Sep 27, 2007

[More Thoughts on 'What Girl Gamers Want']

Alec from Castle in the Air hits the nail on the head about this ridiculous 'What do women want from their games?' debate:
"Here’s the main reason the question of “what women want” is stupid: We all want exactly the same thing from our games. Oh, some of us may prefer puzzles, others strategic board games, and still others vicious PVP, but what we really want is fulfilling entertainment.

In games with a narrative (most video and tabletop roleplaying games, for instance), this means that we want to be heroes—reluctant heroes, action heroes, and antiheroes, perhaps, but heroes nonetheless. On the more abstract, gamey side, we all want to be challenged, usually progressively, but not overwhelmed.

Do some women want the chance to decorate their avatars in MMOs in greater detail? I can assure you that an equal percentage of men want exactly the same thing. Do some adolescent men like to drool over cheesecakes in chainmail bikinis in their game books? Well, plenty of men are turned off by such illustrations, too.

In the end, the reason fewer women than men are attracted to all genres of gaming has everything to do with culture and almost nothing to do with “what they really want.” Almost all video and roleplaying games fail with women not because women don’t want to play such games, not because the games haven’t been successfully targeted to women, but because the games have been targeted at the hard core of a niche market. Most developers still market to the passionate minority. As soon as they start developing for people, not for “Men aged 18 to 35″ or “Women with $50,000 median income,” they’ll really start seeing a profit."
EXACTLY. Women gamers are not aliens, it's not gaming itself that discourages them from taking an interest in games, its the atmosphere of the marketing and community. The gaming industry itself needs to grow up and act like mature adults, and then they'll have better luck breaking into larger demographics.
The Wii isn't taking the industry by storm by accident.

Sep 24, 2007

[The Convenient Stereotype is Starting to Unravel]

MightyPonygirl brought up an interesting observation in light of some new studies that are poking holes in the common belief about 'women gamers'. For many guy gamers, that's not a big deal, but for others, they may start to feel backed into a corner:
"The culture of 'anxious masculinity' marries very well with the culture of gaming. To 'be a man' is to reject all things female and feminine: beyond purses and the color pink, anything that enjoys a female following is considered less-than and men who like the same thing are open for ridicule. Movies, music, books, and videogames — if girls like it, then liking it makes you girly. Using the videogame culture to bolster one’s masculinity means further dividing manly games from girly games — hardcore games from casual games, splatterfests from music and simulation games, and PS3s from Wiis."
I wasn't aware that some folks had started to label Zelda and Guitar Hero 'girly', but I had heard the whole thing about how the Wii is getting labled a 'girl's console' and belittled just for that by many male gamers before. To be honest, the commonplace misogyny in gaming culture is something I've written about before. It's understandable that guys that (were up until recently) considered nerdy and less 'macho' than say, sports-type jocks, would develop a culture kind of desperate to prove their (hetero) manliness to each other, even resorting to outright sexism. Once women start coming into this traditionally 'guys' space' a kind of backlash breaks out.

A recent study showed, that while men are playing 'casual' games like Bejeweled just as much as women, they are afraid to admit it. The 'casual = girly / hardcore = manly' game stereotype is alive and well, and guys are buying into it in order to protect their 'respectable (male) gamer' credentials. Why does even the hint of any kind of shared gaming interests with 'girls' (what puzzle games have to do with having a vagina, is beyond me however) equate outright hostility and shame in these guys? It couldn't have anything to do with a sexist 'girly things = stupid/emasculating things' attitude, now could it? =P

The desperation to categorize women gamers as some kind of strange, anomalous gamer-type that companies need to study scientifically in hopes of 'cracking the code' is a symptom of the fact that the male-oriented industry just can't figure out that women gamers are (gasp) GAMERS just like guys are, and it's not rocket science -- make quality games, and women (and men) will play them!

I didn't need pink consoles and Barbie Horse Adventures to start my interest in games -- I started on Apple II and Super Mario Brothers, just like the rest of the gamers from my generation. And I'm not alone -- in the beginning, games were just games, they weren't segregated by gender except by the male tone of the community. And it's the 'boys club' tone of the mainstream gaming community itself that's the biggest block to more women wanting to get into games and be more active in the fandom.

Sep 23, 2007

[MMO Players Are Social After All!]

OMG! Nottingham Trent University has published findings after interviewing 1000 MMO players from around the world, and here's the press release on what they found:

Three quarters of online role-playing gamers make good friends with the people they meet in their virtual worlds, with almost half meeting in real-life situations and one in ten going on to develop physical relationships, according to a new study. The research, carried out by researchers at Nottingham Trent University, and being published in the US journal CyberPsychology and Behavior, finally dispels any myths of online gamers as asocial, introverted loners.

