The very first thing I did when I decided to explore the topic of Disney and video games was to type into google.com a Disney star that I’m sure we all know and hate, Hannah Montana. Before I could even finish typing Hannah the first two google.com searches that came up were of course Miss Montana, and “Hannah Montana Games”. Right away I was sure I was heading in an interesting direction.
The Walt Disney Company as we all know is one of the top 5 media conglomerations in the world. To think that they have media control of TV, Radio, Film, retail, entertainment destinations and now even the internet, is a frightening thing. Disney has found a new way to attract children and teens to their brand: online and video games. Kids watch the show- Hannah Montana will serve as my running example- and they are attracted to the specific ideal that HM sends out. While watching the show Disney incorporates advertisements for their own HM related content online. They kids go online and play games related to their favorite Disney star. By doing this Disney is able effectively cross market across two platforms that they control- television and internet. This self advertising is the most effective way to get at their audience. If they watch the show then they must want to play a related game, right?
Let’s look at these games a little closer. Upon entering the supposed “game” site, HM is plastered across the banner along with other straightforward HM merchandise. At the bottom of the page a special HM phone (which is available for purchase) is show that will read user created “text” messages that they can post on the site. The site itself is called “Hannah Montana Forever”. I decided the best way to attack this site would be to actually play one of the games myself. The advertised game was called “Soundboard Mix-up”, where apparently HM’s sound guy abandoned ship and she needs your help to make her sound nice at the show. Despite my general criticism, I thought that this game could actually be a positive outlet for kids. What’s so bad about learning how to run soundboard anyway? I’m assuming that most people who play this game, much like fans of the show, are young girls. I was thrilled to see a Disney game that might actually be encouraging girls to be creative, and gain technological skills, but oh how wrong I was. The first step in the game is to decide what outfit HM should wear. There being only one option, with the rest to unlock, I carried on with the game. This game consists of mindlessly pressing buttons to “control” HM’s sound, when actually all that really happens is HM dances around in the outfit your picked for her, and sings a popular song of her own that is unaffected by the pressing of buttons to fix the sound. Disney wants kids to play the game and enjoy beating songs to gain new outfits for HM. That is the sole aim of the game: making HM look better by unlocking cooler and sexier outfits. The rest of these “games” on the site are focused around shopping, makeovers, attracting cute boys, and ultimately “winning” by being like HM.
As if the show wasn’t bad enough on its own, now Disney has found a new way to manipulate their adolescent audience. These games exist to serve Disney. They are plastered with their brand images, and self promote across all of their media platforms. The messages that these games are sending to kids is not about actually meeting a real life goal, or accomplishing tasks, but rather are about attaining a status, a look, an image. Young girls play these games and think that they are winning by unlocking outfits, or getting a beach babe to compliment their swimsuit, but in reality Disney is teaching these girls (and I’m sure boys too) that the real way to win is by looking pretty, wearing the right clothes, and fitting in with the image of a “winner”. That image of course is Hannah Montana. As the central character of the game she represents every girl or boy that logs on to play. There are no character options, only Hannah (and sometimes Miley- the same person). Disney forces the players to become HM. That’s all they really want anyway. They want their audience to desire to be like Hannah.
Disney conveniently includes music and computer downloads along with these games, and has a supporting link for their store where kids can buy all the right clothes and accessories to be just like Hannah. While these kids think that they are winning by striving to be like Hannah Montana, and playing the games, and unlocking new and exciting outfits, in reality Disney is winning off the profits this baby audience is generating for them.