Tuesday, August 17

Women and Computer Games 2010

Women and computer games are another recurring topic – for me, at least. As the GamesCon, the most renown computer games convention in Germany has just begun, an article mentioned that computer games weren’t doing all that great at the moment – and that the percentage of women playing games has declined (from over 30 percent to about 25 percent). And this even though the publishers want women to play games!

Well, they want women to play games, but they don’t take them seriously. This, at least, is what it looks like to me. I am not the average woman playing games, as I have been a gamer ever since 1993, when I had the first computer you actually could play games on. I have been playing games from most genres – at least once. I am not very good at flight simulators (well, I do get down, but not in a condition that would allow me to take off again…). I have never had much interest in other simulators (we’ve had loads of those lately, including farm machines, busses and whatnot). My forte are adventures (a dying breed for a while, but I’ve not lost hope yet), RPGs (revived by Diablo and later on Baldur’s Gate) and games in which you build things up (The Settlers, Anno and suchlike – something German publishers and creators are good at). I do sometimes play first person shooters (but not very often, even though I’ve played quite some of the big names). Still, my horizon when it comes to games is much wider than that of most women who have started playing recently. It goes far beyond casual games and “The Sims” (although I love that game and can spent whole days with it).

And, unfortunately, this is exactly where most companies seem to see women. In the small niche occupied by casual games and “The Sims”. Therefore, a lot of casual games seem to be ‘tailored to fit’ women. Romance is a big topic in casual games – even though most of them are not about romance (I’m making amends here for the “Dream Day”, series as it centres around weddings and what comes after that, and for “Wedding Dash” which also centres around this time in a woman’s … or man’s … life). On the good side, so are women who can do things on their own.

But how do things look for women in ‘non-casual’ games? Not very good. I’ve stopped playing first person shooters for two reasons: it never was my favourite genre anyway and I can’t stand the fixation on war. Admittedly, first person shooters are never something for pacifists, but I find it highly enraging that today I either have to play a soldier in WWII or modern days or some kind of alternate reality. I have been playing Unreal (and most Unreal Tournament installations over the years, including “Unreal Tournament 3”) and liked them. But that kind of fps (and the Star Wars fps’ that first aroused my interest – “Dark Forces” and “Jedi Knight”) has long since disappeared in a way (unless for multiplayer gaming, as UT always was). I do not like playing a soldier, so I don’t buy games like “Crysis”, “Modern Warfare” or whatever. The current choice in RPGs also leaves something to be desired, but at least some of them are good (and I’m not going to rant about “Alpha Protocol” here – a game with a control scheme that makes it next to impossible for me to get out of the first building I’m in). Adventures are rare (if you’re not looking at TellTale with their adventure episodes – waiting for the last episode of the third “Sam & Max” season), good action adventures are as well. I do not play online if I can play a game offline, so some of the last games I’ve been waiting for are out of the picture: “Assassin’s Creed 2”, “The Settlers 7”, “StarCraft 2”. I know other gamers (male and female) feel the same way about this.

Casual games have been something of a saviour for me this year. HOGs (hidden objects games) and IHOGs (interactive hidden objects games) aren’t adventures (and the adventures you can buy on the casual sites usually are quite old), but I can make do with them. Then there’s a time management game every now and then and sometimes the odd strategy or puzzle game. Still, it’s not the same. And then there’s the recurring ‘Romance’ topic which I find rather boring (I’ve never been one for romances in games, movies, novels etc.). But there are ‘dark’ and ‘spooky’ games as well.

Why are there less women playing computer games (or at least less women among the gamers)? Maybe because nobody ever took the time to find out what women really want to play? Not all women are that hyped up about romance. Not all women want a love story with every game they play. And some of us like ‘real’ games (as opposed to casual games), but don’t like all that testosterone-driven ‘war stuff’ currently around. Give us first person shooters with a story, for god’s sake, without all that WWII and Special Ops stuff. (Give us a ‘I’ve just woken up in a crashed space ship and a monster is on the other side of the door’ moment like in the first “Unreal”.)

If you want women to play computer games, listen to them. Create believable characters, women with a ‘hands on’ attitude like Flo or her friend from the “Dash” games (“Diner Dash”, “Wedding Dash”, “Parking Dash” etc.). Create more strong women (yes, like Lara Croft, a woman who can kick butt – you can make them good-looking for the boys out there, too). Create games that go far beyond romance and interior design (someone rightfully described “The Sims” as a house building simulation with simulated life as an obstacle). Give us a credit for also being resourceful and able to get along without a strong guy for the rescue. Stop depicting women as the helpless Damsel in Distress in games (it’s bad enough they still do that in movies), give them a main role and let them save the guy for a change.

You want more women playing computer games? Create games they want to play. And listen to gamers telling you ‘we want to play offline’ (while I’m just at it…).

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