Monday, April 25, 2005

Game-related gender issues are more than 90 years old

HG Wells, legendary sci-fi writer, also had some experience designing games. I came across one of his creations, the manual for a game called 'Little Wars'. One of the most interesting things on the book was its subtitle:

A Game for Boys from twelve years of age to one hundred and fifty and for that more intelligent sort of girl who likes boys’ games and books

How does that fit into the recent gender-inclusive discourse on videogames?

As I posted here before, I am very interested in non-gamers, and women are great part of them. While the reading of Sheri Graner-Ray's 'Gender Inclusive Game Design: Expanding the Market' is fruitful - and the book is valid and important for many reasons - there are some points I don't quite agree with.

First, there is the idea that women are driven away from some videogames because of their over-the-top difficult control systems. That might be true - and I avoid certain games for the same reason. But what HG Wells's apparent chauvinism suggests - way back in 1913 - is that girls are not particularly interested in some sorts of games that don't require that kind of 'mechanical afinity' with the computer at all.

So maybe we should not assume, as the book suggests, that technological barriers keep girls away from, say, Rome: Total War. Chess boards are very easy to opperate, and they probably receive much more attention from males. That takes me to my second disagreement with the book.

In an attempt to 'expand the market' (and the book's subtitle reduces an important discussion to sales figures), the author present some tips to make existing games and genres more palatable to the female market. The most important seems to be 'adding emotional content'. But I not quite sure that by, say, placing a photograph of the black bishop's nephews would actually make chess a more desirable game for women (and it's nice to remember that the most powerfull piece on the chess board it's a 'non-hyperssexualized female avatar').

Plus, there are loads of men that don't like to play games supposedly designed for them. Emotional content would probably provide better entrtainment for them too. In fact, Graner-Ray writes that in her book, but she also gives the reader the impression that all male players are fond of hiperssexualized female characters, rude jokes and fights over 'the best computer in the room' (or maybe except for a more intelligent sort of boy who likes girls’ games and books).

I am sure there are differences between male and female perceptions and sensiblities, but I think that lots of people - regardless of gender - feel excluded from games by issues that are often thought of female-only.

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Copyright, Chico Queiroz