Barbie’s had a lot of careers over the years. From doctor to veterinarian to astronaut, Mattel has tried to combat criticism that Barbie represents an unhealthy ideal for young girls by portraying the doll holding her own in a variety of stereotypically male-dominated fields.
In 2010, the company unveiled Computer Engineer Barbie, a glittery, pink-loving programmer who came with a laptop that displayed 0’s and 1's—not the most realistic representation of a developer. Even worse, the accompanying book I Can Be A Computer Engineer showed Barbie struggling to do the most basic computer tasks and relying on her male classmates to do everything for her.
It can be tough to be a woman in tech—the industry is still made up of many more men than women, and unfortunately sexist views that women are bad at coding (or even mathematics in general) are still far from uncommon. Young girls who are interested in going into tech need positive, authentic role models, not just pink laptops.
So luckily for girls who love coding, Mattel has finally released a new tech-savvy Barbie. This time, she’s a game developer, and she’s surprisingly realistic. Find out why we think Game Developer Barbie might be a game changer when it comes to real representations of women in tech.
Game Developer Barbie
1. She actually looks like a game developer.
As Mattel puts it, Game Developer Barbie’s style is “industry-inspired,” and it’s true that, unlike the usual glam Barbie look, this doll wouldn’t be out of place at a start up’s office. While Computer Engineer Barbie rocked a ton of eyeshadow and sparkly leggings, Developer Barbie looks casual yet cute with faded jeans, a t-shirt, and an army-green jacket. Instead of the standard painful-looking Barbie pumps, she’s sporting chic white sneakers, and a pair of trendy thick-frame glasses rounds out the look. Like many real-life developers, Barbie looks hip, but in a laid-back, kinda nerdy way.
Computer Engineer Barbie
2. She has regular tech gear instead of all pink everything.
Since Computer Engineer Barbie was working with an improbably matching, neon pink smartphone and laptop set, it’s refreshing to see this Barbie with a regular laptop, tablet, and headset. No more cutesy pink hardware. Developer Barbie’s tiny plastic devices are just like real ones an actual game developer might use at work—right down to the goofy robot sticker on her laptop.
3. She has a realistic workspace.
Retro Barbie’s work desk was cluttered with magazines and photos of boyfriend Ken. And it was hot pink, of course. But Game Developer Barbie comes in a package depicting her desk exactly as you’d want to imagine it: huge mug of coffee for staying focused on deadlines, take-out boxes (Barbie celebrates finishing a project in style), trash bin full of old note paper from productive brainstorming sessions, sensible ergonomic chair, Beats-style headphones for unwinding with her favorite tunes. There are still a few touches of pink in there, because even badass developers can be girly if they want to.
4. She knows how to code.
While Computer Engineer Barbie was called out for coding in binary, Game Developer Barbie kicks things up a notch by actually knowing real code. Tech researcher Casey Fiesler has identified the interface on Barbie’s tiny screen as similar to the educational programming environment Alice, and says that “she seems to be making a Bejeweled clone in Flash.” Developer Barbie, unlike Computer Engineer Barbie, is depicted doing something beginner developers might actually do.
5. She knows there’s more to game development than coding.
I Can Be A Computer Engineer, the picture book which accompanied Computer Engineer Barbie, was widely panned across the Internet for failing to provide a realistic depiction of what being a computer engineer might entail. Wasting a great opportunity to show young girls different ways they might be able to get involved in game development, the book instead showed Barbie giving her sister’s laptop a virus and then getting her male classmates to fix it for her. Despite supposedly being a computer engineer, Barbie was just creating “design ideas” for her planned video game, and needed the boys to do the coding. Mattel eventually pulled the book and promised more empowering stories from future Barbies.
The choice to show real code on Barbie’s computer is a big step forward. But even more interesting is what it says on the box that Game Developer Barbie comes in: “Game development involves story-telling, art and graphic design, audio design, and computer programming. Because there are so many aspects to creating a game, team work is important.” All too often, the more creative, design-focused elements of developing are seen as less crucial than coding, which continues to be an especially male-dominated area of tech. But great games wouldn’t exist without great designers. There’s much more to working in tech than learning how to code.