Like many parents today, what little I know about online games I’ve learned from my kids, and most of what mine have played so far have ranged from clever to educational to downright silly. But one game stopped me in my tracks when my nine-year-old showed it to me recently – it was a plastic surgery simulator game that had come up on her Kindle when she searched for ‘free games for kids’.
To show me how it works, she carried out cosmetic surgery on her (animated) patient’s nose. This involved marking where the incision should go, using a scalpel to cut into the skin, moving a bone inside the nose, then gluing and stitching up the wound. And once that game was over, some of the other suggestions included ‘Pregnant Mommy’s Surgery – Caesarean Simulator Game’ – I kid you not.
I was really surprised that the cosmetic surgery game existed at all – I mean, who wants to play a game that simulates cutting into skin and delving into someone’s nose – but I was particularly surprised to see it marketed to kids. Not only is it graphic and gross, it’s also sending a really negative message to little girls. Don’t like how you look? Just go under the knife – because you are nothing beyond your appearance.
Right now, my kids aren’t particularly body conscious, and although I can’t keep them wrapped up in cotton wool, I’d definitely like to keep them away from plastic surgery games and the messages they send. That app developers are allowed to promote plastic surgery games to children is tasteless and offensive and to quote my nine-year-old, icky.
So when the Irish chapter of Endangered Bodies – an international movement challenging body-toxic culture – got in touch with me about a petition to ask Apple, Amazon, and Google to stop marketing plastic surgery games to children, I was more than happy to get behind it.
Apple, Amazon and Google have regulations for app developers regarding games for children, but they focus mainly on advertising. Endangered Bodies ultimately aims to persuade these companies to create policies that would prohibit the download of cosmetic surgery apps by children that go beyond putting the onus on parents to employ parental controls.
Dr. Susie Orbach, UK psychoanalyst, psychotherapist, author and co-founder of Endangered Bodies said, “What appears as playful in these apps is in essence a dastardly training in seeing one’s own body as infinitely malleable. These games don’t develop a child’s imagination. They direct it towards body transformation and implicitly into the demand to be beautiful and body preoccupied rather than giving children wings to fly.”
Sometimes it can feel as though there are petitions everywhere, and you wonder whether they have any impact at all. In this case however, there is precedent. In January 2014, Endangered Bodies joined forces with the Twitter account, Everyday Sexism to ask that Google and Apple remove existing plastic surgery apps from their stores. Within 24 hours they quietly removed them. But over the last several months Endangered Bodies have become aware that they have reappeared and in greater numbers. But with enough signatures in each country, all which will be combined to one petition, there is a real possibility to make a statement and bring about change – it’s just one click away: #SurgeryIsNotAGame Petition
I’ve signed the petition to ask Apple, Google and Amazon to regulate how these games are marketed to children – will you sign too?
For more on cosmetic surgery games, why they’re deemed by rating agencies as suitable for three-year-olds, and the damage they do, see this feature in the Examiner: Why cosmetic surgery games need to be cut out
And to hear my chat with Jonathan Healy on Newstalk FM, click the podcast here