Getting Girls into Games

How did it get to be Wednesday already? I’ve fallen behind in my SXSW blogging, so i’ve got to catch up this week with some quick posts. One of the posts i’ve been wanting to do is about the “Getting Girls Into Games” panel, which offered some insight into the struggles of the game industry that I hadn’t really given thought to since TEN became (come to think of it, maybe i’ll spin some yarns about that in another post).

Anyway, the main insight that I had from this panel was an interesting inversion of attitude that the panelists invited the attendees to take. Instead of wondering how to get girls to (buy/subscribe to) games, they asked instead for us to wonder about which obstacles really got in the way of the female market getting into games?

They brought up the following as the main things that the female market tended to favor as a whole: teamwork/cooperation over competition, narrative/storyline with interesting plot, a preference for directed environments, and also, strong, basic tutorial elements. According to them, the absence or lack of care towards these important parts of good game design was a strong contributor towards lack of growth in the female market.

I’m not sure that I was convinced that it was a simple pitch for better, more holistic game design. I’m not certain that there’s any magical feature that needs to be checked off before the female market checks in. At the same time, I definitely got the sense that getting outside of the traditional insular “hardcore” games market is a good thing, and that creatively made titles that offer universal fun, such as Katamari Damacy, tend not to erect the same barriers; perhaps because they haven’t had time to get harassed by the “hardcore” sect demanding more and more features at the cost of broader appeal.

I think that the absence of the game emphases they discussed aren’t really what prevent girls from getting into games. I think they’re probably symptomatic of copycat publishing in established genres, where old concepts like the revered FPS or RTS are just rehashed without much thought to creative design, broad appeal, or strong storyline. This is the bulk of what gets presented to the games market at this point; in the same way that Web2.0 copycats are the bulk of what gets announced at TechCrunch.

Still, I think the philosophical shift is useful. To go from thinking about features needed to gain markets to thinking about barriers to entry that one creates by assuming familiarity with a platform is a natural progression. To step outside of the original mindset sounds like an exercise in seeing Negative Space – an artist’s trick for fooling our perceptions so that we can really see the shape of something. And I definitely believe that an industry full of men that play the same games can benefit from stepping outside of its own viewpoint every once in a while.

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