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The Next Frontier - Female Gaming Demographics
by Wanda Meloni on 03/30/10 12:17:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

By Wanda Meloni

As an analyst I am drawn to trends that shift markets. I see nothing shifting the gaming market more significantly right now than the impact that girls and women are having on the industry. The growth and market dynamics related to female players are utterly fascinating.


As a female I am drawn to the personal impact this growth means to me. At M2 Research we have several female analysts now. So yes, it is a personal topic for us here. One of our analysts is extremely versed in MMOs, both casual and core. Her World of Warcraft rogue character made the US top 50 Guild. So besides being a hardcore gamer and an analyst for M2 Research, she is also over 35, and a mom of three small children.  The reality is games are not just for one particular type of player any more.

Steady but Slow Road for Consoles

More young girls are being exposed to console games, especially as their fathers introduce them to that world as a way to bond with them. In late November, president of Nintendo America, Reggie Fils-Aime presented several data points outlining the current gender breakdown of console play in the U.S. Reggie estimates there are 45 million people playing video games as the primary players in the U.S. Of those, Nintendo is estimating 26% are female, or roughly 11.7 million.




Of those, 80% are on the Wii, 11% are on the Xbox 360 and 9% are on the PS3.

  • Wii - 80% = 9.3 million
  • X360 - 11% = 1.29 million
  • PS3 - 9% = 1.05 million
  • Total = 11.7 million Females

John Koller of Sony told us, "Before the holidays we made a big push in our advertising campaign by appealing to a wider demographic. Women see the benefit of having a game console that also works as a Blu-ray player, and that has definitely boosted our sales into the dual-console households."


And David Dennis, Microsoft's Xbox 360 spokesperson believes that, "Certainly social networking functionality like Twitter and Facebook appeal to a female audience. Studies have found that in general, most social networks have more female users than male, including Twitter (about 59% female) and Facebook (about 57% female). In addition to Facebook and Twitter, there is a lot of functionality in Xbox LIVE that appeals to women. With Xbox LIVE parties, users can connect and share movies, music, photos and gaming experiences with friends on the same couch or across the country. Women are an important audience for us, and we're offering a variety of entertainment experiences that will appeal to them." 

Growth is in PC Online Gaming

Unlike the console market, where the gender discrepancy is still significant, the PC gaming market is pretty close to even when it comes men and women. The openness of the platform and social element of the internet remains a significant factor.


M2 Research estimates there are roughly 130 million women currently playing online PC games worldwide, and 140 million men. And we see that figure growing steadily over the next several years for both men and women.

M2 Research - Gender
Women playing online PC games has worked for a couple of reasons:

1.    It is a platform females already know well enough to navigate around

2.    It has the social networking components females gravitate towards

3.    MMOs, casual and social gaming are all games that appeal to women and they are all PC based


Look at the gender split between GTA4 and some of the other games.


It is estimated that close to 40% of all World of Warcraft players are female, or almost 3 million players. In November, Blizzard announced its first virtual pet would go on sale. In a 2 month period the company sold over 200,000 for $10 each, equaling $2 million on one virtual pet item.


WoW pets

Will O'Brien, who until recently was General Manager of Social Games at TrialPay and now VP of Social Gaming at Big Fish, "Typically, women account for about 60% of all virtual goods transactions, although different game genres attract different audiences--for example, poker games might be more male-centric while games that let you care for pets might appeal more to the female demographic."


PopCap recently released findings from a survey they sponsored that showed:

  • The average social gamer is a 43 year old female
  • 38% say they play social games several times a day
  • Women are more inclined to play with real-life friends

The Chief Household Officer

According to research done by Mindshare/Ogilvy & Mather, women account for 85% of all consumer purchases. U.S. women spend more than $5 trillion annually on consumer goods and services:

  • Women account for 85% of all consumer purchases
  • 22% shop on line at least once a day
  • 61% influence consumer electronic purchases
  • Women account for 66% of all PC purchases

Jeremy Lewis, CEO of Big Fish Games, calls them the Chief Household Officer.  "Games are a universal pleasure. Whereas traditional gaming companies are focused on young males, at Big Fish Games, our audience is global, more than 80 percent female, and so engaged that on any given day, we distribute 1.5 million games. Our primary customers, young women and chief household officers, as we like to call them, enjoy a broad variety of games on our site, including puzzles, hidden objects and solitaire, all of which provide women with the opportunity to escape relax and have fun."


