Crispy Gamer

Why Do Games for Girls Suck?

There was a bit of buzz last week surrounding an interview that USA Today conducted with Microsoft head-honcho Steve Ballmer. The article was picked up by Kotaku and thereafter lambasted in the comments section with all the usual fury and derogation that comments sections are known for. In the original article Ballmer talked about the Kinect and more specifically about its role in Microsoft's initiative at attracting a young female audience to console gaming.

It is easy to balk at anecdotal comments from Ballmer like, "My wife used to say, 'No, no, that's the machine the boys use,' and now she says, 'Yeah, I want to go watch movies. Let's go play the dance game.'" Comments like these send the blood pressures soaring among female gamers, especially those of us who remember the 90's and the first push at including women in the world of games with such memorables as Secret Paths in the Forest.

Yet there may be many out there, like Ballmer, that don't get why the push to make games accessible to women in this way is offensive, so I'd like to take this opportunity to break it down, starting with explaining why Microsoft isn't actually evil (or maybe they are – I'll get to that later).

Like every other technology company out there, Microsoft wants the most users possible for its system. As it targets the users it doesn't have already – mainly people who don't play video games – a great majority of the people in those crosshairs (sadly) are women.  The approach the first lineup of Kinect titles have been taking in addressing this issue is hardly novel: make games less game-y, or worse, make games that are more about graphics and interaction rather than gameplay.

At this point I have to concede to the Kinect that the problem here is real – why don't more women play games? Many game designers when challenged with the task of making games for women respond defensively by asking, "Why should we be trying to make games for people who don't like to play games to begin with?" In all fairness, there will probably always be a subset of people/women who just don't like games – I'm OK with that, but I know that that's not the case for the majority.

The "no gurls alowd" sign has been hanging over the industry for far too long, the aura of rampant misogyny clings to it like a retro J-RPG status effect.  What puts women off, as best as I can discern from my own experience and observation (disclaimer! This is an editorial!), is primarily (believe it or not) not the rampant sexism, not the big guns and violence, and not even the lethargic culture of hot-pockets and la-z-boys. But rather, it's the fact that all too often the first game we're handed on our first game system sometime in elementary school is some crap kiddy title where all you can do is pat the puppy and put on makeup. If that's your first experience in gaming how could you not be like "Pshh, this is dumb" and forever turn your back on the medium? For the girls that do press on and explore the games not directly marketed to them, they are often forced to walk a very thin line between giving up on the gamey games to join the girls who gave up Barbie DS back in kindergarten, or risk abandoning their feminine culture to join the boys who are marketed all the fun stuff.

This is where the vicious cycle begins.  Publishers make games less like games and more like lame interactive experiences in order to market to a population that they assume doesn't like games. The games then produced under this model suck.  Yet inevitably some of the target audience will buy the product anyway only to discover that it really is lame. The target audience, these girls, then make the fatal assumption that since this game which was supposedly more accessible to them is lame, then all games must be lame.

The bigger problem behind this vicious cycle is that games have an innate and oft-exclusive language of their own; it's a language that takes some learning. The most hardcore gamers of our current generation, many of whom are going on to become game designers, have this language hardwired into their brains when they are exposed to games at early (and earlier and earlier) ages. The problem with this language is not only that it needs time to be learned and developed, but also that it is an inherently masculine language. What I mean by this is not in terms of aesthetics but rather how the mechanics lead the gamer through periods of stress and relaxation. Women respond differently to stress than men. While men under stress tend to leap into a fight or flight state, women tend to look to social strategy. In a video game, situations require quick reactions and periods of sustained anxiety; men and women will react differently (and yes! Video games are stressful!). In addition, take the cafeteria scene in an average school as well, the boys will tend to fight with their fists and have a more rapid emotional cool-down, while the girls will plot excruciating long-term social takedowns of their enemies. (All generalizations, I know, but bear with me.)

If the next generation of games and game systems really want to target the ever-elusive "girl-gamer," then they need to, A: realize the box that they're putting their imaginary demographic in, and B: get themselves out of that box. They can do this by beginning work on a new language of games, which is no easy task to be sure. The new language has to evolve from what is successful in the old language – an emphasis on the importance of good game feel, solid mechanics, and clear feedback systems. By this I don't just mean that there should just be more games like Katamari Damacy, games that are fun, approachable, have solid-controls, and which no-one can really hate (right?). Or The Sims, one of the most infamously accessible games, and which again has not only solid mechanics and dynamics but also is a platform for seemingly complex emotional interactions.

Emotional content is important in girl-games, but this doesn't need to equate to sentimentality. More than that, interactions between characters need to have solid consequences to gameplay (something the Persona games get at but never seem to master). The next generation of girl-games needs to operate at a different rhythm altogether – both in terms of look and feel as well as content. For example, if we know women respond to stressful situations differently than men, make a game that takes that into consideration - instead of the quick bursts of intense action followed by cut scenes or load screens, draw the gameplay out, give the player time to strategize, but also the opportunity to go in for the kill at a moment's notice.

Comments like those of Mr. Ballmer might lead one to think that the industry thinks very little of women. Their actions in marketing primarily wellness games to women and puppy and kitten games to girls unfortunately seem to back up this theory. To fight this, we need more female game designers. We need women who know the language of games, but also know and understand the limitations of the language. We also need men who are interested in pushing the boundaries of this medium in new and unprecedented directions. Until this shift happens, until we can get this right, no new piece of technology, no feature, and no peripheral can hope to lay a claim to this infamous untapped million-dollar market.

