Ubisoft’s Imagine series invites girls to play as anything from aspiring zookeepers to detectives to the parents of “babyz.” Imagine: Reporter is ostensibly about developing a career in journalism—where video editing, photography, writing articles, and being a TV anchor are apparently all part of the nebulous job of “reporter.” Players undertake all these tasks as mini-games—using the touch screen to take notes intended for later use in a quiz, imitating sequences to “type” an article, or guiding a camera over an interview subject.
The mini-games are introduced in succession as a blonde Barbie-type named Madison ascends to television-hosting stardom. She starts out covering cats trapped in trees, then progresses to interviews with celebs with creative names like “the starlet” or “the rock star.” The game gradually ramps up its difficulty curve, so early levels are offensively simple, later ones only insultingly so.
It’s unwise to pick up the pink-clad Imagine: Reporter expecting an educational, feminist career simulation. Upon learning she will be making an important documentary in Africa (fresh off her breathtaking coverage of “the rock star concert”), Madison is excited about buying new sunglasses. But is the game degrading, or just a way for little girls to play harmlessly with the kind of ideas little girls like? Is Madison, with her pink suit and bimbo cheer, a destructive role model, or a harmless fantasy-self?
Imagine games are simply one modern avenue for the aspirational play in which kids have always engaged—most girls have imagined themselves as teachers or doctors, for example, and it’s likely their let’s-pretend vision of those careers isn’t any more instructive or realistic than Imagine: Reporter’s absurd presentation. (Guiding a bike around a neighborhood to look for scoops? Really?) A more pressing issue supersedes questions of social obligation, though: Imagine: Reporter is a crummy game. The art is bad, the text is vapid, and the gameplay is so dull and repetitive, it’s hard to picture even small kids staying engaged. It probably won’t hurt anyone, but it’s still no substitute for real imagination.