Games Even Your Girlfriend Can Play!

GGA brought my attention to an article called Top Ten Girlfriend-Friendly Games on (a site that seems to have a significant female membership). Marginalization in the gaming industry is nothing new to me. I mean, having boobs and a vagina and identifying as female is obviously enough to exclude me from that Good Ol’ Boys Club™. If I do venture in, it must only be through a boyfriend (since all good boys and girls are heterosexual) who will introduce me to fluffy games, like Bejeweled and Nintendogs, which are not too hardcore for my weak constitution. Do I sound bitter? Well, after spending most of my twenty-two years seeing mainstream magazines, websites, and other gaming publications catering to guys, and only guys, I think I’ve earned a bit of bitterness. I don’t think it’s too much to ask for me to not have to go to a female-oriented gaming site in order to be included.

Oh, to be fair, sandwiched between the large fonts of the title and the first of the top 10 is this disclaimer:

These days, gamers come in both genders — yet our numbers are few, and like the cavemen of days past we must seek outside of the clan to mate. Yet it is possible to bring non-gaming significant others over to the dark side, through a number of games designed to grab those who couldn’t care less how many frags you got in Counter-Strike last week. We present to you the top ten girlfriend-friendly games. (These can apply to boyfriends as well, since the love of gaming knows no gender boundaries.)

But, truth be told, I didn’t even notice that until I actually wanted to dissect the post. Why? I’m versed enough in layout design to know that our eyes are drawn to big, bright, different objects. The title and the top ten are large, much larger than the descriptive text. Not only that, but the main text is a light grey that is visible but visually blends into the page when put next to the dark black of the title, the vivid blue of the top number, and the bright red of the game title. So, yeah, gender neutral language is applied as a disclaimer/afterthought, but it does not make the kind of impact the title does.

I’m versed enough in layout design to know that our eyes are drawn to big, bright, different objects.

When making “top ten” lists, there is going to be a large element of personal choice and opinion. If I were to make a list of good introductory games for non-gamers, I would choose some similar ones and some different ones. Here again, however, the article engages in some gender assumptions:

#9, Centipede:

It wasn’t until Centipede, with its soft pastels and calming garden theme, that the arcades finally had a game you could bring a date to.

If this was a “Top Ten Boyfriend-Friendly Games,” do you really think that “soft pastels” and “calming garden theme” would be bandied about? Instead of Centipede, I expect it would have been a Space Invaders game. Because, you know, girls like pretty gardens and boys like to shoot things.

#6, Suikoden:

Combining the feel of an epic romantic fantasy with an easy-to-learn interface, Suikoden made RPGs accessible to girls who weren’t otherwise interested in the tedium of roleplaying games in the vein of Dragon Warrior.

You know, I found Suikoden-style controls to be more complicated than all of the Dragon Warrior games (and, believe me, I’ve played them all), although it could be that the first Suikoden was simpler than its two sequels. Regardless, I wonder if the blurb would be the same if pitching it to guys, even non-gamer guys? It’s no surprise that buzzwords like “romantic fantasy” and “easy-to-learn” are used in contrast with a “manly” title such as Dragon Warrior that girls just wouldn’t be interested in. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard those kind of excuses for why more girls aren’t gamers, I would be a rich woman.

#5, Ms. Pac-Man:

But for those gamers who developed lives outside of the musty confines of the arcade, Ms. Pac-Man proved a great boon, for it showed their girlfriends that gaming could be non-violent, cute, and utterly fun.

Oh, yes, us little “girlfriends” can only handle something that’s “non-violent, cute, and utterly fun.” Although I’m not so sure that eating and possibly being killed by ghosts qualifies as “non-violent,” but regardless the idea that games need to fit into the proper gender roles in order to interest girls is offensive if not outright sexist. What next, Pre-Teen Girlfriend Top Ten with the top game being Barbie Makeover?

#3, Katamari Damacy:

Incredibly simple game play with incredibly catchy music coupled with a laughable storyline and beautiful pastel graphics created a game which was both fun to watch and to play.

Again, we have the idea of “simple game play” and “pastel graphics” that was seen above.

#2, Dance Dance Revolution:

In Japan, DDR was designed as a game for women, with catchy pop songs, bright colors, cute artwork, and a fitness angle thrown in for good measure. And once she learns that you aren’t nearly as good as she thought, the game is on. The relative ease with which someone can learn DDR and the versus mode mean that a gamer couple can play together at their own levels of skill.