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et there may be many out there, like Ballmer, that don't get why the push to make games accessible to women in this way is offensive, so I'd like to take this opportunity to break it down, starting with explaining why Microsoft isn't actually evil (or maybe they are – I'll get to that laterhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jc3TUlN7TzU

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Comments like those of Mr. Ballmer might lead one to think that the industry thinks very little of women. Their actions in marketing primarily wellness games to women and puppy and kitten games to girls unfortunately seem to back up this theory. pure raspberry ketone 100mg capsules

I place the vast majority of the onus on female culture and it's strict rules of conduct. Whenever I ask a girl why she doesn't play games, or worse yet, why she would never even TRY them, the answer is always something like "that's a guy's domain". It's also invariably said with an air of "oh those silly boys and their toys"...with that little bit of superiority.<!--[if gte mso 9]> Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE MicrosoftInternetExplorer4 <![endif]-->

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In all fairness, there will probably always be a subset of people/women who just don't like games – I'm OK with that, but I know that that's not the case for the majority.
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here’s an air of superiority when it comes to their attitude towards gaming, like playing games is beneath them. Let’s just, for the moment, ignore the fact that girls play games with our emotions, with our wallets, and above all… our sanity. eye wash station

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As a gamer that happens to be female, I absolutely accede with and endorse this bulletin (even if it is satirical). I afresh wrote an commodity on my own blog directed appear females that outlines to them how NOT to be abhorrent assholes during online games. Whenever my association and I get ashore with a "girl gamer," the aggregate blow of disappointment is audible. jogos de damas I accept one added babe in my association and she's absolutely accustomed and focused on the bold if we play. Where the fuck are the blow of the exceptions?

i completely agree with Brian.Women do tend to react with a holier than thou art air when a guy asks why dont they even try to play games so imagine what its like when they find out for the first time that I do . Im sorry but playing a game which stimulates my brain , blows off steam , or relaxes me is a much better use of my time than shoe shopping , getting a makeover , or doing my nails.I mean yeah i do these things but unlike a lot of girls it is not something i look forward to.And I do attribute my love for games to the fact I had an older brother and a mom who were both gamers and still are and the fact I never had to deal with lame Barbie like games.

 

Lets face it if the first games you played were Pac Man , Punchout , River City Ransom and other such '' boyish '' games why would you even want to stop playing !?! Especially now when there are games like Rainbow Six , Elder Scrolls , Bioshock and really just great games for any preference.

As a girl gamer, I'm going to dispute the notion that "girls don't play games." I think that it's just the ways that girls play games that are different. While there are some girls (like me) who play XBox, PS3, NDS and paid MMOs, most teen to adult girls will not buy a console to play games on. A console is expensive, and the games for it even more so. I hate nothing more than spending $50-60 on a console game that I'm going to play, alone, by myself in my living room. I'd rather spend that $60 on a nice meal out with friends, or save it for something else I really want.

However, you don't have to go far to see that girls of all ages and nationalities are hooked on Facebook games. My mother (age 60) is a prime example. She loves Farmtown, and Hatchlings, and a whole host of other social networking games. The few that I have played (Restaraunt City, Pet Society) have had more active female players than male players. Girls I went to High School with 10 years ago who wouldn't touch an XBox are playing these games for hours a day. How about iPhone games? Every single person I know who owns an iPhone has games that they love to play on it - male or female.

Women tend to be more social gamers, playing games together like Rock Band or Raving Rabbids or even Facebook games. They like games that can be put down when something else comes up. Most guy-games require a long time commitment and disconnect you from the rest of the world. This is not how women function, and why most women don't play console/male-oriented games.

I also wanted to respond to the article directly and say that I agree - you need to make games more emotionally connected to women. The TV show "Rome" on HBO was a perfect example of this male/female connection. You had a story driven by historical events and figures with fighting, bloodshed, quick action and what we can call "testosterone." But alternating scenes were backstory that may not have existed in real life of some characters (mostly female) plotting to manipulate the course of events using politics, guile, sex, and any other means at their disposal. What came together was a show that both men and women wanted to watch together - each scene was just long enough to give the target audience what it wanted, but not long enough that either audience lost interest. That's what we need to do make games that both genders will want to play.

This topic is one that always makes me roll my eyes (the topic, not your piece). Really, any time a minority claims exclusion from something, I'm immediately skeptical. Exclusion from games is even more problematic to prove since it's about personal habits, not institutions (like Golf tournaments excluding women).

I just don't see the sexism that you do. In fact, I see almost worshipful admittance of any girl/woman the second they show interest in "guy games". Just look at how dotingly gamers attach to Jessica Chobot or Olivia Munn. Look at how much attention the averagely-attractive girl gets when she plays Gears of War with the guys. Not only are they not excluded, they are pined for (i.e. "I wish my girlfriend would play games with me").

I place the vast majority of the onus on female culture and it's strict rules of conduct. Whenever I ask a girl why she doesn't play games, or worse yet, why she would never even TRY them, the answer is always something like "that's a guy's domain". It's also invariably said with an air of "oh those silly boys and their toys"...with that little bit of superiority.

This mentality is changing, slowly but surely. I think it has absolutely nothing to do with developers changing their methods, other than maybe offering the player the option of playing as either Hero or Heroine. But once you choose your gender in-game, Fallout New Vegas is JUST as much fun for a woman as it is for a guy (just ask my girlfriend, who got addicted to the game for weeks).

My (way too long) point is, if women want this stigma against gaming changed, it needs to come from the inside out.

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