Saturday, February 20

Casual games as a chance

For years I’ve had a lot of fun misleading the shop assistants at my favourite electronic market, pretending I was just buying a game for a friend and had no idea whether it would run on his computer or what it was about. It’s been so easy to lead people astray if you were a woman and knew something about computer games.

The typical picture of a player of computer games has for a long time been the male geek: a guy around the age of 18 (something between 16 and 20), pale, wearing glasses, nervous whenever he has to deal with a real human being. Some of those geeks (like Bill Gates) actually got a fortune out of being a geek, but most didn’t even manage to get a date with their female counterpart (the female geek, though, is much rarer than the male variety).

Computer games usually demanded a lot of work first, to install them (20 floppy disks for one of my favourite games, a long time ago), then to learn about how to handle them. Therefore only the geeks actually had a chance to manage it. You had to spent a lot of time in front of a computer to have fun with a game. ‘Normal’ people and women didn’t have a chance.

In addition, of course, there’s the old-fashioned (and stupid) belief women can’t deal with technology. In fact, we only have female secretaries these days because of technology (because the male secretaries thought it beneath them to use a typewriter). But most girls get told from early childhood that technology isn’t for them – it’s for the boys.

But over the last couple of years, computer games have changed. Not so much the ‘real’ games for geeks, they got more male on the whole, if anything. But the whole new area of casual games – sneered upon by the male geek – has opened the field for women.

The most important part about casual games is they’re not all that complex. Casual games are meant to be played whenever the player has five or so minutes left. They are easy to learn (but not always easy to master) and broken down into levels that are quick to finish. So you quickly get the hang of them and you can finish a level whenever you have some spare time.

And, even more important, casual games mostly don’t feature the traditional women in games: helpless victims to be saved or overly-sexual enemies to be vanquished. Instead, they present level-headed people (quite often women) who master their own life, even in difficult times.

Casual games are attractive to women on more than one level. They’re easier to play than the ‘real’ games. They do not show women as helpless victims. They usually don’t feature that much violence (although mystery games, such as the “Mystery Case Files” or the “Women’s Murder Club”, feature murders and thus some violence). They are broken down in small parts you can play whenever you have some time left.

Quite some games (especially the Time Management genre) usually are set in the environment the women know best. The “Diner Dash” series, for example, features Flo, a pragmatic and self-assured woman who manages her own diner – and is always ready to help her friends and neighbours. Other games are about building or rebuilding neighbourhoods (“Virtual City”, “Build-A-Lot” or “Plant It Green”, for example) and about managing a certain group of people (“Artist Colony” or “Virtual Families”, for example). Time Management games are all about getting a certain job done within a certain time frame. Therefore, they can actually get quite hectic.

Other genres include Hidden Object Games, Adventures (adventure light, as far as an old gamer like me is concerned), Word and Board Games (solitaire, scrabble and so on), Arcade Games, Puzzles and many more. Quite a lot of them concentrate on solving problems (with or without a give time frame).

The percentage of women playing games has risen in ‘real’ computer games, too. And that’s not just about “The Sims”, the computer game for women, it seems. There are clans in e-sports consisting only of women. There are a lot of women playing “World of Warcraft” or another MMORPG regularly. But for a lot more women, casual games are the first step into the world of gaming.

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