[MUD-Dev] Gender differences -> spatial navigation

rayzam rayzam at home.com
Sun Dec 23 00:14:47 New Zealand Daylight Time 2001

----- Original Message -----
From: <amanda at alfar.com>
> "Jon A. Lambert" <jlsysinc at ix.netcom.com> wrote:

>> [...] So the images are going to attract a gender neutral
>> audience at least initially.  But I think even if you packaged
>> something like StarCraft (a wargame) with a say a picture of a
>> future space family, along the lines of the Sims, you still would
>> have no female retention with the game.  I think there's
>> something about the games themselves, particularly the Sims and
>> Roller Coaster Tycoon that females enjoy.  Actually the appeal is
>> rather gender neutral which is ok IMO.  After all the bigger
>> market share is really male.

> Hmm.  And yet, Quake II showed a large jump in women players over
> Quake, not so much because the game itself is any more 'gender
> neutral', but simply because there were a few extra details that
> made it easier for women gamers to get immersed in the game.
> Female player models, for example.

On top of there, there is a gaining interest in gender differences
in cognition. This extends to puzzle solving, attention grabbing,
memory keeping, spatial navigation, and more. I've been looking over
the games that rank high on the sales charts, and how they're set up
in terms of gender-biased cognition. The games that have the widest
appeal tend not to have some of these issues. The Sims, for one,
doesn't require puzzle solving, attention and memory loads are
minimal, and spatial navigation is fairly nonexistant.

Frankly, I should narrow my focus to really only discuss games with
level-design like fps, strategy games [realtime or turn-based],
adventure games, puzzle games, action games [that require level
design], etc. So take something like Spyro [console game, either of
the first 2, haven't played the following]. The levels are designed
in a way that they are linear or branched trees. Landmarks are
visible from afar. Travel paths are geometric.  The areas are
subdivided by barriers with doors/bridges, though in later parts of
an area, you may revisit an earlier one, albeit on a higher level.
And more design features that makes the game equally accessible to
both genders.

This does not mean that one gender is better than the other at these
tasks, just that in specific paradigms, they appear to solve the
task in different ways.  A caveat I must mention is that the gender
differences are often measured in reaction times. A gender
difference can be statistically significant, and yet only be a 21
millisecond difference, or much larger.

A little real-life test you can do is to ask men and women
directions to somewhere. If you sample enough [and they don't know
what you're doing in advance :)], you'll receive directions with
more landmarks from the women, and more spatial relations from
men. That is: take Suchandsuch Road until you see the firestation on
your left then turn right. Versus: turn onto Suchandsuch Road, make
a right at the 4th light.  Both get you to the same place, both are
valid. And anyone can follow either set of directions. But now if
you design a level that's a memorized series of lefts and rights
with no landmarks, who are you biasing against?

Gender differences in cognition & game/level design is a topic I
considered submitting a GDC abstract for, but, along with a lack of
time, I didn't know if these issues are actually dealt with by game
designers, or if they're cognizant of it even.

The same is true for text-muds, and possibly moreso. What do most
clients do? They can memorize a path from one location to the other,
entering in the string of directions to get you there. A lot of text
muds are a conglomerate of areas stuck onto each other, where there
is no easy logic or navigation between them, or within them. This
makes it hard overall for everyone. It would help if [as suggested
in previous threads about coordinate based systems, I believe],
landmarks were visible from other rooms, as should be seen by line
of sight. Set up multiple cues for navigation. Set up multiple ways
of remembering. Add in-game mechanisms for note-taking, pathfinding,
shorthand, and labelling. Play to the strengths of both genders,
play away from the limitations of both, and of adolescents, smokers,
caffeine drinkers, etc.