In our current economy, where frivolity on household spending has taken a back seat, women and moms are opting for Free-to-Play options for their kids whenever possible. Additionally, used game sales continue to increase.  GameStop's used sales were up significantly in 2009 from 2008, growing from $887 million to $1,109 billion for the six months ending August 1.


Mark Nebesky, Chief Marketing Officer of Goozex, an online video game trading company, explains what his company is witnessing, "There are two main purchasers, men purchasing for themselves or their children, and women purchasing for their children. In the case of the women, they control 100% of their account activity. In other words, the children requested games to Mom, who then placed the order on Goozex. And we see this group growing."  


Move Away from 'Pink It and Shrink It" Marketing

There are still so many stereotypes about women and girls. Many marketers believe that females will only buy something if it is pink and covered in sparkles. It is also a misconception that women are not interested in shooting and highly competitive games - this is a stereotypical opinion that try's to pigeonhole all female buyers into the same prototype. That is simply not true; to stereotype all females is the same as saying men and boys only like violent games.


All you have to do is look at other industries that prosper with both men and women. For example, 40% of the 6.6 million people attending Winston Cup car races each year are women. Now, personally I haven't been to the Winston Cup, but I follow Formula One racing, watch it religiously, have been to a race, bought F1 products, and know that Brits have won the championship the last two years.


Megan Gaiser, CEO of Her Interactive has been focused on building games for girls for over ten years. Her Interactive is the successful creator of The Nancy Drew games, which have consistently placed on NPD's top 10 best selling game month after month. Some months it's even beat out World of Warcraft, Spore and The Sims.


When Megan joined Her Interactive, the company was told to make the products pink and girls will come. Megan explains, "That is about as simplified an explanation as saying, make it violent and boys will come. So we decided to go strategically UNPINK, and guess what, the girls still came."


This is where game companies need to look to other forms of entertainment to bridge the gap. In films, the top box-office hits are films that attract men and women. Movies like Avatar and Dark Knight appeal to a wide range of people. In the music industry, men and women are equal in their purchasing of music. There is nothing wrapped in pink, except maybe Lady Gaga and Pink. 


Closing Thoughts (But Not the End of the Discussion)

There is no denying that core gamers have been the mainstay for the industry for the last 10 year. However the market has grown. There are now wide sweeping segments of the population that make up the patchwork of gamers.


When you start looking at the numbers, there is a critical mass already in play. All you have to do is look at Zynga. With $250 million in sales and 233 million users, Zynga has a $3 billion valuation right now. Compare that to EA and its current valuation of $5.6 billion. 


We feel this analysis is just touching the surface. There is so much more that needs to be addressed in terms of studying the demographics of these different patchworks, and this is something M2 Research is focused on.


Fundamentally the biggest issue is making intelligent, engaging games for whatever target market you are trying to reach. Girls on average are no more inclined to buy a portable gaming system because its pink than a boy wanting a system simply because it is blue. Consumers, no matter what the age or gender, want to be engaged and challenged.


The demand is there and the revenue opportunities are there.

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Joshua Sterns
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Good article.

I agree that "pink marketing" is naive and maybe even sexist. I also have no doubt that the number of female gamers is raising steadily and will continue to do so. I don't have a clue, however, at what female gamers want.

From what this article suggests women would like social games. Combine the lack of social games and the learning curve for console controllers, and it's no surprise that more female gamers can be found on PC's. Yet with the services like XBL and PSN social gaming should be doable on consoles. I would also argue that MP FPS games are very social--especially with Clans. Yet the majority of players I find on MW2, Halo3, and L4D are male. Perhaps the reason I experience a lack of female teammates is the community. WoW tends to be more user friendly and a good guild can really help out noobs. FPS games like the ones I mentioned are full of immature idiots who talk like they are still in middle school.

Just some random thoughts from an interested party. I am always amazed at what my gal pals like/hate in regards to video games.

