Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Girls, Games and Sheri Graner Ray

Game-news site Joystiq has posted coverage of a panel on "Getting Girls into Gaming" which took place recently at the unfolding SXSW conference. Among others, the panel featured game design guru and author Sheri Graner Ray, whose book Gender Inclusive Game Design is next on my comps reading list (just as soon as I finish Allison Druin's The Design of Children's Technology. They discussed a number of issues relating to gender and games, including a thoughtful revisiting of the age old "how do we get girls to play video games" conundrum. From the Joystiq article:
"The panel first asked the question, "What constitutes a female gamer?" Jame Pinckard said, "Women aren't just this monolithic block of 'gamers', they all want different types of games. Just because a Barbie video is made for a 12 year old girl, doesn't mean a 26 year woman has to play it." Sheri Graner Ray took it a step further, adding "There is no definition of a female gamer, and trying to tack a label to them does a disservice. The female gamer is simply a female who plays games. She's just a diverse as any other market out there.""

The panel (and article) also pointed out that although 42% of online gamers are female, the fact that this stat includes casual games obscures significant under-representation of female players in areas like online console gaming (where they make up only 2%). They also discussed the trickier aspects of approaching "girl games" and the desire to attract the female demographic as a problem that can be solved through focus groups and statistics. As Pinkard highlights:
"The majority of game publishers and developers are male, and when they try to make games for female gamers, they use things like focus groups and research numbers. As a result, they usually miss the target and develop games for them that suck. Then the games don't sell, so the publishers say, "Well, women don't play games."

Of course, the same problem doesn't usually exist for "boy games", since the developers probably approach these in a more open, "let's make an awesome game" kind of way.

The article theorizes that girls and guys like the same kinds of games (which is certainly the case for some and certainly not the case for others) and narrow it down to a marketing problem...though I think that what they're pointing at is actually problems with the way that gaming is framed within society. Which could certainly be a contributing factor, though I can't say that I agree with this as a conclusion.

1 comment:

A.J. Valliant said...

I wonder how much of it is to do with the Competitive vs Collaborative play socialization of boys and girls. I used to think it was the violence and brutality that turned women off video games, until I saw the insanely cruel lengths my female friends would go to, to torture their enemies in the Sims.

I saw the same things in online games, where my associate ladyfolk would enjoy the hunts and such, but disliked the Player killing. To my untrained helpdesk eye it seemed as it’s the aggression, more specifically the intra- species as opposed to extra species aggression, that turns women off more than the killing and maiming per se. If given a medium to use violence to achieve a social/personal goal of some sort, it seem a lot more engaging than killing to assert dominance.