Mattel redeems itself with spot-on Game Developer Barbie

22 Jun 2016

Game Developer Barbie image via Barbie/Twitter

World-famous toymaker Mattel is righting past wrongs with a kick-ass Game Developer Barbie, complete with tablet, laptop and credible coding ability.

Remember Mattel’s ill-judged I Can Be A Computer Engineer Barbie book? If not, a quick summary: Barbie as a computer engineer simply comes up with design ideas (such as drawings of puppies) and needs the help of two guys to do the real programming work.

Thankfully, one of the world’s biggest toymakers has since had the sense to produce a better representation of the female software community in the form of Game Developer Barbie.

Coming as part of the Barbie Careers range, the new doll sports the trademark Barbie looks but with an edgier appeal invoked by her dyed red hair and comfortably casual ‘industry-inspired’ attire. She also comes bearing trendy spectacles, a gaming headset, a laptop featuring her code in development, and a tablet displaying the video game she’s working on.

To achieve authenticity for Game Developer Barbie, Mattel consulted with Ker-Chunk Games CEO Molly Proffitt, who informed fans via Medium: “She’s using an engine that only exists in the world of Barbie, which is more brilliant than I had initially imagined when Mattel first started envisioning her world.”

Proffitt and Mattel have ensured Game Developer Barbie encompasses the multi-talented qualities of the career she depicts. “From her box art to her laptop, it is clear she knows multiple languages, platforms, and tools and while that may be JavaScript or ActionScript if put in a different context outside of her custom engine, she could still have written her game in C# if she wanted to. For me, that is the real magic,” Proffitt wrote.

The doll has earned praise from real-life game developer Brianna Wu, who had already put an order in when she spoke to The Huffington Post. “My favourite part of this Barbie is how much she reflects the style of women game developers. Neon hair is a legit fashion trend in the game industry,” said Wu, whose own hair is quite similar to the Barbie’s bright red locks.

Working in a fiercely male-dominated area, Wu has been the target of campaigns of online harassment. She spoke passionately about this experience at Inspirefest 2015, where she prompted a standing ovation with her reminder to those trying to create a more diverse industry that: “We are changing the industry because we were willing to speak up, we didn’t stay silent. We’ve introduced consequences into this equation.”

Game Developer Barbie is one such consequence of the activism of diversity and inclusion advocates such as Wu, as well as campaigns for more balanced representation in children’s toys driven by groups such as Let Toys Be Toys. We’ve also seen toymakers taken to task over ‘missing’ women superheroes from the merchandise spawned by franchises such as The Avengers and Star Wars.

The obvious gap in the market even inspired the establishment of Irish start-up Arklu, whose range of Lottie dolls have features and proportions more akin to real-life nine-year-old children and their interests span a spectrum of STEM subjects from archaeology to astronomy. Stargazer Lottie was even brought to the International Space Station by British astronaut Tim Peake.

Game Developer Barbie was announced in January 2016 and is the latest in a string of efforts by Mattel to diversify its iconic doll collection. These days, you can get Barbies with more variety in skin tone, eye colour, hairstyle and even body type than ever before, and the range of career dolls includes pilots, firefighters and film directors.

What’s more, the ravenous appetite for a doll like this has been proven by the fact that she’s already out of stock on the Mattel website.

Inspirefest is Silicon Republic’s international event connecting sci-tech professionals passionate about the future of STEM. Book your tickets now to join us from 30 June to 2 July 2016 for fresh perspectives on leadership, innovation and diversity.

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.