Sheri Ray Graner: Gender Inclusive Game Design

[Readings] (03.31.09, 1:04 pm)

Females and Machines

This first chapter examines the relationship between gender and machines. The fact that the game industry caters to boys aged 13-25 can be traced to deeper cultural influences that affect how girls perceive computers. There is an attitude that girls do not want to have fun by playing computer games, and this leads to a larger cultural understanding that the only type of software that women might buy for themselves is productivity software. One of the suggested reasons for this is that girls are usually given only secondary access to technology, this leads to a compounding of attitudes and also a prevalence of boys doing game development. If girls cannot have fun with games, they will be less comfortable, and less adapted to working with computers later on.

Three elements of design seem to be at the forefront of how to design for female audiences. In general, girls prefer activities to goals, to have the computer as a collaborator and not a foe, and have negative consequences allow recovery rather than punishment.

Conflict and Conflict Resolution Styles in Game Design

Ray suggests an interesting idea that gender inclusive designs should allow for indirect competition and nontraditional conflict resolution. Conflict poses an interesting role within games, because conflict tends to be worked into their definition. However, the types of conflict predominantly used in games are violent, and this (I think) is because it is easy to depict. This has become prevalent enough though that designers construe all conflict (and hence all games) as requiring violent conflict.

A similar issue exists with competition. Direct competition involves directly preventing other players (or agents) from winning or achieving an objective. Frequently girls will avoid and shy away from interpersonal competition. Ray gives an example of a focus testing session done by Her Interactive where boys and girls played an early title, but there were not enough computers to go around. The boys would attempt to crowd out the girls, and the girls tended to give up control and withdraw (or standing over the boys shoulders and watching), later articulating that it is not worth fighting over. Ray suggests that the lesson to learn from this is to enable indirect competition, where players can succeed independently and not interfere with each other.

A final observation is of another market research experiment done by Her Interactive in 1995. In this, high school girls were asked to play fighting games, and then were asked what they thought of them. The girls did not like the games, but the reasons they gave were that there was no reason or context for the violence. They did not find the violence itself distasteful, but lost interest in it quickly.

Stimulation and Entertainment

Ray presents an interesting argument that entertainment is all about physiological stimulation. Males and females are wired to respond to stimulus differently. She explains that this difference emerged in humankind’s origination in hunter-gatherer societies. The roles of hunting (occupied by males) demanded response to visual stimuli. The role of women was centered around childbirth and child raising, necessary to sustain the tribe. This role requires powerful emotional responses.

The first thing to do realize from this observation is that games should be emotionally stimulating. Part of the solution to this is the development of a backstory, a story that explains the histories of characters and what their relationships are to each other. This ensures that there will be a groundwork and context for emotional relationships and understanding. The second thing that Ray suggests is to present mutually beneficial situations between the player and other in-game characters. Doing so incorporates ideas of interdependence within game mechanics (something used to great effect in Ico, for instance).

Reading Info:
Author/EditorRay, Sheri Graner
TitleGender Inclusive Game Design: Expanding the Market
Tagsfeminism, games, specials
LookupGoogle Scholar, Google Books, Amazon

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