are not only playing games, but they are also making games. Whether
young or mature, females have a presence in the direction of the games
industry. The casual games market consists of 70% female, according to
conference moderator Associate Professor Yasmin Kafai from the
University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Graduate School of
Education and Information Studies.
The Girls 'N' Games Panel
Girls 'N' Games conference was held on Tuesday, May 9, at the
Experimental Digital Arts (EDA) space on the UCLA campus. Kafai
organized the conference in conjunction with a workshop sponsored by
the National Science Foundation. The workshop brought together numerous
researchers, designers and industry professionals from Europe, Asia and
North America to discuss and review current trends in game design and
marketing in a private gathering. The conference followed the workshop
to serve as a public conversation about matters such as girls and
games, and the participation of women in game design and play.
Games for and by Girls
order to move ahead, it is important to understand the historical
context of games for and by girls. Brenda Laurel from the Art Center of
Purple Moon started by correcting popular misconceptions about the
history of games made for girls. Despite the many references to Barbie Fashion Designer, Pacman
was the first video game marketed to girls. Laurel joked, “The reason
it was popular was because it was a game about an eating disorder.”
1994, in the thick of doing research in gender and technology, it
became Laurel's goal to encourage girls to get over their hesitancy
with computers. At the time, the Barbie IP spread. By 1997 and 1998,
Girl Tech and Girl Games companies emerged. The mid-'90s welcomed
hardcore gamer girl groups. To Laurel, there has been a persistent
interest from females in action adventure games, which she argues is
now moving into Massively Multiplayer Online games (MMOs) such as World of Warcraft (WoW) and other online games including Second Life.
hardcore girl gamer identity is blurring in younger generations. Jen
Sun from Numedeon Inc. referenced the community behind the online game Whyville. Most players in Whyville
are 8-9 year old girls, and they don't think of themselves as gamers.
“They just communicate this way normally. Just girls having fun
communicating on the computer with friends,” said Sun.
often falls under successful game play patterns that appeal to girls,
but there are others to be identified. “One of the biggest surprises
I've run into is the popularity of Neopets,” said Mary
Flanagan, Hunter College, NYC. The game encourages authorship and a
distributive form of play. Authorship can happen with console titles as
well. Harry Potter games were picked up by girls, and
developers started incorporating the ideas of girl gamers who sent in
requests to be able to play Hermione.
uses constructivist ideas to help girls become authors so they can
develop their own games. “If you ask them what their favorite game is,
most 10-year-olds are playing Grand Theft Auto. But when you
ask them what they like to do in the game, these small particulars are
far more interesting.” For example, some girls play one to two times a
week. They spend their time shopping for a car, steal it, and then
drive it around, but don't participate in other parts of the game.
a game is rich enough that players can do things the developers never
intended is when you're going to have your moments of epiphany,” Sun
added. There are many different types of games in the community of Whyville. After pulling out data for the games, Whyville
developers found that girls do tend to favor the arts and humanities
activities over the math and sciences. However, when creative twists
were added to the math and sciences and games, such as multiplayer
components, preferences from girls went up.
Fullerton, University of Southern California, jumped in. “When games
allow a multi-layering of gameplay, these systems of design are not all
based on a singular genre of game.” Fullerton regularly plays Halo,
and she finds beauty in the scenery when snow falls. She is drawn to
the serene moments in the world. She acknowledges that she may have a
different perspective on gameplay than her male friends when they get
together to play over Xbox Live, but they are all still playing and
enjoying their gameplay.
should be cautious to avoid the pitfalls of “girl game design.” Laurel
warned, “You're often working off of a stereotype.” In Neopets,
children learn to have a complex understanding of economy systems, but
Laurel feels funding would have been scarce if the game had pitched
itself for that purpose. “Ten years ago, we learned that girls were
afraid of breaking the machine. This last year, the same demographic
was describing technology as a personal safety blanket.”
