Friday, 15 August 2008

Is Gaming a Man's World?

A Guest Article by Krystal

I don't pretend to know the answer to this question, but as a female myself, I would hope that I would have at least a brief insight into why girls don't tend to play games. Personally, I am an avid gamer and will play anything from a gritty FPS to an RPG with a cutesy story, (see Eternal Sonata). However, I think it is fair to say that the majority of women/girls will only play games for limited reasons. These reasons can include playing with their boyfriends, which I think can be a good starting point in making a female gamer. In this situation, girls can be introduced to games they never knew existed, and it can often be the case that they are pleasantly surprised with what they find and are eager to pursue gaming more. Personally I can trace my love for gaming back to when I was very young, watching my brother play on his Atari ST. I think it is common for younger siblings to look up to older brothers and sisters and I was no exception. Also, I always had a lot of male friends. This was how I got my hands on a PS1, as I was shown the delights of FFVII and Resident Evil, and wanted to check them out for myself. So a girl gamer was born, but as I say, it can happen in all kinds of different ways.

Now, with the Wii and DS, gaming is attracting a new audience with games for all the family being pushed more and more. You do see a lot of girls playing these consoles in particular because they are marketed so that nobody is intimidated by them and are not known for their overly 'manly' games. However, I find a lot of Nintendo's marketing rather insulting to female audiences, but I'm not sure how non-gaming females feel about them. One advert is the 'Girls for Games' trailer that Nintendo produced a while ago.

Wii advertisements - Just right or just wrong?

The trailer starts off quite well with the woman playing Phantom Hourglass, but then she just grins like a loon while playing through the various games, and when it gets to Nintendogs it just becomes embarrassing. However, I think the one part of the advert that should have got it right was the Animal Crossing one. Instead, it ends up playing on the stereotype of girls too much and the hairdresser is so patronising. "Aw he's cute in'ee!?". But then, I guess The Sims didn't sell millions because of hardcore male gamers did it? I do think that for many girls, the transition to gamer will never happen. The same way that women will never join the army in large numbers, and women's football will never be as popular as men's football.

But why is this? What makes girls so put off by games? Obviously I don't have the answer, but I think from a female perspective I can have a good go at analysing the possible reasons. I think firstly, girls are intimidated by games. Many people I know give up before they've even began and think the control schemes are too complicated or they don't really understand game physics and the like because they've never been exposed. I guess Nintendo are on the right track with the Smash Bros. Brawl advert which shows that the controls are actually quite simple. (I do however, think that advert is terrible). This goes back to what I was saying about boyfriends or in my case, big brothers. I think you do need someone to show you what to do sometimes so you can gain confidence. In the same vein, I think that girls can be put off because often they are thrown into multiplayer games with seasoned gamers who have probably been playing the game for months. Losing is a real confidence shatterer and I think some girls will lose the will to keep trying. Another thing is that yes, many games are quite 'manly' and you don't often see a female lead, unless she has huge breasts, (see Lara Croft). However, watching Giant Bomb's recent video review of Soul Calibur IV, even Jeff Gerstmann, who is careful to clarify that he does like breasts, thinks that characters like Ivy, cross the line. Things are changing though, and games like Mass Effect do a brilliant job of creating a female lead who is really likeable and believable in her role. I don't have a problem with games being aimed at men, because lets face it, they make up a significant majority of the market. Some games can try a bit too hard to be manly though. Assassin's Creed comes to mind here, if Altair so much as lifts a finger, he does the manliest grunt in the history of manly grunts.

Lara Croft - female icon or your next fantasy?

I do think that gaming will always be a man's world, but for what exact reasons I don't know. The same reasons that women don't join the army and don't play football are obviously relevant here. As I've mentioned in the article, I think Nintendo are on the right track when it comes to attracting females as a new audience. However, personally I don't think they have it quite right and I think if a girl wants to play games she will, and if she doesn't, it will be difficult to persuade her otherwise. Games like Mario Kart Wii and various DS games are a step in the right direction in terms of breaking newcomers in gently to the world of gaming. However, making the jump to something like Half Life 2 or PGR4 requires more than just clever marketing. It requires patience and passion. If girls don't have the passion for gaming, then that's fair enough. Nobody says that girls have to be gamers, but I think for some men it would be nice if their wives/girlfriends understood their hobby.


Ronan The Librarian said...

Great article Krystal :)