A Few Thoughts on a (Still Mostly) Untapped Market
I had just finished a book on evolutionary psychology that spent most of its pages explaining that the underlying drive behind why men do everything is to gain access to more mates* when I started to wonder “why are men more likely to play video and tabletop games than women?” Then it hit me like an incredible factory of obvious—men are inherently more competitive and violent than women. Games, even single player games, are inherently competitive and a large chunk of the mainstream video game market is not just violent but graphically violent. We are left with the stereo type that girls don’t play video games, or that they only play silly games that are obviously aimed at prepubescent girls like Nintendogs.
Except for the evil geniuses at Nintendo, most game developers do not try to make games aimed at anyone but virile males. Because of this, the fellows at Nintendo clean up with casual games that are “fun for the whole family.” This doesn’t mean the games are good or bad just that they access an untapped market. Movie studios don’t make only action movies or only romantic comedies—they make both and capitalize on gender stereotypes that happen to be true.
People that appreciate quality film tend to avoid both action flicks and rom-coms and instead see movies with a greater focus on originality and a smaller focus on special effects or movie stars. The game equivalent of this is something like The Sims—the best selling computer game of all time, complete with dozens of super profitable expansions. The Sims isn’t popular just because it’s a great game—it’s popular because it’s a game that appeals to those who main steam games usually fail to appeal to. Who doesn’t want to play God in their own Simverse? Twelve year old girls who desire more stimulation that virtual puppies play it and seventy year old men who feel Halo just moves too damn fast play it.
We need more games that don’t appeal to just men or just women or just children. We need games that most people seem to enjoy. Some suggest that we need stronger female characters or less sexism in video games but I disagree on these fronts. There are few complex, empowered women in film or on TV and the two remain popular with people of both sexes. Some argue that we need games aimed more at women’s hobbies—Diner Dash and Cooking Mama —but this doesn’t solve the problem of making games that appeal to both genders.
While I have no data to back me up, I’d bet that Rock Band is relatively popular with women. I’d also bet that N64 esque games with cuddly heroes a la Banjo Kazooie are also more popular with women (and younger children) while remaining relatively gender neutral. Simulators and puzzle games appeal well to people of both sexes while games that are slower paced appeal more to older folks than games with a confusing frenzy. My dad enjoyed playing Mario Party with me and my sister but despised playing Super Smash Brothers.
I really can’t say what games appeal best to both genders and all age groups or how to make them. I can say how not to make them—half naked female characters, only having male leads, overemphasis on guns, blood, and killing, etc. There’s no reason to stop making super male or super female games but we shouldn’t let Nintendo cash in on the game industry’s tendency to ignore anyone but 14-50 year old men.
* The book was “Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters: From Dating, Shopping, and Praying to Going to War and Becoming a Billionaire-- Two Evolutionary Psychologists Explain Why We Do What We Do” Alan S. Miller, Satoshi Hanazawa, just in case you don’t believe my summary.