Games for Girls

29Mar09

My thoughtful and observant partner in crime was so kind as to send me a link to an interesting TED Talk (here is the actual video) by Brenda Laurel about her research and development of games that not only appeal to young girls but also cater to their interests and dreams.

The basic idea is a good one but approaches the whole topic from a somewhat not-quite-right angle (\”wrong\” is simply the wrong term here, since the approach is not entirely wrong but…you get the point, I hope). Many products out there have a mainly male target audience in mind and cater to their fantasies, wishes and interests. Somehow, despite unscientific \”research results\”, girls and women do play those games as well. Not just once, but repeatedly, and seem to enjoy the game every single time they play it. Otherwise they would not turn on the game on a regular basis. Even though the game itself was developed for a male target audience, women seem to like it.

Are those girls and women atypical? Show more male character traits than female ones? Are they different from the proto-girls and -women and only count as the popular exception to the rule?

I doubt it. While watching the video of Brenda Laurel\’s talk I noticed something about the video she presented of girls talking about what they like and dislike, about their lives, their hobbies and general interests, as well as their worries. Their words were accompanied by pictures of their bedrooms and their collections of precious items. I found myself in there somewhere. I remembered how it was being 8-12 years old, in school, not yet a teenager but shortly before crossing the border to \”adulthood\” (which I still have not crossed, mind you). I, too, had collections of precious items, which ranged from earrings to marbles to matchbox cars and loose parts of watches. I, too, worried about whether I would be invited to one of the more important parties, or not (since maintaining a certain social status was just as important as receiving good enough grades) but I also daydreamed about how my life would be when I got older, or simply escaped into completely constructed fantasy worlds. What I would do, which job I would have, where would I live, etc. Nonetheless, I am probably one of the more \”atypical\” women out there, who enjoys playing games that are mainly targeted at a male audience. I enjoy playing them and am fairly good at them, even though I seem to have shown traits of the stereotypical pre-teenage girls presented in the video. Where is the difference between them and me?

I have no scientific proof for this nor yearlong research in this field but one difference I have noticed is that my father never told me I cannot play with a computer or work with any technical item simply because I am a girl. I was taught to use the same things in the same way boys did. I had my first \”grown up\” hi-fi unit  (my dad\’s old one) in kindergarten and quickly learned how to make mixed tapes of my own and listen to my children vinyl records while kids of the same age still struggled with their Walkmans and ladybug record players.

I was never told I could not have a computer, or a Game Boy™, nor was I ever told I was not able to use either of them. I was just as curious and excited about new games back then than I am now. The games available were different, though. Game of skill, war games, logical puzzles, adventures – all made for a male-only target audience (not even male-dominated). Yet, the games fascinated me. The new possibilities, the fascinating graphics, a whole new concept of gaming compared to the board games back then.

Society, its way of dealing with the \”gender issue\” and its refusal to deal with it in a proper manner is the main problem I see. I appreciate and support the notion that there should be games that have a very specific target audience in mind. I do believe, though, that \”gender\” should become less of a target audience in the future. I also do believe that, if we had been brought up in a more open society that is less focused on creating an artificial gap between men and women, a male or female target audience would not be necessary and developers and designers would not have to think of gender-stereotypes they needed to put in games to appeal to a wider audience.

I am curious about your points of view on this topic.

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