WeDare and the ensuing controversy got us thinking about girls and games. While we're at least happy that there are going to be female characters in video games we're a little disappointed that yet again, the female characters exist for sex appeal and little else. The industry is still laboring under the impression that men and boys are the only gamers or potential gamers, and WeDare is just the latest piece of evidence thereof. So we thought we'd take the opportunity to debunk a myth or five about girls, games, and girl gamers!
Myth 1: Girls have only recently started playing video games
The fact that this myth persists is still somewhat baffling: even studies from the early and mid 1990s suggest that a large percentage of females play computer games for approximately 1-2 hours a week. For example, one study back then found that 75% of females, (compared with 90% of of males) played computer games when at home. Not only that, but even way back in the 1990s, 88% of the 12-14 year old females who said they enjoyed computer games played them on a regular basis.
Myth 2: Most Girls Don't Like Playing Video Games
Here's the thing about this one: while girls report that they enjoy video games every bit as much as their male peers, they report less actual playing. Why might that be? Turns out that girls' access to video games in the home is largely controlled by their brothers. More often than not, the videogame console is seen as the brother's property to which his sister may, at his discretion, gain access. This doesn't mean that girls don't want to play video games at home; it means that they do, but aren't always allowed to do so.
Myth 3: There Are Very Few Female Gamers
Again, not true: contemporary research reported by Interactive Digital Software Association suggests that 43% of US PC gamers and 35% of U.S. console gamers are female. That's a lot of female gamers. Why are they so invisible? A lot of this has to do with the public spaces in which games are played and gaming technology is presented. Video arcades are just about always seen as male spaces--in fact, one recent study found that the ratio of boys to girls at the average video arcade is about 11:1 . The fact that boys are the majority of people in those public spaces devoted to gaming leads to the perception that boys are the only people interested in gaming. So too does the fact that games deliberately targeted to females haven't always been successful The less-than-stellar reception of "female-friendly" video games--which are generally launched with little marketing or retail support -- lead to the conclusion that "girls don't like gaming" rather than "girls don't like the type of games we think they should like" or "not enough girls knew about this game given that we didn't market it as aggressively as we did the 'boy' games."
Myth 4: Girls Just Naturally Aren't Good at Video Games
Here's the thing: boys naturally aren't good at video games either. Professional gamers play about 13 hours per day in order to keep their chops up. Boys also begin playing games earlier, and as discussed, are able to play more regularly than girls. This doesn't mean that there are no female pro gamers--there are! What it does mean is that nobody-- male or female--is naturally good at video games. Skilled gamers are made, not born.
Myth 5: Girls Only Like Games With Barbies and Ponies and Rainbows and Hearts and Bunny Rabbits. Or Sims
Yeah...not true. Yes, over half of Sims players are women but that doesn't mean they don't like other games. There are almost half a million female World of Warcraft players -- in fact, World of Warcraft is the most-played "core" game for women: in a 2008 Nielson report comparing the PC game usage of males and females age 25-54, they counted 428,621 unique female players and 675,713 unique male players. And yes, there have been studies that concluded girls and women like games that are about "assembling things" and "cooperation" and "collecting items", however, the accuracy of these studies has been questioned. One problem with these kinds of generalizations is that they fail to take into account the degree to which marketing is a self-fulfilling prophecy: if Mortal Kombat is marketed to boys and men, and then boys and men buy it, and then Barbie Fashion Designer is marketed to girls and women and girls and women then buy the game, then industry people and marketing people and designers all conclude that "men and boys like fighting games and girls and women like fashion designer games" and fail to consider the degree to which marketing has shaped preferences. If they painted Mortal Kombat pink, for example, and put a sticker on it that said "appropriate gift for girls" like they did with PacMan, then maybe more girls and women would gravitate towards that game.
Bottom line: there are female gamers. And they play more than just Sims or Barbie Fashion whatever. The day that game designers and manufacturers realize that the default gamer isn't a fourteen-year-old male is the day that they will make much more revenue by effectively marketing their games to girls and women.
Read about the closure of famed gamer haunt Arcade Infinity in "Arcade Infinity, the Final Round: Video Game Hot Spot Closes."