Girls play games
October 15, 2007
Lately it's nearly impossible to tool around the gaming side of the 'net without bumping into a news story or blog post about girls and games. It seems clear that games are bad for girls. Equally clear is the fact that games can be good for girls. One major problem is that the industry ignores girl gamers, except when it caters to them. Games designed for girls are getting better; games designed for girls are getting worse; designers need to stop designing "games for girls."
I initially thought I would offer my "take" on all this--after all, that's what we bloggers do, right?--but the deeper I dig and the harder I think about it, the more I realize just how silly that would be. Not because I'm a guy who's not entitled to an opinion on the issue (though I confess to feeling a bit of that), but because there is no "take" to be had. It turns out, there are many "takes," and the real picture of girl and women gamers looks rather more like an intricate mosaic. Despite the best boil-it-down efforts of dozens of websites and blogs, complexity confounds the nifty sound bite.
So instead of offering yet another "what do women gamers want?" treatise, I thought it might be useful to sample and feature a few of the more thoughtful essays devoted to the subject of girl and women gamers from various sources. This is by no means a comprehensive collection, but I believe it represents a fair sampling of various points of view. If I've missed one you consider essential, let me know and I'll be sure to include it.
- First a little something to set the tone: a delightfully subversive feminist parable courtesy of Saturday Night Live (Dec. 6, 1997) called Chess for Girls: (Update: According to Youtube: "This video is no longer available due to a copyright claim by NBC Universal" - sorry)
This skit inspired a chapter in From Barbie to Mortal Kombat: Gender and Computer Games, edited by Justine Cassell and Henry Jenkins, a portion of which can be read online here.
- Using "chess for girls" as a reference point, gaming blog Castle in the Air complicates the question of what women want from games by suggesting it's the wrong question:
- Here’s the main reason the question of “what women want” is stupid: We all want exactly the same thing from our games. Oh, some of us may prefer puzzles, others strategic board games, and still others vicious PVP, but what we really want is fulfilling entertainment. More...
- In Playing the Games of Love, Japanese journalist Chiyono Sugiyama writes about the popularity of dating game simulations among women in Japan:
- <game designer> Uchida said: "Many women told us that, after they finished getting to a romantic ending with one character, they felt guilty about focusing on a different male character than the first one. Some said the male characters seemed to be vividly true to life. That's a real compliment for us."
- Ubisoft announces new line of Imagine games targeted at 6-14 year-old girls:
- Imagine™ Fashion Designer invites players to become hip Manhattan designers.
- Imagine™ Animal Doctor puts young players in the role of a veterinarian.
- Imagine™ Babyz® is the first simulation game focused on caring for babies.
- Imagine™ Master Chef allows players to create recipes from all over the world.
- Imagine™ Figure Skater, players live the life of a champion professional figure skater.
- Ubisoft's announcement prompted outraged responses from ParentDish and Wonderland:
- Honestly, I think I'd rather have my daughter blasting aliens with a machine gun than playing a game that reinforces gender stereotypes that are so outdated, it makes games like "babyz" look downright absurd.
- I would love to know what else Ubisoft is doing for girls, other than shopping, fashion and pets. Anything? It's a bit ironic that the series is called Imagine, and yet Ubisoft is demonstrating a distinct lack of the stuff here. As Brian brilliantly said, "what's next, Imagine: The Glass Ceiling?
- University of Texas study looks at girls and video games Among the findings (I only report 'em folks, I don't write 'em):
- Many game programmers and artists do not want to work on 'girl' games or serious games.
- Those who are willing to try have an extremely difficult time thinking 'girl.'
- [Games for girls need] to be nonviolent with lots of role playing, age appropriate adventure, a peaceful buildup and a rewarding conclusion.
- Despite reports of its demise, social satire LIVES! Dangerous High School Girls in Trouble is an RPG where "good girls get better by being bad!":
- Steal into the underbelly of your hometown. Confront oppressive adults and malicious peers. Defeat their avarice with naughty little games. Win useful tools like lip rouge, crowbars, boyfriends, and cigarette lighters.
- Halo 3 leaves girl gamers in the dark:
- A game doesn't have to be packaged into a Bubble Gum Pink case with purple and yellow flowers everywhere for girls to like it. All it has to do is have a little feminine appeal. Here are some ways Microsoft and Bungie could have turned on the light for Girl Gamers while keeping up their image with the fanboys...More
- The Official Shrub.com blog has created "Geek girl" stereotype Bingo, a scorecard for use whenever you come across an article or blog post dealing with women and gaming, technology, science, etc.
- "It's Just a Game" from the Feminist Gamers blog addresses why sexism in video games matters:
- Sexism in videogames may not be the most crucial issue on the top of the feminist agenda, but it’s not entirely unimportant, either. And to be told that there are areas of our culture that should be magically exempted from feminist critiques is a request that smacks of desperation.
- Two essays (among others) from The Escapist deal with women in games. In Women Monsters and Monstrous Women, Bonnie Ruberg addresses the question of representation:
- Should we be pushing for equal representation as the gaming other in the same way we push for equal representation as the gaming self? Why do only men get to be the bad guys? We still have to keep in mind that most gamers are male. Do we really want to provide more women for them to hunt down and kill? Of course it looks bad, but in the end, is it really any worse than killing men? These issues, while important, remain relatively unexplored. Like many questions of gender equality, they have no easy answers.
- In Holding Out for a Heroine, Erin Hoffman has a dream:
- Somewhere in the uncharted plains of videogame potential, in the
wild primal cloud of yet-nascent human ideas, is my perfect heroine. I
don't know what she looks like or where she's from, but I know she's a
manifestation of despair and triumph, of trial and overcoming, of
badass throw-down and ephemeral grace. She's a creature of fire and
passion tempered by intellect, of depth and history and complexity. She
will surprise me and challenge me, and when we bring down her
arch-nemesis - perhaps a phantom from her past, perhaps a threat to all
she stands for - our unified victory will be unmatched; the world will
echo with the lamentation of our fallen foes.
And I know she has never seen life on the screen.
- Somewhere in the uncharted plains of videogame potential, in the wild primal cloud of yet-nascent human ideas, is my perfect heroine. I don't know what she looks like or where she's from, but I know she's a manifestation of despair and triumph, of trial and overcoming, of badass throw-down and ephemeral grace. She's a creature of fire and passion tempered by intellect, of depth and history and complexity. She will surprise me and challenge me, and when we bring down her arch-nemesis - perhaps a phantom from her past, perhaps a threat to all she stands for - our unified victory will be unmatched; the world will echo with the lamentation of our fallen foes.
- Finally, Girl in the Machine has a fascinating piece called Live in Purity and then Die which analyzes the PS2 game Fatal Frame (AKA Project Zero):
- Fatal Frame is, in my opinion, one of the most terrifying experiences on the Playstation 2, beating its two sequels by a landslide when it comes to scares. Its estrogen-enriched cast is one of its many perks, and a storyline that details young women overcoming the cruelty brought upon them by old, superstitious tradition is a more than relevant parallel to the experiences of women today.
As I said, these merely scratch the surface, but I hope they're a useful snapshot. If game designers were half as interested in these questions as bloggers, I wonder how different the video game landscape would look.