Getting Girls to Game

“So do you think the game was designed for men, women, or both?” I asked Victoria. It was how I usually ended my interviews for my senior thesis, which is on women who play World of Warcraft.

“I think it was designed for men,” she answered. “I think they did a decent job with throwing in some female aspects, but I think in general it was designed for men.” Her answer is not atypical of the other women I interviewed. None of them thought that the game was designed for women, though they agree that there are aspects that appeal to the female gamer.

Ok, I am sure you guys are getting sick and tired of being told how chauvinistic gaming is, and how gaming makes teenagers kill people, and how games are ruining the world. I'll put you at ease right away as I staunchly disagree with the latter two statements, though the first has some truth to it. But, I promise that the purpose of this piece is not to berate male gamers for their sexist ways (but the girls I interviewed did complain about the sexism in WoW, so knock it off!). I am here to help you, gents, by showing how you can tap into one of the few markets yet unclaimed by the industry: women.

Why even bother to convince you that women should be actively designed for in the mainstream gaming industry? We, the women, need the experience that gaming offers. Gaming offers a chance to become acquainted with computers – with use of software, with installation of software, and, as anybody who has changed a graphics card to improve the look of an Epic Flying Mount can attest to, with hardware. In an industry where women are still grossly underrepresented we need all the help we can get, and games will be a big help.

And what does the industry gain from this relationship? Money. Plain and simple. The market of boys young and old who buy video games is pretty much tapped out. I promise you there isn't some guy somewhere who one day is going to stumble into Target and say, “Play Station? What's that? What have I been missing out on?!” Plus, do you guys know how much a pair of Manolo Blahnik costs? What if you could convince an entire market share with plenty of disposable income to buy the latest console game – hell, to buy the console itself – instead of spending that money on a pair of shoes? I promise it can happen.

What you need to do is this: incorporate more flowers, puppies, and rainbows into your games. Oh, and pink, lots of pink. Just kidding! The Purple Moon company already tried that, and it seriously flopped. Girls don't necessarily want games with flowers and puppies and rainbows. I've played those games, and they generally suck.

The true solution is even simpler than skewing the color spectrum of the game toward pink hues. All you need to do is offer the chance to play female avatars. (Ok, that's not all, but I'll save my attack on game packaging with nearly-naked women for another article.)

“But we have published games with female characters!” you say. Right. For first person shooters there's Samus and there's Lara Croft, one girl who is only revealed to be female in the final cinematic, and one who wears her guns in holsters around her thighs, people. Her thighs! It's not exactly a great start. Role playing games are a little better at including women, but they are still a minority of the characters available. And if anybody says “Chung Lee” I will round-house kick you faster than you can say, “cultural appropriation.”

So, to expand on the first point, we don't need the chance to play a female character every once in a while. We need it in every game. That is all (again, see the note re: packaging for the disclaimer).

I am sure more than one designer is laughing at me right now. “That's all, she says?!” No, I am not a designer, but it seems to me that it should be easier than you think. The designers for Mass Effect did it, so you can too. Take the same gameplay, the same storyline, and just rearrange the polygons to form a female body instead of a male one. Throw in a screen in the beginning of the game to give the player of which version to play, and you're good to go.

“But the story changes in Mass Effect based on which gender you choose.” Yeah, you got me there. The love interest options for your character does change based on whether your character is male or female. But there's an easy solution for that, too: give the player a choice to become romantically involved with any of the characters. In Mass Effect the male Captain Shepard can become romantically involved with Ashley Williams, the female Captain Shepard with Kaidan Alenko, and they can both become involved with the Liara T'Soni. Why not just make it a romantic free-for-all, with the option to be gay, straight, or one who loves a genderless alien? Makes sense to me. Hell, if the developers of Harvest Moon were able to code the game to recognize which of the five girls in town you were courting, I think modern-day designers can handle three love interest options.

“You want us to make gay characters?” Not necessarily gay, but definitely bisexual. Equally open to a relationship with anybody of any gender, or even a lack of gender. You don't seem to have a problem with the super hot girl-on-alien kiss that slipped its way into Mass Effect, and I am sure the extra press attention helped sales of the game. Make the first game where the protagonist can be a super ass-kicking dude who kisses other super ass-kicking dudes, and I promise you will get tons of free publicity.