Other findings to come out of the study, Social Interactions in Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Gamers, included more than 30% of participants finding themselves attracted to another player; and 40% choosing to discuss sensitive issues with online friends rather than their real-life friends.

One in five participants believed that Massively Multiplayer Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs) had a negative effect on their relationships if their partner was not a player, while more than two-thirds felt they had a positive effect on their relationships with those who did play.

Females were significantly more likely than males to be attracted to other players, and were far more likely to go on to date them. Most females gave therapeutic refreshment as their main reason for playing, whereas most males stated ‘curiosity, astonishment and interest’ as reasons.

Around a third of gamers reported they could be more themselves in the game than in real life.

The study, which looked at almost 1,000 online gamers from across the world, found the average number of hours played per week was 22.85. The most popular MMORPG in the study was World of Warcraft, with almost half of participants naming it their favourite game.

Professor Mark Griffiths, from Nottingham Trent University’s School of Social Sciences, said: “This study has revealed many aspects of MMORPGs that were not known before. Previous research has suggested that gamers are socially inactive, but MMORPGs are actually extremely social games, with high percentages of gamers making life-long friends and even partners.”

He added: “As well as making good friends online, 81% of gamers play with real-life friends and family, suggesting MMORPGs are by no means an asocial activity, nor are the players socially introverted.

“The virtual world that these games offer, allow players to express themselves in ways they may not feel comfortable doing in real life because of their appearance, gender, sexuality, age, or other factors. They also offer a place where teamwork, encouragement and fun can all be experienced.”

...Who woulda thought people who play 'Massively Multiplayer' games would actually like to be around other people! =0

My husband, for one, sees his brother more often in WoW than in real life... and because of their age difference, oftentimes had little in common to talk about when they did meet in real life before they started playing. But the game as helped make a new bond for them.

I think the stigma around 'losers in their basement on the internet' is born more out of ignorance than any real facts. People, out of ignorance, have trouble comprehending 'virtual' interactions as 'real'. As more and more people get involved online the attitudes about MMOs and online relationships in general are eventually being changed. The potential to meet people you never could've in real life, people from all over the world, is a very positive thing.

Sep 13, 2007

[Final Fantasy VII - Voices of the Lifestream]

I'm a big fan of video game music, and this huge FF7 anniversary remix project is just amazing! Check it out; if you're a fan of Final Fantasy music, you're gonna love this. =)

Sep 8, 2007

[Women and Raiding]

Even though, according to some guilds, 'girls will ruin everything' and thus refuse to even recruit them to begin with. But that's a topic for another day. =P

Patrick at TenTonHammer recently wrote a pretty decent article dealing with women gamers and guild relations. It sparked a pretty interesting discussion on it's comments page, as well. ANYway, he touches on the topic of 'serious' raiders vs two other types of gaming women:

"As it relates to gaming, there are three major groups of women. The first is serious gamers, the second is social gamers, the third is Man-Seeking-Missile (MSM) gamers. Serious gaming women dislike social gamers when they share a guild, and want to strangle all MSM gamers. These are the ones you want in your guild; they are better than most men you'll ever play with, they care more passionately about performance than most raiders, and they are confident.

Serious gaming women despise Man-Seeking-Missiles, though. At least a quarter of my conversations with great women over two years of raiding involved this in some form or another. MSMs are not universally awful players, but they all reinforce our stereotypes as men. Women are subpar players. Women rely on men to game. Women can't think for themselves. Women only get ahead using sex. Strong, sensible women recognize these stereotypes and work against them; Missiles think it's "cute" to reinforce them. That's why the hate exists."

I'd label myself as a 'serious social gamer'... I like to be effective and knowledgeable at whatever class I'm playing, but I'm I don't consider it a waste of time playing just to roll alts with friends and chat, either.
To be honest, I'm not entirely sure what his definition of a 'social butterfly' gamer is. Someone who never gets far past the newbie zones? Someone who plays without really being interested in higher game mechanics? Does he simply mean a 'super- casual' gamer? If so, then I can see how that kind of player would annoy a raiding guild, regardless of their gender. I'm not sure why such a player would even be allowed in such a guild in the first place, however.

I also agree with his description of the frustration a lot of women gamers feel when they see someone playing off the stereotypes and sexism of the guys in a guild to get attention. Sometimes I wonder if I sometimes don't do that myself unintentionally, since I have what could be considered a 'cutesy' personality a lot of the time. I think the more I got fed up with dealing with guys who took that as a cue to harass or disrespect me, the less often that aspect of myself shows in-game as time goes on.

