Since the late ‘70s, we've been having a cultural debate around the negative ramifications of video games. But it wasn't until Grand Theft Auto or Call of Duty became popular in the 2000s that researchers began seriously looking into how video-game violence affects adolescent boys. Now, in 2018, there’s a new breed of simulations on the market that are cause for concern: games that let children virtually perform plastic surgery.
With cosmetic procedure rates on a steep incline (nearly 70% of Americans have considered one), it's not surprising that these augmentation apps exist. What's problematic is how they're being marketed specifically to young girls. Yesterday, Today reported on a category of games, targeting players as young as eight, involving cartoonish scenarios in which the user performs invasive surgery on women.
While not all of the games are made by the same company, a significant amount are created by Bravo Kids Media. The brand's Face Surgery Simulator, High School Clinic Affair, and Princess Plastic Surgery are just a sample of the disturbing programming available. Here’s a quick rundown of what happens in Princess Plastic Surgery: A pretty princess was cursed by an evil witch and is now ugly beyond repair! The only way to reverse the curse is to undergo extensive plastic surgery that may include an eye lift, nose job, and lip injections — all performed by you, the player. She'll bruise, she'll cry, and once the bandages are gone, well, that's it... that's the game. Problematic much?
If you feel these types of games should be removed from all app distributors, you’re certainly not alone: Many parents are petitioning to censor any plastic surgery scenarios that might damage their child's developing self-image. Others argue that these simulations might empower young girls to pursue professions in medicine — which is a little like saying Grand Theft Auto could potentially improve one's driving skills.
Back in 2016, PLOS ONE published a study that found that male players of video games containing sexism and violence were more likely to identify with the character they were playing. In this scenario, that leaves room for the plastic-surgery-addicted damsel in distress or the doctor who, through social cues of the game, is being conditioned to learn which real-life features (a big nose, thin lips) should be "fixed."
In response to the recent controversy, a spokesperson from Apple tells Refinery29, “We do not want, nor allow, these types of apps on the store. We have rules in place against these apps and do not offer them on the App Store.” However, many from Bravo Kids Media are still available on Google and Amazon. A Google spokesperson tells us, “While we don’t comment on specific apps, we do have strict policies in place to prohibit apps in the Families collection on Google Play that promote negative self-image or low self-esteem, regardless of theme or intended user age group. We're taking the feedback from the community very seriously and are working to ensure that these apps are in compliance with our policies."
We’ve reached out Amazon and Bravo Kids and will update this post with their statements.