“But Mass Effect is an RPG. What about FPSs?”First person shooters do pose their own problems, but none that can't be overcome. There can be a Doomgal, a Gordina Freewoman, a Mistress Chief. Well, I probably wouldn't call her “mistress,” but you get the point. The main aspect to consider with FPSs is that they don't offer the same choices that RPGs; instead of player actions moving the story, there is a set storyline that every player will experience. Again, I think it is rather simple to create two nearly identical cinematics, one with a male protagonist and one with a female. The story can be consistent between the two, unless there is some instance where the male protagonist does something with his penis. And at that point, you really might want to rethink your storyline. Seriously. No storylines where a penis is pivotal to the progression.

“But don't girls want different gameplay?” Oh jeez, come on guys. Girls aren't that different from boys. We like most of the same stuff. Of the women I interviewed for my thesis, not one of them said, “I really like the cats you buy from the crazy cat lady!” when I asked about their favorite part of the game. They liked to raid, they liked to run instances, and they liked to PVP. In other words, they liked to kick some ass, and I am sure they have all kicked yours at some point. Sure, some of them liked to roleplay, but the founder of roleplay was a man! (RIP, Gygax) And I am sure there are boys out there who would rather play Spider Solitaire than Grand Theft Auto. My point is that there are differences in game preferences, but those differences are not necessarily gendered. Some girls may not like a particular game, but there will be some boys who don't like it either.

“So that's really all we have to do? Then girls will play our games?” I can't make any promises, but it sure will help. And, like I mentioned before, the advertising strategy will probably have to move away from using big busty women. But with girls to play in every game and a sexism-free advertising strategy I think the industry will be ready to accept a female audience. With that and a plug from somebody like Paris Hilton, you guys should be pretty much good to go. (Somebody has to make video games “Hot!”)

“Ummm... I'm out of questions.” Good, because I think I am done answering them. Like I said, the formula is simple:

+Female Characters
– Sexism
+ Paris Hilton endorsement
= Lots of Sales to Women

Why don't you go run the math and get back to me?

(This piece was originally part of my final project for my Sociology of Culture Class and is a spin-off of my senior thesis)


indil said...

"None of them thought that the game was designed for women, though they agree that there are aspects that appeal to the female gamer."

Perhaps knowing the majority of Warcraft players, indeed the majority of game players, are male prejudiced their impressions.

"Ok, I am sure you guys are getting sick and tired of being told how chauvinistic gaming is, and how gaming makes teenagers kill people, and how games are ruining the world."

In what way are most games chauvinistic? By "chauvinistic", I assume you meant male chauvinism, the unfounded belief that males are superior to females, and not game content that contains gratuitous sexy stuff, which is not male chauvinism. Does a male character rescuing a female character constitute male chauvinism? No, of course not, but in case you think it does, then consider that if it does, then the reverse must also be true, which it isn't. A rescue implies nothing about whether the rescuer is superior to the rescued; if someone is chained to a wall, they can't do much about it themselves, regardless of sex or gender. I suspect you're concerned not with the existence of these types of games, but with the disproportionately fewer games that contain alternative experiences. Most male characters are the heroes, and most female characters are the damsels in distress or trophy sidekicks.

What's interesting is that you deride games tailored for a subset of players ("chauvinistic") so they seem inherently bad, yet call for them to do the same thing for every other permutation of sexuality and gender. Is it good to tailor a game, or isn't it? You seem to want it both ways. If it isn't, all game characters must be indiscernible, amorphous, asexual blobs that cannot do anything without forcing the player to experience the game through a character possessing a sex, sexual orientation, or gender they might not immediately identify with, resulting in an experience no one can relate to. If it is, it's hypocritical to deride games tailored for male players because you want some of your own!

"We, the women, need the experience that gaming offers. Gaming offers a chance to become acquainted with computers – with use of software, with installation of software, and...with hardware."

Revenge of the nerds is at hand!

"The market of boys young and old who buy video games is pretty much tapped out."

The video game industry is thriving and is projected to grow by leaps and bounds over the next few years.

The business of tailoring games for male players is lucrative and safe. Contemporary games require large investments of time and money, too large to risk on games not guaranteed to return profits. Instead, they rely on established and successful franchises, me-too copies, and rehashes, which reinforces established content as the norm. Furthermore, it's not clear how to make good games tailored for females. Companies have tried before and failed. By "it's not clear", I mean it's not clear to the game makers, which are probably mostly male and who only know how to make games they themselves would want to play, hence all of the male-tailored games. To make more female- or general-tailored games, there must be a greater female influence on the game-making process, which isn't happening because not many programmers are female. The same thing probably happened to other entertainment mediums where female creators were few and far between.

I'm afraid that's all I have energy for today.

Sara said...

Sheesh - I thought the long blog post was over. Time for a long comment...