I can’t fault the author for the purported sexism of the DDR designers, but sticking it in the blurb does continue to reinforce that women need games that fit into strict gender roles: bright/cute things and that we need to work out to be thin. Once again, we have the whole “easy learning” angle. Speaking as a recovering DDR addict, though, I disagree with the author. If one has a decent sense of rhythm to begin with then yeah, it’s easy, but if not… Well, be thankful that you’ve never seen people screw up horribly on the basic steps to the same song over, and over, and over again.

#1, The Sims:

The infinite customizability, the large community, and the simplistic gameplay all combine to make The Sims into the greatest girlfriend game around.

Last, but unfortunately not least, we have that whole “simplistic gameplay” argument rearing its ugly head yet again. Frankly, I’m not so sure I would rate it the greatest game for an SO, girlfriend or otherwise, simply because there are no goals, quests, or storylines. I like playing God for a week, but then it gets old fast. Some people, female/male gamers/non-gamers, like it, some don’t.

GGA linked to a rebuttal in his LJ about criticism, where he harped about Girl Gamers being a different breed, how their critiques ignored how hard it was for new blood to find games they enjoy, etc. Normally I try to avoid that kind of wank, but I felt compelled to reply to this one.

My beef with your article was that, as some posters pointed out above, you were playing on the tired old stereotype of “girls don’t play games, so here are some fluffy ones that your girl might like!” Now, there’s nothing wrong with fluffy games (some of the ones on the list are ones I’ve enjoyed in the past), but there is something wrong with the heterosexist, male-normative bent of your article. Frankly, I’ve seen too many “Games you can play with your girlfriend!” that are aimed at guys and I’ve never seen “Games you can play with your boyfriend!” or “Games you can play with your SO!” And, really, there wasn’t one game on that list of yours that couldn’t be applied to either sex.

My feature (as paltry as it was) was about non-gamers.

You said that in your post, but why didn’t you call your list “Top 10 Games To Play with Your Non-Gamer SO” or something to that effect? Why did you feel the need to play on that old, tired, “girlfriend” stereotype? It’s not offensive only to girl gamers because we’re “l33t h4rdc0r3 playaz” or whatever, but because, you know, we can have SO’s who are non-gamers too.

It may seem like a little, stupid point to harp on, but it’s not just the big things that make an impact. By playing into the stereotype all you’re doing is perpetuating the idea that guys are the only gamers that matter.

Even giving the author the benefit of the doubt that he wasn’t intentionally capitalizing on the gender stereotyping language that has kept the image of video games as a Boy’s Club, it still speaks volumes about how easily such terminology can be used to marginalize the female experience. Sure, there are some terms that would be reasonable to apply to non-gamers/casual gamers as a whole, such as games with interfaces that are fun but not so complex that they’ll turn off those without prior experience, are not used with a gender neutral tone, but when used in the context of “girls” and “girlfriends” they play on existing stereotypes about women. Yes, the usage of language in these cases is a relatively small issue. However, because it is so small, it is also easy to fix: be aware of your audience and your language.

Via Game Girl Advance

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11 thoughts on “Games Even Your Girlfriend Can Play!

  1. My understanding is that girls are far less likely to buy video games than guys. Women like my niece who enjoy them tend to play on friends’/boyfriends’ copies.

    So, sure: sexism. But, also: they’re playing to their market, which is overwhelmingly male.

  2. I don’t know about the stats about buying games, though I question how effective they could be; there are too many problems gathering information – you can’t always assume that the person buying the game is the one playing it, you can’t always count on people to fill out the little survey cards that come with the games (I never do), etc. I do know that female gamers (both casual and hardcore) make up a significant portion of video game players (including console, single player computer, and multi-player/online games). Some statistics have claimed as high as 60% of the gaming population is female, although that has been debated. I would argue that, if one includes all types of computer and console games, that a figure of a little less than half is not an unreasonable estimation. The bottom line is that we’re here, but we’re consistently marginalized by marketing of all kinds. The industry is slowly waking up to see that this is a problem. (The link is a post by Astarte. It links two news articles and I’d like to draw attention to this quote: According to Lowenstein, “Our own industry, mainly through our marketing practices, reinforces the stereotype that most gamers are men”.)

