Thursday, June 18, 2009

"You know, for tweens!"

It's weird, sometimes, being a girl who plays video games, as evidenced every time I join a Vent server on WoW and decide to talk. Most common reactions are, "Are you hot?" "Do you play with your boyfriend or something?" "Oh great. Don't screw this up." or just creepy giggling, which is why I usually keep myself muted. I know that WoW players aren't exactly the most normal or well-adjusted people around (and that includes myself of course), but the fact is that we girls are definitely in the minority in the video game biz.

When I Googled trying to find the latest statistics on the numbers of males vs females that people estimate play games, one of the first results was "List of video games with female protagonists." How interesting! I bet all the Bioware games will be on there since you can be either gender, then Tomb Raider and Metroid and Beyond Good & Evil, let's just see-

Oh. :(

The fact is, it's boys who do most of the game playing. One article, "The New Gender Divide," conducted a survey that said 22% of freshman boys in 2006 played video/computer games more than six hours a week, while only 3% of freshman girls did. Is it that surprising that so many games cater to teenage/20s boys? No. Is it disappointing to see that games are either "crazy violence explosions boobs!" or "let's play with the pretty pixel ponies!"? Absolutely.

I may be exaggerating a bit, but really when I go into a video game store and I can immediately pick out the games for girls because the hot pink burns my retinas, I feel like there's a problem. One article I found put it really well -

"In my experience, the marketing departments of the gaming industry seem to be slow to adapting to genderless marketing," says Schwimmer critically. "They seem to be stuck in the idea that, if you make it pink, then girls will buy it - which is actually insulting."
Hannah Guy, PC World Canada

Though that article is from 2007, the trend is continuing. I watched a lot of the E3 coverage this year live on Gamespot, including Sony's two-hour press conference. I'm not a big Sony person, but I like to be informed about what they're up to anyway, and I sure was glad I watched it after I saw this monstrosity:

That's right. It's a purple PSP. Why is it purple? Because of the new Hannah Montana games, obviously! Again, I have no problem with purple or PSPs or even Hannah Montana for god's sake, it's just the fact that APPARENTLY girls just can't possibly stand to play games on black PSPs. Nope, they need a completely new color. Sony had this to say about it:

"As girls spend as much time listening to music, taking and editing photos, watching movies, chatting with Skype, surfing the net and playing games with their friends as boys do," says Isabelle Tomatis, European Marketing Manager, SCEE, "we thought it was about time that they had their own colour of PSP and we've styled this one up just for them."
-"Hannah Montana comes with a lilac-purple PSP-3000"

They "styled it up" for us? How generous. The Gamespot article that included the announcement said this new color is "targeting the 'tween demographic" with its "female-friendly-hued hardware" and includes"Disney Interactive's Hannah Montana PSP game, ... a UMD disc containing a variety of episodes from the Hannah Montana TV show, a 2GB Memory Stick Pro Duo, and stickers."

Oh boy! STICKERS! And purple is clearly female friendly, because we just can't deal with using the same color PSP as boys. I hear they have cooties, C/D?

Sony's E3 press conference, where they announced this new color, first started talking about other games for the PSP, including, "Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII, Star Wars Battlefront, Madden NFL '09, and of course God of War: Chains of Olympus." The packs they've offered before included Rock Band Unplugged, City of Final Fantasy, and Assassin's Creed: Bloodlines. I hate to generalize, but all these are pretty much "boy games." I'd have a hard time talking most girls into playing something like God of War or Assassin's Creed.

But instead of doing a more neutral game, they decided that games either have to be ALL BOY or ALL GIRL. He talks about releasing PSPs for "our younger, more diverse demographic, and further appeal[ing] to teen and tween girls," because making games for girls means they get to call themselves "diverse." When he announced the lilac Hannah Montana bundle, the other developers seemed to think it was a hilarious joke. With the rest of the announcements focusing on shooters and Final Fantasy(s), the little purple PSP got ironic cheers whenever it was mentioned. Even the announcer laughed at the cheering. "I think we just sold a few right there!"

As much as I want to blame the developers for laughing at it, I can't blame them, because I did too. They put that image up on the screen, and I think my exact words were, "Oh Christ." They managed to make a female gamer annoyed with their female-friendly product. Well done, Sony.

