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Brenda Laurel - Utopian Entrepreneur

I started reading Utopian Entrepreneur prior to the start of class for two reasons; it was short and it was the first book to arrive that I had ordered. I was immediately drawn to the unique layout of the book which reminded me of a comic in some ways, though it really didn’t contain that many cartoons or pictures. Laurel co-founded the company Purple Moon, which sounded very familiar to me. As I read on about her company and its product I was suddenly hit by a profound bolt of lightening from the sky. I owned one of the Barbie games that Laurel had created. I rummaged back through a pile of CD’s in my attic and there it was Barbie Story maker, an interactive story copy written to Mattel Media (1996). I’m sure it is related to Laurel’s games (8 total, plus a website), though the main character was not Rocketed Moved. My cousin Blair was more into the Rocketed programs and I think she even got on Laurel’s Purple Moon website and did the e-card thing a few times. But, thats enough about my childhood for now, lets talk about Laurel’s mission.

Brenda Laurel, a woman of many accomplishments set out to create interactive media for young girls. She was a large part of the girls game movement (which I don’t really remember) that was launched in 1996. One thing that I was surprised to learn was that no one made any real profits from her game and that the market crowded very fast. I guess once one company puts out a certain type of game another one is right on their heals with a newer better version with the same premise.

Agenda Item: What are your thoughts on this quotation from Branda Laurel?
“Utopian entrepreneurs manifest a different ethic simply through the force of their choices and actions.”

For utopian entrepreneurs the outcome of their businesses are harmonious with public good even when they could do otherwise to profit. Meaning, that in fact Laurel was doing everything for all the right reasons, which in this case were for the girls. She later made clear that even though you are this utopian entrepreneur, you still have to know that business end of the deal. As with any powerful medium (such as games) there is the spawning of great public fears, though it sounds like Laurel wanted to make a difference through gaming and make those fears subside rather than grow. I enjoyed her analogy that things that are popular are often times considered bad for you and vise versa. I see it in the same light as addictions. They are bad for you, but many people have them and the addiction makes them feel good and may be popular (smoking, drinking, video gaming). The work Laurel was doing was humanistic work that was value driven.

I admire the fact that she stuck to her guns for most of the time that she was developing games and didn’t buckle down from the pressure to create popular games that included violence (games that make $$$). I am not sure that her Barbie games reached all girls though and that is where my personal concern would lie. The Rockett series in my opinion only catered to a marginal group of girls that played with Barbie products. I started to think about games for girls that were out there and I was drawn to talking about Mrs. Pac-Man. In my opinion Pac-Man was a very unisex game, but I suppose calling him Pac-MAN was the problem. I have this game for Sega Genesis and the option is available to play the wife. This was done in order to draw more female players to the game (most likely a little sister or someone that the male of the house could play against). The key is to know the consumer in and out (according to Paul Allen).

Through out reading, I did see Laurel as a modern humanist. I found it strange and kind of ironic that she hated Barbie yet she worked for Mattel. I found this to be pretty unbelievable in my opinion. I don’t necessarily agree with the statement she makes about Barbie being the sole cause for girls having a poor self-image later in life. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, I’m just saying that if you write a book and put that statement in it, I want cold hard facts and figures that show me that evidence. Are you going to tell me that every woman that gets some form of plastic surgery, has a poor self image and it is because of Barbie?

Since Laurel’s games were based on storytelling, I drew some comparisons to weblogs being devices in which one can tell a story on the web. Similar to Koster, she touches on the idea of morals and values being subtly conveyed through video games. In some cases there is indeed an issue with children distinguishing reality from illusion and that is when people get hurt.

Final Thoughts:
Overall I felt like Laurel’s book expressed the viewpoints of a woman who had been a part of many different technological revolutions. I feel like Laurel talks a lot about social repercussions and responsibility associated with games, but fails to reference her gaming experiences all the time. She uses them as introductory material and then rants for the next 10 pages or until its time for a new point. I feel like instead of reveling in the technology that she created, she scoffs at it and claims negative effects on people (society) because of it. I wonder if she had the chance to do it all over and do things differently, would she?

Comments (2)


I thought the book was very optimistic (especially toward the end). Note how in huge lettering toward the end she writes: "we can manifest a difference in the future, AND WE MUST."

Then goes on to say, "throughout this book, I've maintained that one way to accomplish this is to activate the culture-technology circuit, to make the computer a character worthy of myth."

I think she is very cynical, however. She does seem to have a negative view of the present direction of technology. But I think she has more a problem with the business side of technology.

She sees traditional Western values being compromized by this individualistic, materialistic and capitalistic value system of America.

***Oooh! I have an idea! Jerry Springer LIVE with Brenda Laurel and Ayn Rand!!! :')

Anyway, I think you are absolutely right about her humanistic views. What I mostly did not like about the book is her use of metanarratives to illustrate current concepts. I think she was speaking in way too absolute of terms for today's shades of gray.

Just as Plato's ideal leader would have a character that is so balanced that he wouldn't hunger for power, one of the attractions of utopianism is that it's never attainable.

Laurel came really close, and naturally she's bitter.

Scott Adams had a gaming empire, including a corporate jet, but when those pesky kids started copying his disks instead of buying his games, his business fell. Naturally, he's bitter.

But I think both Laruel and Adams have managed to come through it all as human beings who still love the potential they saw in what we can do with each other when we play together in the digital world.

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