    But, even assuming that the marketers are really playing to their market (rather than what they believe is their market) I still don’t accept that as an excuse. First, I don’t think that it makes sense to push advertisements/articles that turn off about 50% of the potential market (ie. the female half), especially since they’re probably not needed for the majority of either the current audience or the potential male half. For instance, most guys would buy World of Warcraft even if their mascot wasn’t a busty Night Elf because, well, it’s Blizzard and that company knows how to make a good game. Heck, I bought WoW because Blizzard makes a good game, despite the sexist environment they created. But I wouldn’t recommend it to any of my female friends wanting to get into the MMOs because the community has proven itself to be unfriendly to women. What I’m saying is that these kinds of plays aren’t neccessary to pander to the market and, in choosing to do what they do, these advertisers are shooting themselves in the feet. Using gender neutral language is pretty easy and when you make girls feel like they’re included then they would be more likely to want to buy your stuff.

    And, in regard to the article I critiqued in particular, as far as I could tell there were many women who were members of the site (unfortunately I can’t give you exact numbers because I was unable to find any way to get a statistical breakdown of the membership). So, the article in question was most definitely excluding a significant portion of their audience.

    I don’t think I’m asking for too much: a little consideration in the language one uses when writing an article. Something that takes almost no time to do would go a long way in making me, and people like me, feel more included. Like I said in my article, I don’t think that I should have to go to a site specifically aimed at women to be included in video game reviews, articles, advertisements, etc.

  3. This is so true. I love gaming games but, if you are female, it’s virtually inaccessible. There’s this ultra-hip gaming arcade in Lincoln Park here in Chicago and it’s looks so freakin cool. But it’s ONLY run by uber-geek dudes who are at a loss when a female come into the arcade and don’t know how to even talk to the female consumer.

  4. A great majority of the game downloads/casual games are marketed towards women in general. There are reasons for this, and there are ans will always be women out there that will argue this.

  5. chesire: I feel your pain x.x

    Gary Polimo said:
    A great majority of the game downloads/casual games are marketed towards women in general. There are reasons for this, and there are ans will always be women out there that will argue this.

    Uh, I’m not entirely sure what you mean by this.

    I assume by “game downloads/casual games” you’re referring to the puzzle type games like “bejeweled”, the ones on Yahoo games, etc. I don’t know about marketing in that area, though I do know that according to a few surveys I read those kinds of games most definitely have a majority of female players.

    As for your second sentence… I’m not sure what kind of “reasons” you’re referring to – essentialist reasoning (ie. because girls are “naturally” drawn to those games), social reasoning (ie. women are told that it’s ok to like those games and not the others), marketing reasons (ie. women are marketed towards casual rather than “hardcore” games), or a combination of or none of the above. Until you specify, I can’t agree/disagree/discuss that.

    Also, I don’t know what you’re getting at with your conjecture that there are and will always be women out there who will argue with “that”. First off, are they arguing with the so-called “reasons” or with the idea that there is an area of gaming marketed towards/dominated by women? Also, you seem to have an opinion on the idea that women are arguing with a concept. What are you trying to say with that idea? Do you think it’s a good and necessary thing for women to argue, do you think that the argument is futile, or something else?

    I’m sorry I can’t have a better reply, but I need to know what you’re trying to say before I can get into things.

  6. These days, gamers come in both genders — yet our numbers are few, and like the cavemen of days past we must seek outside of the clan to mate.

    This sentence is just bizarre. On the one hand, he tries to say that yes, women play games as well – but then he goes back to the assumption that (a) all his readers are male (raising the specter of evo-psych while he’s at it), and (b) they are dating non-gamers. (Did it ever occur to him that maybe the reason he has to “seek outside of the clan” is patronizing attitudes like this?)

    Yet it is possible to bring non-gaming significant others over to the dark side, through a number of games designed to grab those who couldn’t care less how many frags you got in Counter-Strike last week.

    Pet peeve: first-person shooters are not the only “serious” games out there. I couldn’t care how many frags anyone got in Counter-Strike either, but bring up Infocom, Origin or Black Isle and I’ll talk your ear off.

