Tag Archives: Women

‘Casual Games Don’t Count.’

Firstly, I’d like to get a definition of what “casual” games are:

A casual game is a video game or online game targeted at a mass audience of casual gamers. Casual games can have any type of gameplay, and fit in any genre. They are typically distinguished by their simple rules and lack of commitment required in contrast to more complex hardcore games. They require no long-term time commitment or special skills to play, and there are comparatively low production and distribution costs for the producer. Casual games typically are played on a personal computerweb browsers, although they now are starting to become popular on game consoles, too. Casual gaming demographics also vary greatly from those of traditional computer games, as the typical casual gamer is older and more predominantly female with over 74% of those purchasing casual games being women. –Source

Old is the debate between “casual” and “hardcore” games, but are they still not classed as games? If 75% of women are playing casual games then why are only 40% of women classed as gamers? And if companies want to find out what women like in games, isn’t this a hint in the right direction? Casual games are said to be stress relieving, provide mental balance and are relaxing, perhaps women are more attracted to them because of these qualities. But “hardcore” games can be equally as stress releiving, but you do have to go out and buy the console in order to play them (unless you own a PC). So it could be that women enjoy casual games because they are right there in front of them on the internet, easy to access, and doesn’t require spending hundreds of pounds on a console. People who own an iPhone have access to the iTunes App store, which provides them with a huge collection of these “casual” games. I know both men and women who don’t consider themselves gamers yet have purchased games on the iPhone. In order to find the real percentage of male and female gamers perhaps companies need to look futher into the users of casual games and find out exactly what it is they enjoy in these games, and transfer this into the design of their own.

The Story of Mr. Blue and Ms. Pink

I was standing outside of Gamestation browsing through their window display that contained Nintendo DS lites, Xbox and Playstation bundles, iPods and various other electrical items. A woman with her young daughter in a pram pulled up next to me and she started talking to her partner about some of the items in the display. She then noticed the Hello Kitty Nintendo DS lite and turned to her partner and said: ‘Oh look at that! A Hello Kitty one, she would love that! [looking at her daughter] You’d love a Hello Kitty one wouldn’t you?’. The child in the pram didn’t say much and just giggled when the mother spoke to her, mimiking the words ‘Hello Kitty’. I was so glad she’d said that because I needed an example to use in this blog, and that was a perfect one. I presumed the girl knew what Hello Kitty was, unless she was just repeating her mothers words, but she did get excited when the name was spoken. However, the mother did not go ‘She’d love the green one! Wouldn’t you?’ and then wait for her reaction, which i’m sure would be the same if they are a) Getting a toy b) Getting attention and c) Being smiled at.

For years the colours pink and blue have been gender specific colours, with pink being for girls and blue being for boys. However, before the 1940’s this was the other way round. With pink being a masculine colour that’s derived from red, seen as a solid colour, and blue being a feminine colour that shows ‘daintiness’ and is associated with the Virgin Mary. Due to social desirability the gender specific colours inverted, and are often displayed in children and advertisement for girls and boys. A perfect example are these images that I found on the Argos website:

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On the top the girl is dressed entirely in pink standing over a plastic oven, that is also pink. This image was taken out of the ‘Role Play’ section of pre-school toys. It came as no surprise to me that girls are modelled with toys that are relevant to cooking, cleaning and caring for dolls. Interestingly, blue was not the dominant colour in boys toys and the image above was only one of a few I could find. However, boys did model toys such as tool kits, construction including work benches, power washers and toy cars, which are seen as masculine activities. The colours of these toys were usually a bright colour such as orange or yellow accompanied by black. As I was browsing other areas of the pre-school toys I came across the musical instrument section and decided to check out if they associated certain instruments with girls or boys. Instead, they produced the same the toy instruments in both blue and pink.

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The ‘Beanstalk Sing Along Keyboard with Stool’ is exactly the same product in both images, except one has been produced in pink. I imagine that they both function the same, and so the most likely explanation of this marketing technique is that they don’t think the blue keyboard will attract girls, and so it’s produced in pink. If children are exposed to these kind of gender specific colours from such a young age it’s not surprising that they learn to discriminate themselves from each other. An abstract from a journal named ‘Sex Roles’ describes a study that attempted to explain the environmental gender stereotypes in the first two years of an infants life. They found that ‘The results showed that boys were provided with more sports equipment, tools, and large and small vehicles. Girls had more dolls, fictional characters, child’s furniture, and other toys for manipulation. They wore pink and multicolored clothes more often, had more pink pacifiers and jewelry. Boys wore more blue, red and white clothing. They had more blue pacifiers. Yellow bedding was more frequently observed in the girls’ rooms, while blue bedding and curtains were more prevalent in the boys’ rooms.’. To back this theory up even more, I came across a company that sells a pregnancy tester-type test for pregnant women that determines the sex of the baby before it is born. The company is called ‘pinkandblue‘, and it works by telling you if you have a girl by turning pink or a boy by turning blue.

