Game Eaters

Thursday, April 20, 2006

What's a boy to do?

This is probably going to end up more as a plea than a post, but here goes:
In the near future, I'll be starting a job where I will be working at a studio that has a more balanced male/female ratio (compared to the rest of the industry) and on a game that will be looking squarely at women as a primary audience. I'm very excited about this; I'm also very frightened. No, I don't think they'll eat me alive. What I'm afraid of that I will unwittingly make some comment or design suggestion that, while seeming like a perfectly natural thing to me, will estrange my co-workers or the audience that I really do want to reach.

The latter is what really gets me. I'm not as worried about my co-workers; I'm hoping and expecting that they'll smack me if I do something unintentionally 'male.' What's of greater concern is the fact that no matter how hard I've tried over the years to get occasional gamers (that are women) to comment on what they want to see in games, the response is almost always "I just don't like games." Granted, the question is ill formed: if they only know video games as has been defined by what's been out there for the past 20-30 years, it's little wonder that they don't like games.

I guess this is where the stroke of brilliance is supposed to come in, pulling that concept out of the ether that makes a mysterious and not well understood concept plainly simple. Before I attempt that though, I want to ask the readers (and contributors ;) of this blog the following:

What aspects of 'guy' games are unappealing to women?
What would you like to see more of in games?
Is there any scholarship (beyond Henry's "From Barbie to Mortal Combat") that you would recommend? (This would also include editorial articles etc.)
How can I, as a guy and a game designer, start a better dialogue about games with women, whether they are gamers or not.


  • Regarding scholarship, reading Sheri Graner Ray's Gender-Inclusive Game Design is a pretty good place to get clued in on the more easily-avoided pitfalls. It's a pretty fast read and is rather comprehensive. It's obviously not the be-all and end-all of this topic... that would involve attending Ray's forums at GDC. :)

    By Blogger Philip, at 7:49 PM  

  • As the official female contributor, I guess I'm obliged to respond
    "What aspects of 'guy' games are unappealing to women?"
    That they're more about raising your adrenaline than about thinking, exploring, and people's relationships. Yours truly enjoys fighting games and SHUMPs, don't get me wrong, but I gravitate towards adventure/RPG and puzzles a lot more. Oh, and rhythm games, oh yes!

    "What would you like to see more of in games?"
    More quirky games, the japanese know how to do it, like games about lawyers and doctors, and cooks and train drivers, and amazingly cute dogs.

    "Is there any scholarship (beyond Henry's "From Barbie to Mortal Combat") that you would recommend?"
    Off the top of my head, Brenda Laurel's Utopian Entrepeneur (a very short book, very enlightening). In Lara Croft: Feminist Icon or Cyberbimbo? On the Limits of Textual Analysis

    "How can I, as a guy and a game designer, start a better dialogue about games with women, whether they are gamers or not."
    Well, you cannot please everybody, and we are a lot of women out there, as you may have already noticed ;) The key to bring women to videogames is not making games about Sex in the City or The Bold and the Beautiful--that's something that the Barbie games have demonstrated for years. I guess that it's about making games about people and relationships, which is what Laurel's Purple Moon games aimed at. When I was doing research on dating sims, I found out that almost half of the players of Tokimeki Memorial were female, even if the protagonist is male. The portrayal of females in Tokimemo is rather offensive in the land of the politically correct: girls only like dresses, and flowers, and bitch around about guys all day. I don't think that many of the female players (myself included) identified themselves with the girls in the game, but instead being alienated, we still play (non-hentai) dating sims, even if they're supposedly for males, because they're about social relationships.

    Apart from that, one of my (female) students explained very concisely why she does not play videogames: "I don't understand the controller, it's got too many buttons!". She was delighted to find we had a NES in the lab, and played Super Mario, since that controller she knew how to use. (The Nintendo Revolution comes back to its roots!) ;)

    By Blogger Clara, at 9:21 AM  

  • I wouldn't worry too hard about it. Your coworkers will be understanding enough and won't be estranged by any weird unwitting design suggestion. And you won't estrange your audience because your very coworkers will politely point out that your design suggestion will estrange your audience.

    By Blogger Darius Kazemi, at 9:28 AM  

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