    As far as the list goes: Sims, DDR and Katamari are all good (if obvious) choices, but not for the reasons he cites. The Sims is good not because the gameplay is simple, but because it’s *varied* – you can focus on the part of the game you enjoy, whether that’s designing Sims, interior decoration, navigating the career path, socializing, etc. It’s a well-designed game.

    DDR and Katamari are just plain fun (though the former can be very frustrating for the casual gamer due to the emphasis on pattern memorization).

    The puzzle/toy games (Bejewled, Nintendogs, Dr. Mario, Animal Crossing – why not just add FreeCell and Minesweeper while you’re at it?) may catch on, but I don’t think they’d be good introductions.

    I can’t see introducing anyone to modern gaming with Ms. Pac-Man or Centipede. They’d look at what they’re playing, and then look at what you were playing, and think you were being patronizing.

    That leaves Suikoden, which is in my backlog of RPGs to play but which I haven’t seen beyond the first few minutes. I’ve played Suikoden III, however, and it’s not particularly less tedious than other RPGs. If I were going to pick an intro RPG, Suikoden III certainly wouldn’t be it. (I’d probably pick FFX.)

    Now I’m wondering what the stereotypical “Top 10 Games for Your Non-Gamer Boyfriend” would be like.

  7. Let me know if there ever is a top 10 Boyfriend Friendly games list… I know plenty of people who could use it to get their male partners into video games!

  8. The points you make are interesting. While girls do make up a good portion of gamers these days, some game companies still think all they’re interested in is Hello Kitty Dress-up Fun, or Let’s Play Barbie Extreme Edition. Girls will play whatever they’re interested in, the game companies just need to focus on making good-quality games. But, since a lot of publishing companies still disregard the female demographic, they push the developer companies to over-sex the female characters, or make all the characters fit these overly extreme sexual stereotypes (EG: Solid Snake being way overly assholish and “manly”, while most female chracters are scantily clad running around in high heel boots while fighting stuff. And, the women tend to get talked-down to by the male characters in video games, since the games are, again, geared towards guys, and guys like to fantasize about being God’s Gift to Women, which I guess means being able to treat them like crap and that just makes them lust after the guy more. I don’t know).

    However, I guess my point is that the gaming industry is still stuck in it’s male-driven ways, because it started out male-driven. The comments & complaints you post are the same as if a guy was trying to get into the fashion industry, or cooking, or sewing, or dancing. Industries that are female-driven have their own stereotyping, and I’m sure there’s some guys out there that get fed up with it. I can especially understand when the industry, gaming in your topics, tries to act “inclusive” of the “other group” by writing some article about games they, as a whole, may like, and it just comes off as demeaning and insulting. There really aren’t “gamer guys” and “gamer girls” … there’s just “gamers”, just as theirs “florists”, “dancers”, “chefs”, etc. Some of the gaming industry realizes this, but since it started male-driven, and tends to focus on the tween/teen male crowd who’s very hormonal at the time, it’s still largely focused on making girls second-class citizens that are merely sex symbols for quite a while.

    In order to truly beat this stereotype stuff, you have to start with the stereotype of how girls are raised. A lot of parents still stereotype their boys and jocks and girls as princesses. Some parents just let their kids do what they want, knowing they’ll find their own interests, regardless of it being typically a “boy” or “girl” activity. But, most parents aren’t that open-minded. That’s why some girls get scolded for playing games instead of with dolls. When kids are finally raises and just “kids” instead of “boys” or “girls”, then the demographic will meld and it probably won’t be so boy-centric. We’re seeing some of that these days, which thankfully or un-thankfully is because a lot of parents have to work alot and such, and thus can’t dictate what their kids do in their spare time much any more. So, girls start playing video games, guys start playing dress-up barbie… The youth is mergeing, but, like politics, the industry will take several more years before it starts to reflect that (since the kids today will have to grow up and change how it’s shaped).

    You should also look at the flip side of this discussion. It’s a bit frustrating to guys who grow up with male video game role-models that tell them to be rough, tough, super-muscular and lean, but a lot of guys are flabby, effeminate, etc (all that sugar and junk food can play havoc on a guy’s hormones.) Well, at least it used to be like that in the 80’s and early 90’s, when buff action movies were the throw-away pass time of young boys. These days, it’s fully clothed guys running around with scantily clad girls. Hmmm, I guess when I look at it like that, it’s almost like things have regressed, not progressed.

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