It seems that the child is doomed to discriminate as it’s parent picks out a ‘cute pink outfit’, or decorates the room blue before it is even born. Until it’s old enough to think for itself it’s decisions have already been tainted by the choices of it’s parents, and so a girl might not beg her parent to buy a game because ‘it’s for boys’, or a man might not want to dress up his child because ‘that’s what girls do’. So how is this relevant to gaming? As I just mentioned, computers are seen as a ‘masculine’ object, and so why would a girl that has been discouraged to use one all her life decide to pick one up and play it? As you can see in the advert below, Nintendo is trying to aim their product at girls by bringing out a pink version of the DS lite:

Note that in the advert, all of the extras in focus are women except one man on the bus. The slogan used here shocked me quite a bit, to me “Great Games for Girls” would imply that someone is saying ‘these games are for girls only’. Any boy that watches this advert may no longer want to purchase them as it implies the games are not masculine. Also, girls may only buy the selection of these games, and no others. In a later advertisement Nintendo uses two members of Girls Aloud (a popular girl band with a huge female fan base) to promote the game Nintendogs. Again a pink DS lite is used, and during game play you see that she has decorated the dog with little yellow bows (at least they’re not pink, but the abstract above stated yellow was also a feminine colour) again reinforcing the gender stereotype. However, in a more recent advertisement using Girls Aloud, they are using 5 colour variations of the DS lite, with only one member holding a pink one. I much prefer this advert (and Nicole Kidman’s advert) to the previous, as it’s showing that it doesn’t matter what colour they are, they’re all having the same amount of fun.

When browsing Nintendo DS adverts I came across some games that reminded me of those that were made during the Girl Game Movement, such as McKenzie & Co. ‘My Make-up‘ is a game produced as one of a ‘My game’ series, with others including ‘My Dress-up’ and ‘My Secret Diary’. These adverts are using every pink prop possible, with pink backgrounds, accessories and clothes and again, a pink DS lite. Oh, and no boys of course. I only hope that from the bud of these girl-specific games will gender exclusive games bloom, designed for both boys and girls to enjoy on equal levels.

My main example here has been the Nintendo DS, but they’re not the only one’s to use gender specific colours in their products. Sony PlayStation released a pink version of their PlayStation 2 and PSP. Microsoft also released pink and blue controllers for their xbox 360.

Women in the Computer Industry

It is known that men have always dominated the computer industry, but why? Writer of Masculinity and IT: Computing Gender in the Industry, Sue Lewis, cited reasons for women choosing not to enter computer education in the same numbers as men:

  • Construction of the science, engineering, technology and maths curricula as abstract and disconnected from social and human concerns;
  • Software being written by and for men that unwittingly assumes male lives to be the norm;
  • Domination of computer training programs by boys, men and male values;
  • Perceptions of computer professionals as nerds and antisocial ‘computer heads’;
  • Sex stereotyping of toys and activities;
  • Sex biased computer software and games;
  • Differential availability of female and male role models;
  • Different learning experiences of girls and boys in the gendered classroom
  • boys’ greater access to school resources and teacher attention
  • differences in self confidence, self esteem and risk taking behaviours
  • different mathematics choices at school for girls and boys
  • limiting of career options for girls by subject selection in secondary school.

Then why is it so that some women will rise to the challenge and pursue a career in computers, yet others don’t? Sheri Graner Ray discussed the computer as a ‘male’ object, where:

picture-1picture-2-An extract from Gender Inclusive Game Design: Expanding the Market

In my experience I never had to share a computer in school, and I would spend a lot of time using it during lessons for work and break times playing games. However, the other females in class would often choose to write in their books when they had the option and didn’t use the computer during break times. Sheri Graner Ray explains that women see computers as an object to co-operate with, where men choose to dominate them. If the girls found their experiences with computers a stressful one, perhaps because it was not ‘co-operating’, for example not doing what they want it to, they may associate them with stress and choose to use their books. However when men come acrross a problem, they overcome it as they ‘dominate’ the computer. And so, the problem vanishes and they carry on as normal, with a sense of accomplishment over the machine. My explination of this situation is that I had a computer in my home before they arrived in school, and I was often encouraged to use it by my father, who also used it frequently. The other girls, my friend for example, did not use their computer at home even though they had one. Their parents didn’t use it unless they had to write and print documents for work, but the interaction would end there. And so facing the computer alone could seem like a scary situation. Other classmates may have not had a computer at home at all, and found the idea of learning to use the computer whilst being expected to produce work on it a daunting one.

So why are there women working in the computer industry? They may be a minority but they still exist, and if Sue Lewis and Sheri Graner Ray were right- how and why did they overcome the expectations? I’d like to introduce a few important female figures that had a large impact in the computer industy:

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Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace, a.k.a Ada Lovelace was a highly talented mathematician and scientist in the 1800’s. She is known for being the first female computer programmer  and worked closely with Charles Babbage developing the first analytical engine.

