November 5, 2010

Are there "female" games?

Before I start, I want to say hello to any new readers I acquired from the Bioware forums.  I'm glad you all liked my female characters in games essay, and I hope some of you will like this one.

Around the same time I realized a lot of people on the Bioware forums were reading my post, I also had a small conversation with some people after work.  I was mention how surprised I was that I liked Call of Duty: World at War's campaign.  Never thought I would be that into it.  A friend asks why and I mention about the campaign was engaging and fun yada yada yada.  And then he mentioned that he notices girls play only certain games, that they like a particular part of game.

Other that the Sims 3, I don't play any "particular" games that are supposed to be female-friendly.  I love FPSs, RTSs, RPGs, and a lot of other types of games that usually have a male following.  But gender-wise, I'm definitely female.  So... I'm an outlier?

I don't think so.  This is what I think: While growing up in the society we live in (at least in the western world), girls are taught, and not intentionally, that video games are not for them.

When I was growing up, my little brother was the reason we bought certain video game consoles.  I would try them and never got into them.  It turns out it's because other than Kirby, I SUCK at platformers.  Absolutely horrible.  That's what my brother would usually play, and he mastered it.  He is also better coordinated than I am in general, making it easier for him to pick up the control schemes.  I noticed that when it came to my friends, the girls just never got the video games, even if they grew up with them around.

Part of it is because the video games were not gender-neutral.  Gender meaning the social expectations of the sexes.  A lot of video game characters are fulfilling gender expectations of glory, either being overly sexualized or the penultimate of the gender.  I've mentioned this before.

Considering the industry decided to have mostly male heroes over the years, over time there were more heroes that boys and men could relate to then girls and women.  And like a lot of "toys, parents will pick out the one that has their children's genders represented.  Boys play with GI Joes and Might Max Figures, girls play with Barbie and American Girl Dolls.  So over time, since video games had more male heros, more parents bought their games for their sons and daughters got pushed out of the market.  Girls didn't grow up with video games, and as they grew up it was easy to just dismiss video games as a "guy thing."

Let's be honest, that's just by theory, but it's what I've observed in my childhood.

With this in mind, I think women have just adjusted to not be video game players in general.  The numbers have increased in years, but it's a slow and steady thing. I don't think there's been a big push because for gender in our society, it's not considered "lady-like" to even participate in fictional  violence. The most we get are women's leagues in some sports, and usually not heavy contact sports like american football.

Recently, recognizing the purchasing power of women in general, there has been a push to identify what would make a successful game that women would like to buy.  Two E3's ago that attempt was extremely ridiculous and stereotypical girl games, not even woman games.  Now because the industry is talking about it, the mainstream gamer is talking about it as well.

To me, it isn't quite a mystery.  Just stop making it seem like games are just for guys.  How do you do that?  Well, less characters that look like human beefcakes or barbie dolls, and probably more normal-looking characters.  Less over sexualized characters and more realistic depictions of bodies and goals.

That doesn't necessarily make games more female friendly, but it makes them more gender neutral.  And that makes games welcoming to EVERYONE.

I'm not saying that the video game industry HAS to do this, but if they want more female gamers, this is the first step.


  1. I really fell in love with Fable. It was well done, where your choices mattered, and you could be a wide variety of somewhat less than offensive possible roles. I also liked Kingdom Hearts- the story was fantastic and I really enjoyed crossing a million genres. I didn't pick it because it was Disney, though- I wish that part could be erased. I'm not a fan of the mouse brigade.

    I personally find puzzle games to be my favorite- because I don't have to figure out the damn controller to be good at it.

    I'm terrible with 3 axis games, so good on you that you can like, enjoy and PLAY COD3. I sure can't =/

  2. It's been a while since I picked up a games console but the ones that I really enjoyed were Tomb Raider, Tekken, Mario Bros, Zelda, GTA. All the mainstream stuff, but I don't think limited to a particular type. I liked the beat-em-ups and I liked the adventure/quest games with all the problem solving. I never got into Sims, nor battle/strategy games or sports.

    Everyone's different I suppose, but I agree with you, in general girls just aren't into games. Perhaps it's partly because games like these are mostly solitary activities, women tend to prefer more social pastimes.

  3. Back when I was a kid, there was a definitely tendency among my peers to refer to TSR's Dragonlance line as "D&D for girls" because of its more emotional/romantic "touchy-feely" aspects as presented in the novel line. :)

    This aspect didn't really carry over to the DL game accessories, though.

    Regarding "realistic depictions of bodies and goals", though: Is there any real evidence that this is what most girls and women want in their entertainment? It often seems like all the biggest, most stereotypically "female" entertainment properties like "Twilight", "Sex In The City", "Eat, Pray, Love", etc, focus on unrealistically glamorous people with far from everyday concerns (i.e. which out of multiple handsome/exotic/sophisticated/sexy/rich suitors to settle down with is a common "problem").

  4. Will: I can't say that I speak for all women. I speak for myself.

    I personally find goals outside of "find love" or its sister "get married" to be pretty important in games I play. "Get rescued" isn't a goal, either.

    I like games that give me choices and consequences- I play them to find out what happens. I replay to try different variations often. I find adventure games to be interesting; so long as they aren't overly linear.

    Speaking to sterotypical entertainment: I am afraid to say absolutely none of those mentioned are of any interest to me whatsoever. I SAW Twilight due to a teen girl in the home. I'll admit I found it easy to admire some of the male actors, but that was all the interest I had there. SaTC- I'm not a big material girl, nor do I find anything super trendy real interesting. Eat Pray Barf- Tried to read that book and wanted to smack the woman upside the head. Why would I see the movie?

    Gimme Sue Grafton or Patricia Cornwell, Sons of Anarchy or Burn Notice any day.

  5. What are we supposed to want anyway, pink unicorns? That might work for my five-year-old, but even my seven-year-old is more interested in action and content (as i type, she's yelling out codes to her older brother, who is playing Kung Fu Panda).

  6. Will: If I didn't make myself clear about the "realistic" aspects of gameplay, let me do so now--I'm not trying to say that's necessary to make a "girl game" or a "game for women". I'm saying that when you do things like that and make a game gender neutral, it's easier to lure women into the video game market.

    I think that getting rid entirely the vibe of "guy games" into the other direction, and making seriously gendered games on the "female" end of the spectrum, is going to reek of desperation. I think most women will know something is worth trying out if the game doesn't try to hard to attract them first. Over time, I'm sure the gaming industry will get a better idea of what women will prefer in their video games after they've been a significant portion of the market, but the industry can't figure out if they can't get those women at all.

  7. Not being in the video game industry, I can agree with your points but have no way to impact it. I do grok what you're saying, though.

    Personally, I find that traditional RPGs (in addition to their other merits) have more "gender neutral" options.
    : )