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[This blog entry originally appeared on Game Design Aspect of the Month for April 2009's topic Designing Quality 2 - 3 Hour Games. Please participate in May 2009's topic, Trends of Simplicity.]
At GDC 2005 and GDC 2006, as co-founders of the non-profit, Girls in Games, Inc., Michelle Sorger
and I conducted the popular "Attracting Women to Game Development"
roundtables, which focused on recruitment and retention of women in the
One comment during a discussion about bringing games
into the lives of teenage girls has intrigued me over the years: a
suggestion that the industry create 2 - 3 hour narrative-based games
that teenage boys and girls could enjoy together, akin to going out to the movies.
girls, according to research, are enthralled by video games just as
much as young boys, but in their teenage years, girls' interests
typically turn to issues dealing with dating and socialization.
games just like any type of sciences or maths are commonly viewed as
interests for females who are socially awkward and undesirable.
Therefore, girls veer away from the very subjects that could make them
employable in the video game industry years from now. For years, people
have said the issue is not that young female college freshmen are not interested in computer programming,
but that teenage and middle school girls are not interested in computer
programming. We're wasting our efforts if we devote all our energies to
the college level.
But by transporting video games into the
realm of social interaction and dating, the act of playing a video game
becomes socially acceptable to teenage girls. It becomes part of the
dating ritual, like going to a club or a movie. But what sort of
short-form game would be appropriate for a date? And how would that
Normally, when boys and girls play video games
together, boys end up playing the game. This has been noted in several
studies of games used in educational settings.
There are many explanations for this: girls typically are not video
game literate and girls' play patterns differ from boys.
in a GDC 2009 session
noted that when girls play, one takes the steering wheel while the
others crowd around and give comments. For girls, no particular person
is in control whereas boys are continually jockeying for control of the
Moreover, girls are not comfortable playing a game without
knowing exactly how everything works. As Sheri Graner Ray has often stated, even back in the arcade age, a boy was playing the game while a girl stood watching.
I would posit that while girls' lack of controller dominance may
discourage educational theorists who would want girls to participate
(and learn) from games, this is perfectly OK in a social setting.
girl wants the possibility of failure in front of boy and repeated
failure only leads to frustration. As casual game developers know, the
more a casual player fails at a game, the more likely she is to stop
playing the game.
In addition, when considering gender play patterns, it
simply follows that a boy playing the game and a girl watching is a
normal situation. And a girl's lack of controller dominance does not
mean that she is not enjoying the game.
Anecdotally speaking, when a couple of game designers and I went through Gears of War 2 in
one sitting, I was quite happy to let the guys go through the game
because I knew they could get through it faster. Yet, I felt like I was
participating because at choice points, I could voice my opinion,
yelling "Right, Right!" or "No, Left!" when we drove over the frozen
lakes. Normally, I find it silly to yell when I watch DVDs with
friends, but because this game was interactive, I could participate in
I might add that I typically do not enjoy action
flicks on the wide screen. I have even fallen asleep during a Vin
Diesel film because of the lack of deep characterization. So, it is
somewhat surprising to me that I have come to this conclusion that
action-packed short-form games would be ideal date material.
my experience, no other genre of games seemed to be right for this
purpose. I have played Braid
with the same guys and even though I used the controller with others
commenting to me, a puzzle game is simply too slow-paced and
furthermore, does not deliver a satisfying shared experience at 2 - 3
hours. I have found the same to be true for RPGs, which often meander
and have a slow build-up.
Scientists have said that in the
science of love, increased adrenaline output is part of falling in
love, which is why television matchmakers try to hook couples up by
giving them exciting dates like race car driving or bungee jumping.
Fast-paced action games, if at 2 - 3 hours, incite adrenaline and are
spectacles to watch.
The narratives, while they could be better, are
straightforward and usually on rails like a movie. To top it off, if
the couple had something like the Rez trance vibrator,
then every time the boy blew away demon-alien hybrids, the girl would
receive a happy jolt. However, that's not for first-date hijinks!
So what do you think? Should video games be part of the dating ritual?