it’s because I have a daughter and I hate the idea of folks cramming a dated gender role down her throat like so much bad school lunch meatloaf.

I know in our family I do the most cooking. I just wish the ads featured families learning to cook together or a single person using the game to plan a dinner party for a big group of friends.

I guess I’m saying that for a company like Nintendo, the possibility of showing people how transcendent the idea of play can be should trump and “natural” assumptions we have about who plays what kinds of games. Especially in this area of casual gaming on Facebook, it seems like a mised opportunity to market a cooking game at girls and Food Network viewers. That’s the obvious path to go down.

But Wii Fit and their other titles on other platforms aren’t typical; they aren’t expected. They – and all the music games on the market across the various platforms – show us that people want to be entertained and they want to connect.

I have a son as well and I want him to enjoy more than just blowing stuff up or scoring touchdowns. I’d like him to play an instrument (even if it’s virtual) and learn to cook too.

I like the idea of Personal Trainer Cooking. If I had a DS I’d probably still be buying it despite my complaints.

But as someone who watches media and marketing closely because I work in media and marketing I’m a little put off. Sure the ad is nice and all but I kinda wish the spirit of the ads were more like this Entertainment Tonight piece with Jennie Garth, which itself would’ve been better if Peter Facinelli were in it (did I just type that?).

Anyhow, I’m just thinking about games because of Christmas and I find myself continually thinking about how we (the media, advertising, society) talk to girls and women since I’m raising a girl who I hope grows into a fine young women. A gamer who has fun, whether she’s cooking or rocking out or ganking some dude.

Am I way off base here? Do I need to lighten up? Should I go cook a meal? Shred some tunes? Play more WoW?

Let me know.

6 thoughts on “Is Cooking for girls and Gaming for boys?

  1. after having gone to a ds promo event specifically for women, i can say that you’re a little off base. all types of games were promoted (racing, rocking, and braining, if you will).

    they’re branching out the ds to reach people who think they’re not gamers, hence these “instructional” games. would work the same way for a dude, imho.

    so go cook a meal ;)

  2. Yeah, I realize I’m giving a skewed response/perspective, it just struck me as odd/rubbed me the wrong way.

    I guess if I think about the DS as appealing to folks who don’t self-identify as gamers it works, but I thought they were even more genre and gender-busting than all of that so the cooking game with only women doing the cooking seemed off to me.

    Again, I think their overall campaign for DS is fantastic, showing girls and women playing all sorts of games, I just think – speaking strictly as a father who wants only the best in products/services for his daughter – that this game could be marketed differently.

    I won’t say better b/c I don’t know if that’s even true.

    Maybe I’m just being sensitive about it.

    Either way, it’s a very minor complaint and probably more a self commentary than anything else.

    I adore the DS as a platform and 99.9% the way it’s being marketed.

    Just blogging out loud here.

    Thanks for the comment, Lori.

  3. We’ve always noticed how certain toys are deemed by our society (marketers and parents included) as “girl” and “boy” toys, and it seems that some toys are increasingly becoming more gendered than when I was a kid (though some, thankfully are becoming less).

    It struck me particularly outright when we were watching Jon & Kate Plus 8 on TLC a few weekends ago (another good channel for HD on that sometimes neglected tier). I found it very uncomfortable how strictly the parents enforced societal gender roles on their children when it comes to playtime, even though these kids were three and four years old (depending on the episode). Boys were admonished for playing with the girls’ kitchen set; girls had the same for using the boys’ trains and trucks. There was an episode that they visited a train that was made up to look like Thomas the Tank Engine, and the parents kept repeating how it was “more for the boys.” These artificial gender roles were almost silly in their execution. The kids were far too young to understand why it was “wrong” in their parents eyes to play with toys that their opposite gender siblings used, and I couldn’t fathom why it bothered the parents so much. If a girl is interested in trains and trucks versus dolls and kitchen, who cares? It’s not like trains and trucks are a gateway to suddenly making a girl confused about her gender.

    I don’t think you’re off base at all here, Seth. When I have kids, I’m going to be sure all of them at least have the opportunities to blow stuff up and cook a meal (perhaps more virtual blowing stuff up, but you catch my drift), regardless of their gender. If they choose to be more interested in certain facets of activities, I’ll encourage it.

  4. Where would the cooking game – Gordon Ramsay ‘s Hell’s Kitchen have it’s demongraphic then??

    This cool and addictive game actually features chef Gordon Ramsay and you operate the kitchen and front of house, with ever increasing numbers of guests, tables and complexity of dishes. It is amazing how many time oyu go back to get the perfect 5 stars on each level just to keep Chef Ramsay happy (just like you were on the sohw).

    I don’t doubt that the pendulum would swing the way of the boys of the game wasn;t so ‘G’ rated – hopefully someone cracks the game and replaces the voice overs with the truely raw Gordon Ramsay – I would no doubt find myslef buring dishes on purpose!

  5. I find the lines increasingly blurred nowadays, if at all even clear. There’re tons of female gamers out there duking it out with guys and maybe it’s more of the guys not willing to see what the other side may have to offer. It’s hard to expect guys to want to spend time on a cooking ‘game’ – I much rather expect them to want to do the real thing.

  6. Joe Tintype says:

    I wouldn’t give it too much thought. My brothers and I all were bought masculine G.I. Joe’s and B.B. Guns and the like. We all blew up army men and shunned anything feminine.

    Two of us went to art school, while another graduated from a culinary academy. My father is old school but was never shocked or judging, quite the contrary, he encouraged us to do whatever we enjoyed and helped us every step of the way. You’re obviously an open-minded parent so I’d guess your kids will have no complaints. (These are my humbles opinions by the way)

    Oh, and I know you don’t speak on behalf of them, but we’re big fans of TCM!

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