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Daniel Balmert
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For a rapid change in the direction of video games, I think it needs a more grassroots movement than simply Marketing. It needs to be either men designing games with women in mind, or women designing games. Note: this does not mean designing games FOR WOMEN, it means designing games for PEOPLE, not just young adult males. No amount of marketing "icing" will bring in enough women to create gender parity.

In a presentation at GDC, Jennifer Canada gave a talk about designing games for both audiences. Her end result was a group of 8 tennants games should follow in order to garner a fair female population. The top rated games this last year had at the very least 6 out of 8, while uncharted 2 (top game) had 8 out of 8. Really, there are no top rated games that aren't enjoyed by a high population of women.

Why designers CONTINUE to ignore or even repel female gamers with their poorly written sex-doll side characters and mega-macho lead characters is completely beyond reason. A lot of them claim" I make games I'd want to play," and that's a terrible excuse for veiled sexism. But again, those games rarely win awards or high praise, so I guess they can keep making mediocre games.

Daniel Balmert
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@ Jeffrey:

Women like the same things in games as men - they like playing a game that engages them and they feel is targeted at them. If a game has strong male and female roles, both men and women will like it. If a game has only strong male roles, the likelihood of a strong female following is rare.

You don't need 50% female characters on the roster. The gender, race, and age of every character has to fit the story. A lot of "ethnocentrism" happens in games, and the quick bandaid for that is "the toekn black guy" or female sidekick. The problem is, a lot of games don't write engaging believable females even if they DO put them in the game. A lot of times, a female sidekick is an afterthought, and that comes through in the writing and acting of the character.

In response to Salem and Rios - Bad writing is bad. When only certain genders are written poorly, it's sexism.

Daniel Balmert
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If you don't put a female in a game, you're not necessarily sexist. You also don't have to write a female perfectly. You're acting like it's a hard thing to do when most of the top rated games these days are going it perfectly well. Quit acting like your hands are tied and you are at the mercy or some sort of metric. Portal had only 2 charcaters, both were female. No one offended. Braid: Awesome story about a boy and a princess. Well written, no one offended.

It's not a conspiracy. Conspiracy implies someone is trying to cover something up. The reality is, most people don't see things as a problem (you included.) It's "okay" if they write a poor female character. It's "okay" if a game mysteriously contains no females at all. You don't see a problem with that?

"Here's an idea: what if all the people who write articles about "gender issues" in games just wrote the games they want to see?"

Some of them do. As mentioned above, Jennifer Canada is a lead designer at Insomniac Games making the stellar Ratchet and Clank series.

Quit tasking people with the burden of having to prove you wrong when so many people have written intelligent and well researched papers about this issue. Where are your games? Where is your research?

Show me how catering ONLY to the female demographic makes any amount of market penetration. Go on, I'll wait until Hello Kitty Island Adventure hits the top of the charts. It's only as effective as clearly male targeted games - they fail on the whole.

Adam Bishop
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I'm not sure what you're so bothered by, Jeffrey. The article doesn't claim in any way that the next Call of Duty or whatever needs to be changed to appease interest groups or anything of that nature. What the author seems to be arguing - which I think is hard to disagree with - is that companies would do well to recognise that the female gamer market is large and growing, and that companies would be foolish to ignore them.

I'm not really sure how females are a "special interest group"; they make up half the population! But I do think the fact that you consider women to be a special interest group says a lot. If women are a special interest group then so are men, and so is everyone else, rendering the term meaningless.

You claim that "most girls do like pink" which I think you would have a lot of trouble backing up. Here's a quick experiment, feel free to either do this in your head or in real life - next time you go somewhere where many people are likely to be using electronic devices (a subway terminal, for instance) count the number of women you see using pink gadgets. While you're doing that, count the number of women using gadgets in other colours. Even just doing this in your head, I think you'll quickly realise that while, yes, there are women who buy things that are pink, the vast majority of them buy things in the same colours as men.

I also don't think the author literally meant the colours of the products. What she seemed to be arguing was that you'll be more successful appealing to female audiences if you treat them with respect instead of condescendingly "girlifying" things, and I think the continued success with female gamers that companies like Blizzard, Popcap, and Nintendo have would back that up.