Yes, it is chauvinistic for men to rescue women in a way that is not chauvinistic were it a woman rescuing a man. Chauvinism has to do with reinforcing the difference in power between genders, and thus a man overpowering a woman is a reinforcement of that differential while a woman overpowering a man is not. But, I don't advocate for positing women in a position above men, merely in a position equal to them.

In regards to tailoring games, my main point (which may have been poorly expressed) was that games should have the option of being played as a male character or as a female character. Not one or the other. Rather than an "amorphous blob", give the player the choice of playing as a man or as a woman.

As for your critique of my growth argument, even the Business Week article argues that, "The real growth in video games will come from the casual and nontraditional game market." Women make up a large portion of the casual game market (outplaying boys in areas such as Yahoo! Games, a statement which I can't back up with a source atm), and I am guessing that they are a large part of the nontraditional market. So my theory that the game market needs to reach out to women in order to grow appears to have already been predicted in Business Week!

In closing, women are underrepresented in most areas of the tech industry, which is part of the reason I am pushing for getting more girls involved in gaming. But somebody has to break the cycle and develop for girls if we ever want to see a drastic growth in the number of girl developers.

indil said...

Chauvinism according to

- Biased devotion to any group, attitude, or cause
- Prejudiced belief in the superiority of one's own gender, group, or kind

"Yes, it is chauvinistic for men to rescue women in a way that is not chauvinistic were it a woman rescuing a man."

I've tried several times, but I can't continue until you explain (1) that males rescue females because they believe males are superior to females and (2) that the reverse is not true.

Please be precise. I suspect what you meant was the fact that a male rescues a female in the majority of rescue occurrences is evidence of male chauvinism.

indil said...

I just reread your reply, and now I understand what you meant by "Yes, it is chauvinistic for men to rescue women in a way that is not chauvinistic were it a woman rescuing a man" according to the definition of chauvinism you gave immediately following: "Chauvinism has to do with reinforcing the difference in power between genders."

Your use of the word "chauvinistic" is incorrect; you've conflated it with something else. See the definition I quoted from

Sara said...

To respond to your first new comment, I did mean media images (specifically those in games) of men rescuing women, not necessarily a specific man rescuing a specific woman. The ubiquitous theme of "rescuing" (especially in early games) is what I would label as Chauvinistic.

In regards to the second comment (your third overall), you quote the definition of chauvinism as, "Prejudiced belief in the superiority of one's own gender, group, or kind." To expand on that definition, also offers an explanation of male chauvinism as, "A man whose behavior and attitude toward women indicate a belief that they are innately inferior to men."

To use this definition in regards to video games, or any mass media, one must take out the word "man" and insert "media." Thus, we must ask ourselves, are video games "a media whose behavior and attitude towards women indicate a belief that they are innately inferior to men"?

My answer is yes, and the rescuing is a part of this. Does Princess Peach rescue herself from Bowser? Not in any of the first three Mario games (not in the first four if we count Donkey Kong as the original Mario). To me, this projects the viewpoint that women are incapable of saving themselves, while men are capable of saving not only themselves, but other people as well. Such a position paints women as inferior to men, and without an explanation as to why they are inferior (did Peach sprain an ankle? is she in a diabetic coma?) one assumes that the inferiority is innate.

Thus, I stand by my choice of the word chauvinistic.

indil said...

Nowhere in the definition is chauvinism defined to mean the actions of a person, only a particular belief they possess. Misusing the word as you do undermines your argument because it seems nonsensical and somewhat offensive. Now I understand what you meant in the original reply.

I agree with your assessment about the potential of the female player market, but that does not negate the fact that the male player market is alive and well; it is far from dead and still quite lucrative and safe. Your post sounds like the video game industry as we know it today is going to sink tomorrow unless they start making female-tailored games. Expanding into the female-tailored market can only expand the industry, not save it.

Sara said...

The definition of male chauvinism includes "behavior... toward", which I interpret as an action. In the instance that you maintain that chauvinism is just beliefs, and not actions, then what word would you use to describe actions based on chauvinistic beliefs? If one's actions are based on racist beliefs, then those actions are racist. If one's actions are based on sexist beliefs, then those actions are sexist.

I don't think the industry will sink tomorrow if it doesn't start actively marketing to girls and women, but I do think it will stagnate, just as any market that has tapped out its current audience will stagnate.

indil said...

Both good points.

Your post called the act of a male rescuing a female as chauvinistic, but what you really meant was that either publishing such a game is chauvinistic or the fact that in the majority of rescue occurrences it is a male rescuing a female reinforces male chauvinism. There's a difference.

Sara said...

Finally we agree on something. :-)