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-
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.