“Get player-generated content,” Sun advised. Whyville
is able to follow fashion and what is popular by providing players with
the tools to generate their own avatars. Players started making
shoulder parts, accessories, and scenes. Now, there is a booming “face
The reception at the conference fostered many interesting conversations.
found the same appeal in a game she works with. The game allows players
to choose what kind of being they want to be, including gender and
mixed body parts. Body clothing is embedded in objects and swapped
through programming. Girls are encouraged to dig into code for
interacting with the game. She looked at what happened when a team of
girls made a game. Even the drawing style tended to carry similarities
in girl teams, but the more diverse the team, the more
interdisciplinary the game design project.
Jill Denner of ETR Associates had over 100 girls design games in Flash.
She began to understand their likes and dislikes, and saw many
instances where girls took gender stereotypes and played with them to
create a number of humorous results. Most games emphasized challenging
authority and pulling in humor.
semester, a couple of girls find my class by accident,” Fullerton said.
Most young women take her class out of curiosity, and sometimes don't
play games. They are hesitant about walking into the class, but
Fullerton encourages a diverse group of students by keeping all
projects in the first class strictly on paper. The technology barrier
is dropped. After having a chance to work on ideas, Fullerton
concluded, “Young women get a sense of empowerment about what games
Girl Games International
studies of gaming and gender can illuminate and make less insular
studies of gaming in general, asserts Justine Cassell of Northwestern
University. She sees gender studies as similar to looking at games
across history, but specifically in light of social constructions.
Comfort and normalcy with credit card ordering online can bring game software and hardware into new contexts. Tamagotchi
was not seen as gender specific in Japan, but ended up that way in the
U.S. when the game transferred with the same gameplay mechanics. Tamagotchi added in fighting features for boys in the U.S.
Ito from the University of Southern California's Center for
Communication has seen a definite trend. Japanese notions sneak into
U.S. through media like Pokémon. The media is both exotic and
different but also very accessible. “Japan is the centrality of
portability and coded differently than console playing,” said Ito. The
“cute” culture plays into a wide range of gameplay. The saturation is
opposite in Taiwan, as Holin Lin from the National Taiwan University
points out, because there is a popular belief that only the top two
games, always MMOs, can make profit. A wide range of games are not
available for girls.
Korean web cafes, according to Daniel James from Three Rings Inc.,
there is a pattern of gender play much different from the U.S. Lineage,
he says, is played by more women there than in the U.S. “We still have
Internet cafes and activism of women as gamers,” commented TL Taylor of
the University of Copenhagen. The arrangement of social and public
space plays an important part in gender and gameplay internationally.
are outside forces involved in girls playing games. In Scandinavia,
Taylor found at least 5 women activist initiatives at a huge LAN party
of 700 people. LANs and activism play an important role.
have a strong tie-in with commercial advertisement in Japan. Ito said,
“Really popular manga and anime series almost automatically get a game
release.” The “cute” culture is also very influential and encourages
girls to get involved in gameplay.
Taiwan, Holin pointed out, Internet cafes exist almost for the sole
purpose of playing online games, but the government puts very rigid
restriction on students going there during school hours, and parents
often put additional restrictions on their daughters. In Chinese
culture, there is a strong feeling against adults playing games. Holin
added, “Several boys talk about how they will quit playing games when
they get a job, but for girls it's when they get married.” She is
concerned about the gender implications.
trends in girl and women gamers have overlaps internationally. Taylor
sees the area around her as part of the North American game scene by
its involvement in WoW. Holin notices the same trend in Taiwan, since the most popular games are MMOs such as Lineage and now WoW.
“Cute” culture is making its way from Japan into Taiwan quickly. James
feels the U.S. is following the same pattern with games like Neopets. “100 million people are playing online games,” James argued. His game, Puzzle Pirates, targets the casual games audience, which he describes as “35-year-old women in the Midwest with two kids and a car.”
are] gaming in an industry that actively tries to keep them out,”
commented Taylor. “We're oddballs if we play.” There is a gap that
needs to be fixed, panelists agreed. Games are recoded through use, and
not just cross-cultural, but also cross-gender.
