Young females can now truly be a Barbie girl in a Barbie world, with the recent launch of a tween-targeted virtual community from Mattel.
Yesterday CNET.com.au took a brief break from casting a critical eye over sleek silver chassis and ventured into a world of pink cupcakes, fairy floss and fluffy bunnies.
What compelled us to do such a thing? At a venue awash with pastel, Mattel launched Barbie Girls, a "play experience" that incorporates an online environment and a doll-shaped MP3 player.
The Web site offers a virtual world where girls create customisable avatars that wander around the fuschia-hued town square, try on outfits and chat with one another.
In the wake of current concerns regarding online predators, Mattel was keen to emphasise the safety measures in place, including the fact that members can only use vocabulary from an approved list when chatting to online friends. Banned words include numbers other than 2 or 4 (allowing girls to express themselves in text speak but not to provide their phone number) and names. This makes for a more anonymous experience, but can also be very frustrating -- when the chat feature was demonstrated at the launch, several innocuous words were censored, replaced by hash symbols and hearts.
The other part of the play experience is the 512MB MP3 player, which retails for AU$129.95. It can be used to hold songs and store files, but its big function is to act as a "key" to unlock features at barbiegirls.com. Plug your doll into the supplied dock, and you'll get access to a range of accessories and pets with which to festoon your online self.
So will girls go in for all this? At the launch, a herd of glitter-faced 10-year-olds plucked from the local child model agency cheered on cue as the virtues of Barbie Girls were extolled. "I didn't think I would like it because I'm 10 and a bit old for Barbie, but I love it and use it every night!" said one cherubic child, her back arching slightly as she was prodded with a stick by a Mattel minder. (OK, not really. But there was an unnerving marketing vibe about her phrasing.)
Some images from the launch: