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Lauren F. Winner

Rockett, Lara, and Barbie

The newest computer game protagonists—and customers—are girls.

I'm sitting in a tree house with my friend Whitney. At school, Whitney and I aren't real close. She's been described as "a crabcake and a snob," and I'm not crazy about her. But here in my treehouse I'm seeing a side of her I've never seen before: instead of sticking her nose in the air and walking past me in the hall without waving, her face is crumpling be cause her parents are divorced and her stepmother's trying to throw her a birthday party, and right now she thinks being Whitney is pretty tough.

I know I have a couple of choices: I could laugh at her in order to get her back for all those nonwaves, or I could try to help her out. If I try to help her, she'll tell me even more about what's going on, in such vivid detail that I will be able to see it for myself. If, after hearing all that, I still commit to helping her and being her friend, I can go onto her Secret Path in the forest, where I can look for magical story stones that will help her know what to do about her stepmom's party. Of course, I have to solve some puzzles to find the stones. But if I don't find them all today, I can put the ones I have found in a box and come back for the rest tomorrow. The party's not for a couple of weeks, so I have plenty of time.

Or I could just be nasty to Whitney and diss her.

You've probably guessed by now that I don't really have a tree house or a friend named Whitney. But I do have a computer game that presents a tree house scenario. It's not like most computer games: this one's designed especially for girls.

In high school, a group of my friends voted me "Best Feminist: The Person Who Does the Least to Reinforce Negative Stereotypes About Women," but there are certain ways in which I feel very much like a Helpless Girl. I can't drive a stick shift, and the only thing I know how to do to a computer is turn it on. Neither has proved an insurmountable handicap: I inherited an automatic from my mom, and I have always managed to lure a nearby guy into helping me with my computer. ...

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