Don't build identical looking tunnels with no visible differences
that require memorizing a strange series of turns to get through. Or
I should say, don't do that for every area :) Don't get caught up in
the fact that exits can go from anywhere to anywhere, without
needing to be consistent or similar to our world. The more that is
done, as a rule, the greater the barrier to entry. This works
against a large part of our brains. As I like to put it, our brain
is really good and really fast, because it cheats.  Whenever and
wherever possible. That's what makes illusions, capitalizing on the
way the brain cheats in vision. Or stereotyping is the way of
cheating when it comes to keeping track of/categorizing various
groups.  But back to game design. Biggest complaint:
randomization. A maze that is different/random every time could
exist, and should be explained. It becomes less fun the more you
have to do it. It becomes a chore as the number of times a player
solves it approaches infinity :) Especially if it's only to get past
it to something else. How about a maze where after a random amount
of time, you get teleported back to the beginning? Now its a race
versus time, but a random amount of time, and trying to solve
it. Frustration! Or the player is faced by 3 doors, 2 of which lead
to certain death, one of which leads to the Elysium Fields. But
everytime you approach, the doors are random. Random is bad for

This also ties back into the 'non-real spatial systems' thread, and
the point I was trying to make there. Imagine a realm where every
room is a cube. There are 1000 of these cubes in the realm. From
each cube you can go in any of the 6 directions [left, right,
forward, back, up, down], i.e. 10 X 10 X 10. Everytime you take one
of these exits to move from one cube to a new one, all the cubes
rearrange, so your cube remains in the center [well, one of the
center cubes], and this rearrangement is random, so there's no
consistency of connections between cubes. There's no need to
postulate what happens at the edges, because the rules of the realm
prevent you from ever being anywhere other than at the center. This
is due to magic of your being, the magic of the realm, some maniacal
overseer, a computer program, whatever the cause, that's how this
realm works. Here's a non-real spatial system. We don't expect these
discontinuities in travel. We don't expect randomness [most of our
learning is based on cause and effect, which gives rise to the whole
concept of superstitions]. Could a person dropped in this realm and
not having the realm explained to her determine the rules of the
realm?  Probably not.

Well, perhaps they'd say: oh, the whole place is just random! Well,
what if the cube rearrangement weren't truly random. What if the
cube the player just left is always placed on an outer edge. It's no
longer completely random, but in effect, from how the player
perceives the world, it may as well be.

This is a realm that can be modeled for the player, as a probability
of experiences. Each cube ventured into could be a completely new
experience.  Assumign all the cubes are static, and the player
cannot affect them, then the more movements she makes, the more
likely a previously visited cube will be visited again, and thus,
the less probability of visiting a new cube. In fact, it starts as
100% probability of entering a new cube for the first move, and
asymptotes at 0% probability when the player has visited all 1000
unique cubes.

This is a highly non-real spatial system, and one that cannot be
navigated by the player. How many moves would it take to visit
exactly 250 different cubes? Unknown, but you can determine
statistics for it, a range, a 95% confidence interval :)

IMO, text muds need to keep to a set of consistent rules. These need
not be the same as in our universe. However, the more points of
similarity between them, the more easily the players will be able to
navigate it. Snow occurs on mountains at high altitudes. In another
realm, perhaps what they call snow is a magical precipitation that
occurs in the heart of deserts.  Tell a new player to that game, go
find snow, and they're going to look up on the mountains.

Areas/levels can be designed to be more accessible to all, both from
gender differences in cognition, and other cognitive processes
common to both genders.

I'll go out on a limb here and state that the first Quake had levels
that were more accessible to men than women. Quake 2 was better in
that regard.

For those still with me, here are some references. I'm listing
review articles on various aspects, as a brief sampling of the
field. You may need to get to a good library to find the articles in

  - Good, though old, primer:

    Kimura D. Sex, sexual orientation and sex hormones influence
    human cognitive function.  

    Curr Opin Neurobiol. 1996 Apr;6(2):259-63. Review.

  - Spatial navigation:

    Maguire EA, Burgess N, O'Keefe J.Human spatial navigation:
    cognitive maps, sexual dimorphism, and neural substrates. Curr

    Opin Neurobiol. 1999 Apr;9(2):171-7. Review.

  - Verbal memory, age, and female gender:

    Sherwin BB. Oestrogen and cognitive function throughout the
    female lifespan.

    Novartis Found Symp. 2000;230:188-96; discussion 196-201. Review.

  - Sequence learning interferes with implicit learning:

    Lieberman MD. Intuition: a social cognitive neuroscience

    Psychol Bull. 2000 Jan;126(1):109-37. Review.


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