...as well as the opportunity to catch up with colleagues.
gamers” are struggling with both the term itself and the imbalance of
putting females in a position of competing with males in order to own
being a “gamer.” Similarly, stereotyping by gender, both male and
female, can lead to missteps in game design that alienate the targeted
When referencing research done primarily on baby boomers, Celia Pearce, UC Irvine, cautioned, “Men actively rejected games like EverQuest because of the violence.” Betty Hayes, University of Wisconsin-Madison, has witnessed a shared gender split in Animal Crossing. “Newbies, whether men or women,” she said, “need different spaces.”
not all female gamers are newbies, though. “The Frag Dolls have
received criticism for identifying as ‘girl gamers,'” said Morgan
Romine, also known as Rhoulette in Frag Dolls. She has struggled with a
separation message. “Are we feminists empowering definitions by
claiming our roles can be flexible? Or do we say is, ‘this is what it
means to be women?'” Even today, Romine runs into instances where she
is buying a game at a store and the clerk asks who it is for.
Assumptions still run rampant.
Lazzaro, XEODesign, agreed. She feels that the higher score in a game
sets the next round of gameplay in motion, which naturally pits males
against females, but also males against males and females against
females. She fears that the game industry is also marginalizing many
men. “The market imperative to grow,” Lazzaro added, “and many men want
to play co-op instead of rival games.”
differences between girl gamers and women gamers are often forgotten.
“Casual games have surprised the market,” said Carrie Heeter, Michigan
State University. “One thing we have to take into account is that women
have a lot of other things to do compared to teenage males and
females,” Hayes interjected. Romine agreed and explained, “Casual games
are easy to learn and hard to master.” They are also easily accessible
and often include social elements, which she equates with WoW and the Xbox 360 Live function in games like Halo.
over 30 are very different than women under 30, their roles in society
are different,” insisted Lazzaro. “Play circumstances prepare you for
later roles in life.” Changes in gender dynamics in society effect
games. Women are getting more comfortable with being able to enjoy
methods of play not for the sole purposes of learning and being
productive. “Serious fun is a key factor,” Lazzaro ended.
Pearce recommends looking into the self-identified brackets within the styles of game play. When Myst shifted into Uru and Uru
closed, Pearce says, the players still identified themselves as puzzle
solvers. Community events and creativity are major factors in women
the game targets an interesting market,” Lazzaro added, in relation to
the upcoming E3 event and new gameplay techniques for women. She feels
games have to more than an idea and graphics. Girl figures are often
posing or fighting on posters to advertise to a certain demographic.
gender identities can be played with. Within many games, gender
identity is a choice. Both males and females are choosing to play the
opposite gender for varying reasons, whether it be status or otherwise.
Pearce usually plays male characters, because she doesn't like the
representation of the female she's offered. Romine relates more to
female characters and has found it more advantageous in MMOs. “I just
like to play the character that looks the coolest,” Lazzaro quipped.
then, are female gamers influencing games? Lazzaro related experienced
with motivated quests in MMOs and features such as being able to dress
“Gamers are now parents,” Hayes said while telling the story of a
mother meeting her son in-game to tell him he was grounded for being up
late. Casual games offer up a world of opportunities.
gamers need to construct and modify games too. “A lot of girls feel
alienated from the game creation process,” Pearce said. However, as
more generations of girls grow up as gamers, comfort with technology
increases. Girls and women should not only be gamers, but also
developers, panelists agreed.
in different countries or different stages of life, females are
undoubtedly drawn to gameplay. Women can step into development and
create games for new generations, but diversity is essential as well.
By relating to both men and women, researchers and developers can
analyze cross-gender play, which is invaluable to the growth of games,
as concluded by the wide range of panelists at the Girls ‘n' Games