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Bart Stewart
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In any conversation like this, it’s crucial to understand the difference between a group in the aggregate and a randomly selected individual person: the difference between individuals within a group is likely to be much, much greater than the difference between the average (or typical member) of the two groups.

In other words, it is possible to say without being morally or factually wrong that men and women *in the aggregate* are reliably different in various ways, while always remembering that you can’t assume that an actual individual man or woman is typical of the group to which they belong. A random woman might be stronger than a random man, but men *in the aggregate* have greater physical strength than women.

Which means that I think Wanda’s data mining and analysis was excellent, with one exception:

“It is also a misconception that women are not interested in shooting and highly competitive games - this is a stereotypical opinion that try's to pigeonhole all female buyers into the same prototype. That is simply not true; to stereotype all females is the same as saying men and boys only like violent games.”

This is the one place where I think we’re hearing the author’s opinion, rather than going only where the data actually lead.

In fact, only a few paragraphs above we’re graphically shown that women in the aggregate are barely playing competitive/violent games like GTA4 at all, but as a group they do gravitate toward social/nurturing games like The Sims and casual games and “pet collection” games. If this tells us anything, it’s that women in the aggregate, who are as free to choose what games they play as men are, choose to play social/nurturing games and choose not to play competitive/violent games.

Of course individual women can and do play competitive/violent games, just as some men play social/nurturing games. But when you’re talking about intentionally designing games for a market, you don’t design for individuals -- you design for groups.

And the lesson from group data is clear: men and women like different things, so it’s not wrong to design your game accordingly.

Personally, I agree with the conclusions other commenters seem to hold: for the maximum audience, design for *people*, not this group or that group. But if someone wanted to attract mostly men or mostly women to their game, then there’s clear information on what each group *in the aggregate* enjoys in their play and what they’re just not into.

Finally, I’m staying well away from the question of whether men and women like different things because their biochemistry leads them to prefer certain things, or because society somehow makes them that way. :) It’s an interesting question, and I know what I think, but it’s completely irrelevant to the observation that distinguishable differences do exist and can be used to more effectively design games.

Kumar Daryanani
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The reason for the gravitation towards certain game types might be linked to the fact that a lot of competitive/violent games don't even have the option of playing as a female character with whom female players can identify, while in games like The Sims, you get to create the character you want, of whichever gender suits your fancy.


Show me some factual evidence that women 'prefer' pink naturally, as opposed to being 'socialised' by society as a whole to prefer pink. Both men and women are gently and not so gently coerced pretty much from birth to become 'men' and 'women' as society understands them, rather than being encouraged to grow as individuals into choosing their own preferences.

Kumar Daryanani
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And as far as 'tell your own story with the characters that evolve naturally out of it', that's precisely the reason why we need more diversity in the industry, so we can hear more voices telling more stories from different points of view. How telling is it that as game developers and players have grown older, we are only now starting to see stories with 'father' figures or elements (Bioshock2, Heavy Rain, Fable III soon), and these are games that are being lauded because of the 'attachment' you develop with your in-game?

If you didn't attend the 'What Colour is your Hero?' panel at GDC, I reccommend you look it up.

Kumar Daryanani
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Allow me to rephrase, since you disapprove of the language:

"The games industry will benefit from having more people with more worldly and mature outlooks on life, society, and the world in general."

The thing about people coming into this 'free market and voicing their grievances' is that someone smart will listen to them, make a game they like, and make a lot of money. Rejecting new influences and audiences in favour of the status quo has and will lead to obsolescence.

Keith Nemitz
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I was surprised to see, nearly half of my sales of 'Dangerous High School Girls in Trouble!' are purchased by women in college. Seems to be a word of mouth effect. It's a shareware game, so they know what they're buying. My guess is the teenagers who grew up on Final Fantasy are pretty hip for an RPG with more sophisticated characters and plot. (although with simpler 'combat' systems)

Does anyone know the gender breakdown for Final Fantasy games? I'm guessing it crossed over very well.