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Grace Hooper a.k.a ‘Amazing Grace’ was an American computer scientist and U.S Naval officer. Her work includes computer programming for the Harvard Mark I computer and developing the first compiler for computer programming language. She also worked on programming the UNIVAC computer.

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Most famous for her work with graphical adventure games, Roberta Williams was creator of the popular King’s Quest series. Along with her husband, they founded the company Sierra-Online and went on to make titles such as The Colonel’s Bequest, Mixed-Up Mother Goose, and “Phantasmagoria”.

Her Interactive & Beyond: The History of the Girl Game Movement

JULY 16, 2008 – LOS ANGELES – Forty percent of gamers are women according to a new survey released today by the video game industry’s trade group, the Entertainment Software Association (ESA).

With this in mind, the questions seems to be: Why are games not being made for women?

Or are they?picture-12

-An Extract from Gender Inclusive Game Design: Expanding the Market, Sheri Graner Ray

Unfortunately, Publishers, under the distorted view that girls don’t play games, turned them away. With the formation of Her Initiative came their first self-published game, McKenzie & Co. (96). The game is based on the every day life of a girl (McKenzie). As the player, you are required to attend school where you complete tests and socialize with friends etc (These are done by completing mini-games). You can also visit the mall and buy clothes and return home to talk to your friends over the phone. The idea is simple, but the game sold 80,000 units.

Full Review

Next to hit the shelves was the Queen of play herself, Barbie Fashion Designer (Mattel, 97). Already with a reputation as being the girls toy, it was hardly surprising to see the game sell 600,000 units in its first year and become popular with young girls (including me). Again the concept of the game was simple, design outfits for Barbie and watch her show them off on the catwalk. The game even provided you with fabric to print the designs onto (though this was usually quite difficult, expensive and never looked as nice as on the computer screen). However, even with the success of Barbie Fashion Designer, any new release that attempted to follow in its footsteps would never matched the figures and eventually companies such as Purple Moon and Mattel closed their doors.

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-An extract from Gender Inclusive Game Design: Expanding the Market, Sheri Graner Ray

OK, so far the games mentioned have been aimed at girls.  But is that what we really want? Saying that companies are missing out 40% of the market by not designing games for girls is just as bad as a company designing a game only for girls. This means they lose 60% of their market. However, the game would probably attract more non-gamers so the percentage would rise and they would continue to make more money. But what if they made a game that was both desirable for girls and boys?

When I think back to playing games as a young girl, I never questioned why I liked more games than others. As I mentioned before, one of the games I owned was Barbie Fashion Designer. Thinking back, I can remember it feeling more like a toy than an actual game. In an interview with the BBC, Nancy Smith revealed that “To some degree The Sims is more of a toy than a game. People want to create characters, tell stories and explore relationships in a way that is maybe different from their real lives.”. I totally agree with this statement, I have many friends that play The Sims but would not consider themselves a gamer. I also have friends that consider themselves a gamer, but have no interest in The Sims at all. Personally, I enjoy playing The Sims and consider myself a gamer too. I brought this up because as a child Barbie Fashion Designer felt more like a toy than a game that both I (who played other games) and my sister (who had little interest in other games) could both enjoy.

I find it interesting that even though my sister and I were brought up in the same environment, exposed to the same games, access to a computer and are both female, that we are both very different people (Like most siblings). Games we were brought up with include titles such as Barbie Magic Hair Styler, Barbie Fashion Designer, Tomb Raider, Catz, Dogz, The Sims, Roller Coaster Tycoon, Theme Park World, GTA, Tekken, Worms, Max Payne, DDR and various others. I split the games up into two categories:

Games I Like:

All of the above

Games She Likes:

Both Barbie games, Catz, Dogz, The Sims, Roller Coaster Tycoon, Theme Park World and DDR.

Most of the games listed here all lack one thing in common: A goal. The theme park games did have some goals, such as making a certain amount of money or getting a certain number of customers through the door. But we only ever played the game in Sandbox mode, which ruled out goals and let you have free reign. As for DDR, it wasn’t about competing against the other player, more like being able to master each song and enjoying the physical activity that came with it.

However, although she had no interest in the other games listed, she would happily sit and watch me play them. Another interesting point brought up by Sheri Graner Ray was an observation of a female member of staff in an arcade. Boys would often enter the arcade with their girlfriends at their side, walk over to a machine and start playing. The girl would follow and watch from behind, occasionally going over to other machines to watch but always returning to her boyfriends side. Does this mean that women get more out of the visuals of a game? So much so that they can eliminate play all together and still hold interest. I’ll save that one for another time

In conclusion, I don’t think that all games in the past were gender exclusive. Creating a gender biased game may not be the answer to creating the perfect game for girls, but maybe there is a market (my sister for example, and others like her). However, ignoring the difference in gender altogether is just as bad, as there are obvious differernces. In Part 2 I will be looking at what it is exactly that girls want in games, and how this differs from what has been and is being marketed.