Since the late ‘70s, we've been having a cultural debate around the negative effects of video games. It wasn't until games like Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty became popular in the 2000s that researchers began seriously looking into how video-game violence affects children's psyches, specifically young 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, which are overwhelmingly targeted at young girls.
According to the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery's 2017 survey, nearly 70% of people have considered getting a cosmetic procedure — double the amount since 2013. With plastic surgery on a rapid incline, it’s not surprising that hundreds of cosmetic augmentation apps exist. Browse the Apple app store, for example, and you’ll quickly find Facetune, which lets users erase blemishes and take a few inches off their waist, and FaceTouchUp, which allows you to see the results of a rhinoplasty procedure on yourself. But the problem isn’t necessarily the fact that apps like this exist on many popular distribution platforms (although we could certainly have that debate); it’s that some exist specifically for kids.
Yesterday, Today reported on a category of games, marketed for children 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. Face Surgery Simulator, High School Clinic Affair, and Princess Plastic Surgery are just some of the most disturbing. 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?
You might be convinced these types of games should be removed from all app distributors, and you’re certainly not alone. Parents are petitioning to censor any plastic surgery scenarios that might damage their child's developing self-image. But there's another side to consider: What if these simulations could potentially empower young girls to pursue professions in medicine?
Back in 2016, PLOS ONE published a study that found that male players of video games containing sexism and violence, like Grand Theft Auto, were more likely to identify with the character they were playing. So while Princess Plastic Surgery probably isn't great for anyone, it's also only one game of many — others involve playing veterinarians and dentists, and helping out patients in need. If the user empathises with the medical professional instead of the plastic surgery-addicted damsel in distress then games like these could have some positive effects.
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.