Benjamin Marchand
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Welcome, ladies :)


Galen Tucker
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Excellent article! As father of two daughters I am encouraged by positive movements in making game development more broadly people focused. As a game developer, I am very interested in design considerations that better position my titles. I'd love to have more specific information. I have downloaded Ms Canada's thesis already.

I wonder, if appeal to women can be attributed more to better story writing than to concerted efforts to include feminine appeal? In other studies I find that design elements, not traditionally considered in game development, but common in other "associated mediums" seem to hold true in game acceptance/popularity. In literature, rich well thought out stories seem to have broken new ground in reading adoption in youth (cross-gender), like the Harry Potter series. In Business and home application design there has been renewed focus on user experience, lower learning curves, and "simplified" natural (more often "culturally-correct" (based on targeted geographies) influenced) interfaces. The same seems to hold true in the wide market appeal of "casual" games and sub-genres like tower defence, which have intuitive game-play and interfaces.

In any event, I look forward to reading more on the subject. As an aside, I think it's also important for young girls/women to hear more about their peers involvement in gaming. I believe the "pink is for girls" type misconceptions are still a widely held "truth", and hearing from women and other girls helps with becoming comfortable exploring gaming. In my experience, young boys seem to scream their passions for games to the high heavens, where as my daughters (who like games) stand back with other girls, may of which do not, for some reason, seem to be given access to the same game machines/etc.. as their brothers/male peers.


Terry Matthes
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It's not that women actually prefer pink it's that they're told to. Most people do what they are told due to a couple different factors. Marketing for men isn't any different. The social pressure that's felt by each gender keeps them in their respective roles.

If you buy something online there is no social pressure (due to marketing stereotypes) to push women towards that "pink phone". I think that internet is somewhat of a special case when it comes to consumer purchases. Since shopping on the internet is largely an activity you do alone you are free to shop without typical marketing pressures. These kind of pressure tactics can be found mostly in the look of people in the product advertising and the atmosphere of the stores someone shops in.

Game developers and publishers have little control over the stereotypes pushed by society at large. Until that changes the safest tactic for brick and mortar stores is still the "pink phone".

As I mentioned earlier though online sales are more successful at convincing women to try their games because they offer a pressure free purchasing experience.

@Jeffrey Parsons

"That's precisely the problem with this mentality: the game industry doesn't "need" anything. It is an open industry. There is nothing stopping anyone from making a game that reflects their reality, or their desired reality."

This statement is right on the money. If you want women to be portrayed in a better light then its up to you to make a game that does this. Don't complain about someone else's art because they portrayed a certain demographic in a way you don't like. You can have racism, sexism or prejudice in games because games they are supposed to be an experience. If that sexism/prejudice helps convey the experience you intended then its part of the art.

You wouldn't snap back at a film for having these elements (as long as they are targeted to an appropriate age group). There are some great films that have both of these aspects in them. It's not by any means saying these things are OK, but it's using them to help get an emotional experience across to the user.

Games are not just products, they are (or should be) an art form and a creative vision. An artist shouldn't compromise his/her visions for any demographic ideally.

Joel Langston
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I have been trying to get my girlfriend to play WoW for years, but the sheer complexity and the time investment needed are daunting for her. She much prefers console games where she only has to become familiar with her 6-8 buttons and she can play for as little or as long as she wants.

Also, she really wants games she can play that aren't strategy or puzzle-based, but that don't involve killing.

Just my (her) two cents.

Daniel Balmert
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Art can be sexist/racist - people just won't like it. It's okay though, because unless you embrace the female demographic CORRECTLY, you'll never have a top rated, sales-record-setting game. Women have a CRAP ton of buying power, and lots of guys are put off by excess testosterone titles. Sooner or later, if you want to compete in the highest reaches of the market, you will have to sit down with a focus group and find out what women ACTUALLY want to play, not what you think they want to play.

When you suggest adding pink or sassy sidekicks, you will be glared at.

(But seriously... you think it's okay to just *pander* like that? With your supposed "art"?)

Nick Halme
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I think this issue has always been frustratingly simple (ie they're overthinking it and struggling) to businesses trying to move fast and capitalize on the female market.