Sony is not the only guilty party, even though I'm picking on them. Plenty of games either turn women into nothing but sex objects or make them badasses, but hot, so boys don't mind playing as them. This blog post from 2005 talks about how Lara Croft's boobs were taken down a cup size "to make her more realistic and appealing to females." Even better, Lara Croft's Breast Timeline: In Pictures! Even my beloved Bioware is falling prey. Check out this screencap of a character in Mass Effect 2:

Give this woman a bra, MY GOD.

So why don't girls play games? One article had this to say:

Riedl said that the company informally surveyed girls who didn't play games and asked why they don't play them. The company found a variety of different answers. A lack of purpose in most games on the market was high on the list, with women preferring the emotional draw of a story. A lot of women who didn't play games said that they didn't because the UI was cumbersome for a lot of titles, and they just wanted to jump straight in and play.
He said he found that women also prefer their games to be more grounded in reality. He said, "A lot of the plot and settings for games are quite fantastic, and they wanted something that could happen in real life." Another, well-documented reason is that girls were turned off by meaningless violence.
Riedl said, "I'm not saying that women are nonviolent...But I think women have a different propensity for violence. Men like big explosions and blowing things up, but women show their anger in different ways. For example, with aspects of social violence... creating and destroying relationships."
The most important aspects of gameplay for women were the story, characters, and narrative elements. What he found was not important was winning.
Emma Boyes, Gamespot UK

I think this article is really interesting and more game companies ought to take it into account. Honestly, speaking totally from a personal standpoint here, I agree with most of it. I don't want to "win," I want a plot. I want to care about the other characters and get involved in their stories. And no lie, as crude as it was, the Influence system in KotOR2 was really cool. Whether you went light or dark side, you were able to talk to your party members and convince them to follow you, whether to good or evil. It looks like Mass Effect 2 is going to be incorporating that kind of thing as well (with their "Loyalty" system).

The part of the article about violence I thought was really interesting too. I am the first one to suggest seeing a stupid, senselessly violent movie, but in my games, I can only kill things mindlessly for so long before I just don't care anymore. That's one reason I've never really been able to get in to Grand Theft Auto. I'll steal some cars, do some drive-bys, but then... nothing. Me doing those things in the game has no effect on the setting. I like to feel like I can influence the story or the world of the game in some way while I play.

To wrap things up, I'm not surprised that more girls don't play games, as disappointing as it is. If they don't like ridiculous violence like I do, their choices are pretty much Hannah Montana, Barbie Island Princess, or PetZ (why is there a "z." I don't understand). Maybe once companies start thinking about girls older than twelve and design games for them, we gamer girls won't be quite such oddities.


  1. Maybe, then, gaming companies target males because it is EASY. Games with the quality storyline of something like Kotor or Mass Effect come out every couple of years - each one is pretty much a masterpiece of game design in nearly every aspect.

    Generic Space Marine kills the alien horde games can be pumped out 3 at a time - with almost no thought other than how big the explosions can get and how realistic they look.

    Honestly, though, if it takes games with engrossing storylines to draw more women players, then more power to the female gamers. We need more quality, well thought-out games.

    At the same time, and I think this proves at least some of the point of this article, there is a part of me that dislikes the way games like Kotor don't really challenge the player the same way that say, Battletoads NES did. Anyone who thinks that "Nintendo Hard" is a myth is smoking something. (Perhaps, though, that is something endemic to RPGs as a whole - they don't tend to be the most challenging of game formats.)

  2. you are my hero. i am a 15-year-old girl who loves the resident evil series, and has played oblivion, bioshock and gears of war. i love mindless violence (but only if it comes with a plot) and i am constantly offended that the pink ds's are generally right next to the nintendogds, hannah montana, etc. games. i myself have a black ds, a silver gamecube and a green gameboy color. it makes me really upset that they are still doing this, with the purple hannah montana crap. i think my favorite female character in the gaming world is samus aran, because she was one of the coolest, but even she wore a suit. thank you for writing this article because as one of the very few female gamers out there, i totally agree. :)

  3. Hello There!

    I must say I agree with you. I'm from a female gaming site (d/w I'm not here to promote it) and I ocassionally see news passing by about companies trying to 'increase the amount of female gamers' by creating 'games for girls' (most of the time they're speaking about cheerleading games etc.)

