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12-Year-Old Speaks Out Against Gender Gap In iPhone Games


Sixth grader Maddy Messer, 12, loves to play mobile games on her iPhone, but she noticed a disappointing theme in many of the games she and her friends play.

“There aren’t any girls,” Maddy told Here & Now’s Robin Young. “And if there are, you almost always have to pay for them… It ranged from a dollar to 30 bucks.”

When Maddy began to notice the discrepancy, she decided to do some research. She downloaded more games onto her phone, scrolling through the libraries of characters, searching for free female characters. Of the games Maddy downloaded, 46 percent offered girl characters, but only 15 percent offered girls for free.

“It implies that girls aren’t equal to boys and that they don’t deserve these characters.”– Maddy Messer

“I was really shocked, and I was really upset that girls weren’t getting equal rights in these games. I don’t mind so much because it’s just a game, but if I’m gonna be playing games and putting my time and sometimes money into this, I’d rather be a girl. It implies that girls aren’t equal to boys and that they don’t deserve these characters.”

She presented her findings to her father’s classroom.

“They were reflecting that this was not a new situation,” Maddy’s father said. “They remember in their childhood playing Mario Brothers and not being able to be a girl character. They wanted to be saving themselves from the monkey, not waiting for a guy to save them. They didn’t want to play Mario Kart and have a girl in a fancy dress – maybe that was fine sometimes, but not all the time, and not as the only option.”

Maddy wrote about her experience and her research in The Washington Post this week, in an editorial headlined, “I’m a 12-year-old girl. Why don’t the characters in my apps look like me?

It was an exciting moment her dad said, but he wasn’t without concerns.

“As a parent, it’s exciting to support your child’s interests and if they want to take a topic that they see, do some research, and write it up. That’s exciting and one wants to be supportive of it. It is also something that is a little bit scary or just apprehensive in the sense that we know that people who are talking about these issues often get negative critic. Not just on an intellectual basis based on their research, but on a personal basis.”

A few weeks ago, Here & Now spoke with Brianna Wu, co-founder of Giant Spacekat, and a target of Gamergate, the online attack on women gamers and developers who were advocating for changes in the industry.

So far, responses to Maddy’s article from the gaming industry are positive. “Temple Run,” one of the games Maddy researched, sent her an email saying they are releasing a free female character soon and “Noodles Now” is creating a new free female character named “Madeline,” for whom Maddy will do the voice-over.

“That’s gonna be really fun,” Maddy said. Despite his concerns, her dad agreed.

“It’s a nice reward for someone who’s done a lot of research.”


  • Madeline Messer, sixth grader and author of an op-ed in The Washington Post.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.