[MUD-Dev] Game design and gender: An interesting article

Marian Griffith gryphon at iaehv.nl
Wed Sep 1 21:27:14 New Zealand Standard Time 1999


In <URL:/archives/meow?group+local.muddev> on Tue 31 Aug, Jeremy Music "Sterling" wrote:

> > I have been given a demo of a game called Starcraft.  It is obviously one
> > of the games aimed at boys. I found it telling that the only female char-
> > acter in the game is a medic.

> I wouldn't say Starcraft is aimed at boys as such.  Though you might be able
> to say that real time strategy games in general appeal to boys.  There are
> more female characters than the medic too.  The narrator that gives you your
> orders is female, and I think that the Zerg (the bugs) have a female leader
> (albeit a female bug).

What I found telling is not the fact that there is only -one- female char-
acter in the game,  but that this character  has a stereotypical nurturing
role.  There is a reason why (as it is said)  Tomb Raider has done so well
with women...

> > Did I like it?  In a way yes.  But I found
> > myself wanting to do things the game did not allow me.  The building of a
> > colony appealed more to me  than going out and messily blow creatures up.
> > The splatter factor was in fact a turn off for me, though I found that it
> > was something several of the males ooohed at.  I wanted to play those in-
> > sect-like creatures and find out how to build up a colony for them. And I
> > almost immediately started to redesign the game, by thinking of creatures
> > I wanted to add just to make the colony more complete,  and even thinking
> > of entirely new races  that might be interesting to play.  I do not think
> > this points  at a basic difference  between men and women,  but more at a
> > general lack of games that exist today. Addressing these issues will draw
> > more girls to games, but will also attract more boys.

> It sounds like you were looking for "SimAlien" rather than Starcraft.  Have
> hope, there are a few games coming out that I have been keeping my eye on
> that might appeal to you.  "Black and White" is a god-game that is coming
> out that doesn't look to be aimed at boys (from what I have seen) and looks
> to be based on an original and hopefully enjoyable premise.  "The Sims" is
> another one coming out that might be interesting (think SimFamily).  Notice
> that none of these games are "aimed at girls" cause no game developers have
> actually figured out how to do that.

I started my post with the claim that the problem is not so much that games
must be specifically designed for girls, but rather that they must be mark-
eted in such a way that girls actually consider playing and buying them.
There will always be games that almost exclusively draw an audience of one
gender or the other,  but  there is a huge middle ground.  There are girls
who play quake and are good at it too, even though that game by all common
wisdom falls at the extreme 'boyish' end of the game spectrum.  There will
no doubt be boys interested in barbie fashion designer  (though peer pres-
sure may keep them from admitting it).

What I found with Starcraft  was that my interest  did not follow the path
set by the game designers. Rather than go out and blast those pesky aliens
to blood and gore I found myself feeling sorry for them. It is not so much
the violence  that put me off  (though I could have done with less graphic
violence) but the gratuitious nature of it. In the end I had more fun try-
ing to figure out another species for the game.

> > My impression was that she said that consoles were designed to be best
> > for games that the designers liked best. Since they were boys they did
> > like boy-games, and designed machines for boy-games.  This implies low
> > memory, lots of visual effects and shallow stories in exchange of fast
> > action.  As a result we are now stuck with machines that are incapable
> > of anything else, and only get those games. As she said, nothing nefa-
> > rious, just the way the industry works.

> The consoles are aimed at boys because that's who buys them.  :)  They are
> even more driven by market forces than PC games.  My wife, an excellent
> video game player, would never buy a console, or even a game, though she
> will play them with me.  I have found on PC that most games I like hold no
> interest for her.  Strangely, even though I am a game fanatic, most of the
> games she likes hold no interest for me.  She likes "Life" the PC version,
> and I never even liked the board game (and the list goes on).  I would say
> that Hasbro (where a lot of the titles she likes come from) is the closest to
> aiming at girls, since they sure aren't aiming at me.

> The single biggest explanation for why game companies don't aim at girls,
> though, is that they really don't know how.  Marketing 101 tells you that if
> they could make a game guaranteed to sell 100,000 copies to girls they
> would.

I can give two bits of free advice:
First make boxes that do not look quite so much like an adolescent's wet
dream.  Half of them, as I said, made me go -yuck- and kept me from even
trying to figure out  if the game might even be interesting.  The effect
of watching shelves full of such boxes  made me wonder if I was not in a
different type of shop.  If I had not been intended to look at the games
in that shop I would probably not even have entered it. (Yes, I am exag-
gerating slightly here, but the point still stands I hope).
Second advertise in magazines that girls read. I have -never-, not once,
seen an adevertisement for a computer game  in a girl's magazine.  Maybe
this is different in the US, but I doubt it. Computer games are discuss-
ed and advertised in specialised magazines, which girls rarely read.

Marian
--
Yes - at last - You. I Choose you. Out of all the world,
out of all the seeking, I have found you, young sister of
my heart! You are mine and I am yours - and never again
will there be loneliness ...

Rolan Choosing Talia,
Arrows of the Queen, by Mercedes Lackey




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