Hey, I’m not against being a girl. And I’m definitely not against being a “Girl Gamer”. But I don’t believe that gender necessarily defines the kind of games we play.
For instance, women who are mothers are generally really good at time management – they have to plan their entire days around hectic kid schedules. Many moms would probably excel at Real Time Strategy (RTS) games on their off-time, like Starcraft II or Tower Defense / RTS Plants vs. Zombies… but advertisers don’t think this way. Moms aren’t really their “target” audience. Moms are told to play games like Bejeweled instead, and that’s totally fine. I LOVE a good game of Bejeweled before bedtime.
It really all comes down to marketing.
Pretty much every kid I knew growing up played some sort of video game, whether it was Atari, Commodore 64, Nintendo or arcades. However, as I look back at old video game commercials on YouTube, early 80’s Atari was the dominant company with both male and female actors. For examples, check these out: Pacman and Missile Command.
But as the decade went on, the marketing took a sharp turn toward boys in America… as in no girl actors. Check it out: The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, Paperboy, Marble Madness, Toys R Us NES Package, Sega, Super Nintendo NES, Ninja Gaiden, and Star Wars. Super Mario Bros 2 was the only franchise (that I can find archived on YouTube) that chose to use no actors at all. However, Japan (where Nintendo is from) used female actors in their NES (also called “Famicom” – as in “family”) commercials: Super Mario Bros / Legend of Zelda.
Weird right? I thought, well, maybe I’m the exception and girls just weren’t fitting the American demographic. Maybe girls didn’t like video games as much as I did. Or, maybe I was just oblivious.
In 1983, there was an event referred to as the great video game crash. Atari and the whole lot died out until Nintendo resurged the American console market, becoming widely successful in 1987. However, in 1986, a company named Cooper and Mackie conducted a study where they researched 88 5th graders – 44 boys and 44 girls - by having them play either Missile Command (high violent), Pac-Man (low violent) or a maze-solving paper game (the control). After playing these games, the kids were set free to recess and given a variety of toys to play with:
Playing Missile Command had no effect on boys’ preference on the types of toys during free play, but there was an effect for girls in that they played the aggressive-typed toy (a Shogun samurai that spits fists and darts) as often as the boys.
…and where can I get one of these Shogun samurais????
Females became virtually non-existent in the eyes of American video game advertisers which effected the genders. Many girls still gamed, but the gap had certainly widened. We weren’t all just kids playing games anymore. Now, it was a gender thing and I’m postulating that this inadvertently caused the term “Girl Gamer”. The term “Girl Gamer” was (and occasionally still is) used as a derogatory term to mean “guys are better than you at video games”. And the truth is, a lot of dudes still need to believe that to survive. I’ve been in Call of Duty: Black Ops or World of Warcraft games where the mere sound of a female voice in the lobby causes a man to point it out, “YOU’RE A GIRL!” or “SAY SOMETHING SEXY!” Some girls go with it for the attention… and whatever, let them take that course. I personally choose to make fun of them.
Being a “Girl Gamer” isn’t a bad thing, but its taken a lot of women to break barriers for the rest of us. Several all-girl Pro Gamer teams have helped forge the way for female gamers everywhere. For example, the talented Ubisoft Frag Dolls have always advocated and supported the ladies. From their website:
The Frag Dolls are known not only for being skilled gamers in multiple games, but for their advocacy of female gamers. [They] have spoken on panels at the Women’s Game Conference, Women in Games International, Penny Arcade Expo, Game Developers Conference, and the Austin Game Developers Conference. They have been vocal about their support of female gamers and game developers, and have grown an online community around the interests shared of a diverse segment of the gaming population. The team has cited their social networking outreach on Twitter, facebook, and myspace as part of a larger effort to raise awareness about video games as a legitimate pastime and career for women. This is in response to the continuing perpetuation of video games as a male-dominated pursuit.
So, that’s why I left “Girl Gamer” out of my list. All females are “Girl Gamers”. It’s a gender, not a Gamer Type. I wanted all of you to challenge yourselves and ask what kind of games you enjoy – puzzles, action, role-playing, strategy? See what else is out there and challenge yourselves! Don’t just rely on companies and marketing to tell you what you like.
At least one little girl has it figured out. I will leave you with 4 year old, Riley Maida, and her rant on girl vs. boy marketing.