For my Gaming in American Culture class today, we spent a good two hours or so playing board games.
As a means of practicing different ways of analyzing games. Not for fun.
Except… There was a lot of fun being had in my group.
Because we played The Barbie Game: Queen of the Prom.
In case you can’t read it through the box glare, the tag line for the game is “A fun game with real life appeal for all girls.”
Developed in the 1960s.
If that doesn’t tell you everything you need to know, I don’t know what will.
That being said, I’m still about to tell you everything you need to know because by God this game is phenomenal in how atrocious it is.
Yet, we need to talk about some decent aspects of the game first. Namely its aesthetic presentation.
There’s some cacophony on first glance, but the board itself is quite well laid out and screams art deco.
The box itself also comes with this nifty stage for all of the different relevant cards and bank money:
Don’t worry, I’ll get into what these mean soon enough.
Our version of the game, provided by the professor, also happened to include some extra charm in the way of additional player pieces:
So the game is pretty and well laid out.
Unfortunately, that does not save it from being a perfect window into the sexist ways of the 1960s.
So what is the “real life appeal for all girls” that this game boasts?
Well, obviously the ultimate goal is to become prom queen.
In order to make the arduous journey to prom, there are three things that you (presumably as one of four different Barbie girls™) need to collect along the way.
- A prom dress — This one actually makes a decent amount of sense.
- A steady boyfriend — Not just a boyfriend. You can get a boyfriend, but he won’t be REAL until he asks you out at a football game and you go steady. Also these are your choices:
- The presidency in a school club — Seriously, how do you expect to be prom queen if you aren’t even the president of the drama club? You plebe.
With all three, you can achieve true supremacy.
Oh, and that’s only half a joke. The game is designed to make it harder for players to catch up if one is ahead. For instance, most of the club spaces are specific, so players who land there after you cannot receive the same presidency.
Though they may not want to considering how inept the drama club is.
On top of that, two players cannot share a single boyfriend, so it might be harder to find the stragglers.
That said, boyfriends can’t be THAT hard to come by. Especially if you’re the most popular girl in school.
Or you get set up on a double date.
Or you know that some loser is an exploitable secret admirer.
Or even better, just pick one out of a hat!
It’s amazing that I never scored a boyfriend during our playtime when there are so many of them getting thrown about.
… Though that said I might not have wanted one, when date time includes things like this:
So finally, there’s the prom dress. I saved this one for last because it’s arguably the most interesting as a game mechanic.
There are four dresses. The cheapest is $30 and the most expensive is $65.
In 2019 that sounds dope as hell. However, this is also Inflation: the game.
You start with $25 and make (typically) $5 at most. One of the few exceptions to that rule is a perfect example of why players who aren’t quick enough to get the cheap dresses are basically screwed.
All things considered, these goals might not seem like that much compared to a game like Monopoly, where you need to own the entire planet, build out hotels and literally bankrupt all of your friends (as well as your friendships with them).
But what I haven’t told you is that The Barbie Game has one four-sided dice.
So you’re moving around the board at a snail’s pace. While there are a number of spaces and “surprise” cards that allow you to go to whatever part of the board you want — arguably the only semblance of strategy in the entire experience, there are an infinitum more ways to wind up getting sent back home.
We found that this in itself was an interesting commentary on the nature of a teenage girl in the 60s only being able to go out to do one thing at a time before forcibly getting dragged back home for any number of reasons.
But you know. 2019 foresight again.
To extend the game’s runtime even further, there are a few different spaces which do literally nothing.
There was some 2010s time traveler in the room when they made this game who threw in this sarcastic Internet-era joke, I swear.
We didn’t get to finish a full game, so unfortunately I can’t regale you with the triumphant story of some lucky prom queen. But I hope if nothing else, this gave you a very interesting look into the mindset of people more than 50 years ago.
Good thing we’ve moved past this kind of stuff.
Oh wait that’s right, this was a reprint of the game.
We haven’t learned shit.
Luckily my group played a much better game soon after to wipe away the tears.