Females just are not as widely introduced to videogames as boys are, just the same as girls and hockey in Canada. There are girls leagues, but it has a masculine tone. It's much easier for a boy to be introduced to hockey. Similarly I know girls who can throw a mean football, but there was sure not a female football team at my highschool. It's a cultural and societal holdover.

So the simpleness of the problem is that the females not playing games aren't withholding because they're waiting for a game that suits them to come along, they're doing so because they never got into gaming as children and never will. (See the hilarious poster of the woman saying "NEVER" that Nintendo used when talking about the Wii audience).

Women play videogames here at the office, and it would be preposterous to think anything of it. They enjoy getting headshots just like anyone else. Any woman would, if they grew up gaming. Just the same as I wouldn't enjoy playing a sport I was never introduced to, what woman would want to jump into a match of Halo at age 30 having never touched a game?

The girls my age in my immediate family all play videogames. They are not "gamers", and few own consoles any more or play PC games, but they will play music games and have fond memories of Mario Kart.

It's simply getting more socially acceptable for young girls to be interested in videogames, and we'll probably see the following generation composed of a much larger percentage of female gamers.

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Terry Matthes
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@Daniel Balmert

I wouldn't say that "people won't like it" is an accurate statement. I would say that it might turn a few people away. I never said that people should pander. My point was you shouldn't embrace the female or male market. Just make games that you're passionate about and your market will be what it will be.

"If you build it they will come"


Those are some good points. I totally agree about how an early age skepticism of video games prevents women from getting into games later on in life. I think the whole market is a lot more homogeneous than people assume. It's more an exposure issue that affects how those young girls think of games and less about the actual game content.

Jamie Roberts
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If certain types of games are played less by women and girls, the next question should be "why?" There is an assumption that women aren't interested in action or shooting games, but it's just that, an assumption. When you look at the games themselves and the typical playing environment, a different picture arises. Most of these games have burly men as the protoganists. When women are included it's mainly as eye candy. The people playing these games at home and especially online use sexist language and lots of male-centric (ie "penis" related) smacktalk. When it comes to these games, the problem isn't accommodating women, it's learning to stop being outright hostile toward them. Why would a girl even want to check the game out when there is so much implied sexism and male bias? When designing these games we begin with the assumption that only men care about them. That influences every other decision made and it creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. I think that distorts the numbers quite a bit. It certainly doesn't help that half of the population is seen as some mysterious, unfathomable special interest. These unspoken beliefs shape the landscape, and then that layout is deemed "the way things naturally are." But we will never know the actual truth until those assumptions are dismantled from within the industry.

Christy Marx
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In this whole long, worthwhile thread of replies, I find it ironic that I'm the first woman to add a comment. Unfortunately, I don't have time for a long reply, but I'll add a couple of things for the record.

I've disliked the color pink since I was a little girl and insisted that my mother, who had done my bedroom entirely in pinks, change it all to blue. Girls are brainwashed with the color pink from literally the day they are born. Until that changes, the belief that girls inherently favor pink will seem to be true. And by the way, this applies more broadly to what both girl-children and boy-children are inculcated to believe are appropriate to their gender. The mother who slaps her boy away from dolls and says "Those are for girls" is a classic example. Toy companies have been notorious in the way they promote these gender stereotypes, but they only reflect the broader social context that's out there.

I'm a dedicated WoW player. I've never bothered to buy a console because of money and time issues more than anything else. I'm interested in games that have a story and are well-written. I'm repelled by games like GTA and Bayonetta because they offer nothing that appeals to me. One reeks of mindless violence, the other of mindless titillation.

As Jamie wrote: "Why would a girl even want to check the game out when there is so much implied sexism and male bias?"

Damn straight.

Finally, we must remember that neither the female nor the male audience is a monolithic block. There are as many different types of women game players as there are male.

Stacey Layne
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As a male, I have to admit that I like some mindless violence now and then.

Interestingly though, the places I don't see female gamers are in strategy games. Many of which have no sexist or offensive content.

Civ 5, Sword of the Stars, Starcraft, Endless Space, Fallen Enchantress etc.

I wonder why that is, and why no one ever mentions games like that when we talk of games that are not offensive to women for which they seem to have no attraction.