A tourist in the Barbie Nation

A chilling tale of heteronormativity, card games, fabulous accessories and a couch potato

John I. Carney
4 min readDec 6, 2020

In the evenings, while half paying attention to the TV, I will sometimes stretch out on the couch and play games on my tablet. I do this, perhaps, too often.

My go-to games are the New York Times crossword and spider solitaire. But I every now and then get itchy for something else to play. I was cruising the Google Play store a few weeks back and found a computer version of the card game Phase 10.

Phase 10 is made by Mattel (keep that in mind; you’ll need it later), and is a cousin to the classic Uno, also made by Mattel. If you think of Uno as a jazzed-up version of Crazy Eights, Phase 10 is a jazzed-up version of rummy.

I don’t think I’ve ever played the actual Phase 10 card game, but it sounded fun, and so I downloaded the app to my tablet.

The Phase 10 app is what you call a “freemium” game. It’s free to download and to play, but you’re constantly being offered the chance to buy mulligans which help you play the game. For example, every time you play a hand, it costs you five “energy points,” which are represented by little green lightning bolts. Once you’ve run out of energy points, you can’t keep playing; you must wait until they build back up. They build up at a rate of one point every five minutes, to a maximum of 50.

This is what I signed up for — playing a card game on my tablet.

If you wanted to play more often, you can buy energy points. Or you can buy gems, which can be traded for a lot of different items, including energy points.

None of this has anything to do with the card game. It’s just a common business model for downloadable video games.

As part of this whole economy, there’s usually a secondary game, completely unrelated to Phase 10, that you can play in hopes of earning gems or energy points or other goodies. When I first downloaded Phase 10, that secondary game was Thankgiving-themed, or at least cornucopia-themed, and had to do with cooking. You played this little board game where you would roll a die and move around a…

John I. Carney

Author of “Dislike: Faith and Dialogue in the Age of Social Media,” available at http://www.lakeneuron.com/dislike