Aw, so Cute!: Extreme Juiciness and Obvious Gender Roles in Tsum Tsum

Tsum Tsums, for the unacquainted, are plush toys of any of characters from Disney’s three main properties (Disney, Marvel, and Lucas Films).  Originally Japanese, they’re round and very cute.  And, like most things in the modern world, they have an accompanying app.  

Some Marvel mini Tsum Tsums. Aren’t they adorable? Source

The game, simply called Tsum Tsum, is of a simple, familiar design.  Tsum Tsum icons appear in a jumble on your screen, and with your finger, you connect chains of three or more similar Tsums to clear them.  The more Tsums you clear, the higher your score.  In short, a very simple way to kill a few minutes.

A jumble of Tsums on the screen. Connect similar characters to clear them! Taken as a screenshot on my phone


In my initial exploration of Tsum Tsum, two main elements of the game stuck out to me: 1. Its remarkably juicy interface and 2. Its obviously gendered demographic.

First, an overview of just how juicy Tsum Tsum is. “Juiciness,” as Jesper Juul writes, describes the visual and auditory rewards produced by a game.  The more exciting, pleasurable things there are to see and hear, the juicier a game is. Tsum Tsum is one of the juiciest games I’ve ever played; it’s a veritable smorgasbord of lights and sounds.  Every time you clear a row of Tsums, they burst with satisfying pops.  Fun, exciting music plays in the background during your play sessions.  When you clear enough Tsums quickly enough to achieve “Fever Time,” lights flash all around the border of your screen and music even more exciting and fun than the standard soundtrack plays.  With all these enjoyable lights and sounds, Tsum Tsum really activates the reward centers of your brain, making you justify just one more minute-long game.  Juul writes that extreme juiciness is a common feature of casual games such as Tsum Tsum.  They bring a great deal of pleasure for relatively little time and energy invested.  The juiciness of this game is the most striking element to me.  The game design itself is very simple.  The concept is hardly original.  But the sheer juiciness makes it near-addicting to play.

The second element of Tsum Tsum that really struck me is its clearly gendered demographic.  Young women are not the target demographic of most conventional console games, but they certainly are of Tsum Tsum.   Using Disney characters is one obvious clue, as grown men are generally a bit more reluctant to admit to enjoying Lady and the Tramp and Tangled. The “Ready… Go!” at the beginning of each game is spoken in a high-pitched Minnie Mouse-sounding voice.  I noted this largely in contrast to a sister game I used to have, Marvel Tsum Tsum.  While Disney Tsum Tsum’s interface is light blue, Marvel Tsum Tsum’s was near black.  The Minnie Mouse voice of the Disney game was a low, robotic one in the Marvel version.  In the Marvel game, you can battle villains, but there’s no fighting in the Disney version. And of course, the characters for Marvel were superheroes, not princesses and talking animals.

Even the language at the start of the game appears differentiated by gender.  In case the text is too small to read, the message says “Welcome to the world of Tsum Tsum! It’s almost time for the Disney Store to open.  The Tsums, all tuckered out from a long night of playing, are rushing to return to the shelves.  Oh no! They can’t do it by themselves!  Can you help them get back in time?” The Marvel one talked about battling villains, while the Disney one is about getting the store back in order.  Also a screenshot of mine.

Those obvious assumptions about which gender would be drawn to which property interested me.  I’m a young, feminine woman who would’ve preferred the Marvel game to the Disney one (the Marvel one appears to have been deleted from the App Store, so I settled for my second choice).  I think this gendered marketing is potentially a pitfall of many video games.  Assuming women won’t be interested in superheroes (or fighting zombies or slaying orcs) and therefore not endeavoring to market to women, perhaps by failing to include female playable characters, seems to me to be a big oversight.  I’m not advocating for totally gender neutral things (I like cute games!), but rather suggesting that assuming the gaming market falls into such strict binaries may not be the best business model.