January 14, 2006

Dreamlife...and a Feminist Mommy

My daughter, the kind, tough, wonderful, giving one, wanted Dream Life for Christmas. It was on her list even before her birthday. She really, really, really wanted it. Now, it is my policy to pick and choose off the Christmas list. Santa has an out. You will get at least one thing off your list but by no means should you expect to get everything off your list. The one thing usually is the one thing you whisper to Santa at the mall or talk about nonstop. This has sent Santa in the past scurrying to find a tiny Christmas tree on Christmas Eve for an older child. (Not found, instead a snow globe with a tiny tree and a new tradition that every child gets a snow globe for Christmas).

This year, Dream Life was the toy. It was not going to break the bank, 29.99 or so purchased on sale. So far, so good. But...the "plug and play game for the tween girl in your life" part was revolting to me. I mean, I won't even buy kids baking sets or cookbooks with just girls featured. Reading on, I learn the child will do chores, jobs, earn money, go to school, all good things, right? Then I read about boyfriends, crushes, dances, dates, and SHOPPING. Lots and lots of shopping.

I cringed. I bought it. I reassured myself that the play value of this toy wouldn't last a week. It might not even hold her attention for an hour. This child HATES shopping with a passion. She loves sports, playing outside and reading. She has taken over a year to choose decorations for her REAL room just because thinking about it is just not her thing. No worries. I spend 29.99 for a game. Gag with her as she finds out it is dumb. She is happy she got it. I am happy she won't need therapy because she never got what she wanted for Christmas. I spend a few minutes talking about the other more interesting gifts and why those are better choices. Lessons are everywhere in our life.

We figured out how to attach it to the TV. This was a chore outside my experience. I mean, last time I hooked a game to a TV you slid little U shaped things under the vhf/uhf screws on the back of the TV.

She turns it on. The remote control is in her hand. Name is chosen. Then, she chose her look. A large variety of looks, but none that looked like her, naturally. I cringed. My daughter didn't care. She worked her way through face, hairstyle, clothes, intelligence, popularity and she was off. What followed was a lot of reading, multiple choice, LAME conversations. Chances to do chores that involved a click of a button and 40 bucks for sweeping the floor. (I am ready to quit my job and live in the Dream Life world where this is the case.) Then you get to create a best friend. Again, the selections look nothing like real girls (and certainly boys are not best friend material.) Next stop, the mall to spend all that chore money.

Yawn. Hmmm...She likes this game. Ummmm...uh...errr...Baby...I don't...yes, that is a great outfit. A vanilla candle? Sure. I can get this or I can save money so my parents will let me get a cell phone. (You see in the game: parents are always unseen, but they hold control over certain purchases like computers, cell phones and the like)

The second day of this game, (in real life...in Dream Life I don't remember what day we were on.) a strange thing happened...the boy child, 12, started hanging out in the living room watching her play Dream Life. What was that about? It took me a bit to figure it out but I did.* Her younger sister loved watching but she loves shopping and clothes.

We all sat there fascinated by a game where you earn too much money, too easily, go to the mall, try on clothes, buy clothes, and can redecorate your room at the click of a remote control. We chatted about the boys, their plusses and minuses. We gave input on crushes, friends, and what to wear. Hours of reading multiple choice, mall shopping, and trying on clothes.

The game is lame in many ways. It still makes me cringe. There is a plus side to it. That plus side is the discussion of the myriad of outfits, accessories, bedroom decorations, sheer consumerism and most importantly responsibility, friendship, and dating. I didn't need to wait and have a discussion.

As always, there was another lesson for me in this from my children. My opinion was sought on a shirt. I said "It is awful low-cut, are you sure you want to wear it?" She sighed and looked at me and said "Mom, the clothes in the game always fit right." She continued with a lengthy monologue of why it was ok to experiment, play, flirt, say yes and say no in the game.

It is someone else's dream life. It isn't hers, it isn't mine, and we both have issues with the "girl dream life." What it is though, is the important thing. It IS a safe place for her to figure out that this really isn't her dream life.

It isn't all by herself. Her family is there at the dream life school, at the mall, at the parties, at her friend's house because we are with her in the room.

The safe place is what I want for my child. I also want the chance to be there for her and with her without diminishing her independence as she grows up. This game gives us that chance.

*The boy child claimed he enjoyed it because he could be a big brother and be bossy. He really didn't "boss" that much. The truth, however, is that he enjoyed seeing how people interact. I have heard him practicing some of the casual conversation starters in his room, with me and with my partner. Shy boy learns social skills from game...I don't think they will add that to their packaging, sadly. I think he also really enjoyed the casual conversation about issues that are more and more germaine to his life as a middle school student.

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~ nellenelle said...

I was going to say the conversation starter part is a pretty nice thing to have happen.. I miss conversations with my kids that are spontaneous and sharing, instead of tentative, protective, and searching

The Recovering Straight Girl said...

I almost bought this for my DD#2 at Christmas, but instead gave the idea to her Dad. He did not buy it, instead choosing a firefly game. I was relieved, as I didn't want her to have it for the reasons you stated.

I think that you made an excellent point about it and perhaps if it's still on her birthday list, I'll consider it.