    I hate it how people put us female gamers in a 'box', saying you 'like that' and you 'don't like that'. As if all the females have the same damn opinion. Just like guys, we have our own tastes. And yes, there are female gamers out there who love those pink fluffy games, but there are also hardcore female gamers out there who play shooters and RPG's (like me and you). But obviously it's no wonder that the guys can't find us if they start asking, like you mentioned, questions such as 'are you hot?'.

    The first week I started playing online I talked a lot (and not those crap such as, YOOHOO I'M A GIRL, but just normal talk about the game). The second week, my talking decreased. Now, my microphone is always on mute except when I play with my friends.

  4. Re: Yog Sothoth
    Agreed, and I know that's part of the problem. Games are expensive to make and doing something different and risky doesn't always pay off. (A post on that soon.) But I feel like it would be beneficial for the industry as a whole to expand and include more KINDS of games than it has right now. Nintendo harnessed the casual gamer and the Wii was sold out for ages. I think the first company to really appeal to adult women is going to have a similar response, eventually.

    Re: Sarah
    I'm so glad you liked the post! I just hope that all the girls buying NintenDogs and Barbie Horse Adventure will eventually move on to different kinds of games - and that there will someday be enough variety that they'll have games to choose from that aren't just blood and gore, as fun as that can be for some of us. :)

    Samus is definitely awesome, even though I don't like that style of game as much. You should play Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic if you haven't, you can be a male or female main character and it completely changes the story. And she is AWESOME! Female main character is clearly far superior. ;)

    Re: Lisa
    I completely agree! I got in a debate with my friend about this the other day actually. He read this post and said that game companies put male gamers in boxes too, saying that they only like gory games, but I disagree, there are lot more games out there marketed to men. We girls just get puzzle games, fashion design, and rubbing pixel-puppies' tummies. Fun? =\

    Yeah it's sad, but that's pretty much what you have to do, otherwise people think that just by SPEAKING you are advertising the fact that you have boobs and trying to use it to get items. Argh. I was in a vent once with a girl who literally said the words "tee hee." As in, "Oh man, I really hope my belt drops, that would be the last set piece I need! Tee hee, does anyone mind passing it to me if it drops?" *headdesk*

    I started talking in a vent once where all the guys seemed cool and we were chatting about the game and old raids and stuff, then some other guy joined (an officer in the guild, of course) and said that if I didn't show pictures, I was obviously fat. He has either never spoken to a girl (or other human) IRL before or he just doesn't care what an ass he sounds like. Or both. :)

    Oh and feel free to link your site, I don't mind and would love to check it out!

  5. Thank you for your reply =)

    I've put the link in my name. The site is dutch though ;) So either way you must be really good at dutch or use a translator.

    Greetz, Lisa.

  6. I think you've pretty much hit the nail on the head for me. My guy-gamer friends can sit and kill things for hours on end, and while it's sometimes entertaining to watch, I just do not have that kind of attention span. I love to play games, but unless there's *some* kind of plot, I get bored.

    Then take one of my all-time favorite games ever: Final Fantasy VII. Sure the graphics are out of date now, but I can continue to sit and play this game again and again and dvote entire afternoons to it just because I LOVE the characters and plot. If I knew of more games that I could get that into, I'd probably be more of a hardcore gamer as opposed to a casual one.

    And a big Amen to the annoyance of companies marketing pink to girls. I'll admit I do have a pink NDS, but I would have bought one even if that wasn't a color option. And that is probably the most woeful example of gender-targeted games I've seen. If you don't want to play puzzle games or Mario girls, you'll just have to settle for the Barbie and virtual pet games you mentioned. (Though I do find it entertaining that they have a game where you play as Princess Peach & have to save Mario!)

  7. The day we see MORE games with amazing story, action, gore, drama, good character development, is the day when more females are making games. I'm writing a story right now for a game that is very in depth with story, with action, fighting, gore, plus customization of the main character and freedom of choice in the storyline. The main character is of course a bad ass female WITH CLOTHES ON.

    My biggest worry is: when my story is complete and I'm able to pitch my idea to a company, they'll strip the story of it's depth along with my character's clothing! I know what I want to do is different, mainly because it will appeal to women and it's not frilly and pink (although I do love pink), but I want there to be games out there for us females who have been gaming since we were kids, but are now women.

    We don't need companies to hawk fuzzy cuteness to us for us to buy a game, we just want a good damn storyline and a purpose to wreck havoc in the goriest way and the option to be girly if we want!