But on the most part, my guild (I've been in the same one since before WoW was even released) is filled with great people, and is run by folks who value respect and an inclusive guild environment. I've been very fortunate, I think, because I hear some really awful stories from lots of other women who have played WoW as well. I think some quit the game entirely when they could've just quit their crappy guild instead -- a good guild makes all the difference in how much you enjoy a game, in my opinion.

I wholly agree with Easter's take on how women gamers should deal with bad behavior or sexism in their guilds:

"I think the way to get around all this gamer sexism is to take the same path I’ve been taking. Be female. Game. Win. If guys are offensive, say something about it. If you want to do something and your fellow gamers aren’t cooperating, find more cooperative ones. If your guild is full of drooling idiots, leave. Find a great one, like the one I’m in.

Don’t be afraid to cross the finish line first. To say “Excuse me, that’s wrong.” To seek out people that will encourage you to run fast and avoid people who only love you if you hold back.
You can get attention by flirting, sure, and you can also get attention by spray-painting political slogans on your butt and running naked through downtown during the lunch rush, but it probably won’t be the kind of attention that will ultimately make you happy.


Sep 7, 2007

[Avoiding the 'Wall of Suck']

Game dev Damion Schubert at AGDC summed up the four main factors why people stop playing an MMO, which he termed 'the wall of suck' that a player hits that makes them want to quit playing. I'd have to say he's spot on about all of them... and in my opinion the one that WoW is closest to having is 'The End of Fun', simply because adding more quests and rep grinds does not add anything new that we haven't already been doing for the past 70 levels. I myself am starting to head over to that place where there's nothing that exciting for me to log in to anymore.

He also defined the major types of MMO players:

1. Casual: participates in character creation, does newbie quests and areas
2. Interested: levels 10-20, chatting, battlegrounds
3. Committed: leveling to cap, crafting, grouping
4. Devoted: running instances, 10 man raids, guilds
5. Hardcore : 25+ man raids, rep grinding, competitive PvP

I'd have to say I'm a '4.5' -- I'm not that gung-ho about the bigger raids, but they're fun once in a while.
In my opinion, he shortchanges 'Casual' players a bit... I'd think that most people who call themselves casual players would do more than just play with the character creation and then get bored before even leaving the newbie zone. =P
I think a more fair definition of Casual would be 1 and 2 combined, and that most people overlap each category a bit.

"Next, Schubert argued that the industry uses the term “hardcore” too loosely. He said "hardcore" used to be a good thing because the majority of the market used to be hardcore.
“Now it’s something producers say is bad, and they bring in the grandma test. ‘Why can’t you make it so my grandma play this?’ ‘Boss, I don’t think my grandma will ever like a
Babylon 5 game.’”

I think he nails the issue right there... unless your grandma is a gamer to begin with, it doesn't matter what developers do, she won't want to play your game. When my husband explained football to me, for instance, to the point where I actually understood it all, I still didn't become a sports fan. I don't find football interesting in the least, even when it became 'accessible' to me.

It's a waste of effort to try to tailor a game for people who aren't interested in playing games in the first place. 'Casual' gamers are still gamers.

Sep 5, 2007

[The Feminine Gamer]

This month's issue of Cerise has several articles dealing with gender roles and gaming, which ties in with my last post. Check it out! =)

Sep 2, 2007

[Girl Games = Stupid Games?]

Anyone else notice this trend in game marketing?

Girl in the Machine discusses the wierd disconnect with reality that so many gaming companies have when it comes to what 'female gamers' want, and the negative stereotypes of 'femininity' that so many of us blindly accept as true:

"Let's take a moment to examine how these "girl games" hurt female gamers by taking a look at the bigger picture. Masculine hegemony characterizes femininity as frivolous, idiotic, weak, and ultimately different. Now, most of us who call ourselves women may come to despise traditional femininity because of the aforementioned prejudices, which have become part of the mainstream attitude. And if the patriarchy makes femininity what it is, why not?"
"And what does this have to do with video games? We sneer and recoil at these "girl games," designed by men for women. These are stupid, we think, and by extension: those who play these games are stupid. Therefore, women are stupid. Rarely do we automatically separate intended audience from the motivations and attitudes of the creators themselves. Therefore, our own prejudices arise, and the separation of "girls" from "the rest of the world" feels unfortunately familiar. It's a social construct that molds our personal opinions in a million subtle ways until we accept things such as sexism as normal."

  This attitude ties in with my thoughts about Age of Conan, which I think is a perfect example of this kind of attitude on the part of a game developer. The sexism and female objectification in that game is proudly displayed -- it's not a girly game, after all! It's for real, hardcore gamers! And the fact that so many people simply accept that logic as reasonable, without thinking about its implications, is very telling.