Why Don't More Girl Gamers Like Violence?

Matt Barton's picture

It seems to be a common assumption that males prefer violent games, whereas females prefer games that are more social in nature (Second Life, Wii games)--and particularly ones that emphasize nurturing (The Sims). I've also heard often enough that women have less time or interest to invest in "hardcore" games; only casual games are easy to fit into an already hectic schedule (especially if parenting is involved). Furthermore, there seems to be a social stigma attached to girls and women who do indulge in violent games, as though somehow it's worse for a girl to enjoy playing Postal than a guy. What I'd like to discuss is whether there is any truth to any of this. Whether we ascribe the reason to social, biological, cultural, or political factors, are girls just somehow turned off by violent games, whereas boys are, conversely, attracted to them? Or do we find that boys and girls would enjoy violent games equally, at least when they're being honest about it?

I guess what I'm really concerned about is what effect one's gender (whether we consider that biological or performative) has to do with the type of games we really enjoy playing. In particular, why are violent games so often singled out as appropriate only for males (if then, even)? Is it true that only males enjoy inflicting imaginary violence? If so, why?

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Mark Vergeer
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It's not so absolute....

... and there's a lot more to tell about this.....

PS3: MarkVergeer | Xbox 360: Lactobacillus P | Wii: 8151 3435 8469 3138
Armchair arcade Editor | Pixellator | www.markvergeer.nl

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Rowdy Rob
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An excerpt from an old document I wrote (circa 1997, I think)

I hope this is appropriate to post this. I don't ANSWER some of the questions presented by Matt's article, but there perhaps some clues that can be gleaned from it. By the way, this was an excerpt from a MASSIVE document I wrote concerning my solution to an all-in-one-boat game: an MMORPG!!!! Unfortunately, my enthusiasm was killed when I read about "Ultima Online," which came out not too long after I started brainstorming the idea. Anyhow:

* * * * *

When the concept of Zee Zone was first gelling in my head, I wondered what kind of computer game would appeal to just about everybody, young and old, male and female.

The inspiration hit me when I watched a young girl play "Mario 64" on a Nintendo 64 (which, at that time, was a very new video game system) in a local department store. "Mario 64" was itself a very innovative game, basically allowing the player to maneuver Mario around freely within a three-dimensional polygon environment. However, what struck me at that moment was the fact that the young girl was playing the game DIFFERENTLY than the way I had seen young boys play it!

When I observed boys playing the game, I noticed that boys were very aggressive and straight-forward. When "evil" creatures came near them, they aggressively tried to destroy them in "Mario" fashion by jumping on them, throwing blocks on them (crushing them in the process), or throwing bombs at them. The boys then proceeded to find the "end" of the level in as quick and direct a fashion as possible.

When I watched the girl play, I was initially frustrated by her approach. "What is she doing?" I would think to myself. I didn't want to be rude, so I kept my observations to myself. Needless to say, it seemed to me that she was playing the game like an idiot. Then it hit me: the girl wasn't playing the game "wrong," she was playing it "differently" than I was accustomed to! So I continued to observe and mentally take notes. And upon doing so, the very beginnings of inspiration to the ZZ universe was born!

As it turns out, the girl did not at all see the urgency of immediately reaching the end "goal" of the game level. There didn't seem to be any sense of "blood lust" in her, since she showed little desire to "kill" the "bad guys" in the same manner the boys did, instead preferring to run away from them. It seemed that she was primarily interested in observing, exploring, and interacting with the game environment.

The girl wandered around from place to place within the game level environment. She walked up to a tree and climbed it. She came down and went to another tree and climbed it. "That was pointless," I thought to myself, before realizing that she was having fun in her own legitimate way.

There was a butterfly flying around in her vicinity. As far as I could tell, the butterfly served no significant purpose to the game; it was mere "eye candy." Yet the girl was mesmerized by it, and proceeded to follow it around so she could continue to observe it. The butterfly started to flutter away, so she moved closer. Yet another pointless waste of time, it seemed. "Get on with it!" I would think to myself.

The girl then moved "Mario" over to a nearby block, picked it up, and threw it. She then picked up another block and carried it around. "Oh good," I thought, "now she's going to kill one of those creatures with it!" Wrong. She walked over to the previous block and tried to stack the block she was carrying on top of it. What in the world was she doing!?!?

Then it hit me: she was trying to BUILD something! While the boys were interested, basically, in conquest, the girl was interested in exercising her creativity! As she continued to try to stack blocks on top of each other, it occurred to me that not only was her method of game playing NOT idiotic, it was actually much "brainier" than the boys' method! It turns out that, as revolutionary a game that Mario 64 was from the "boys'" perspective, featuring conquest and aggression, it was relatively archaic from the "girl's" perspective, featuring very limited outlets of creative and constructive expression!

While it may sound extremely sexist to stereotype males and females in this manner, its no secret that computer gamers are are proportionally far more represented by males than females. As a computer game conceptualist, I can't help but ask the question, "why is that?" There are certainly no barriers prohibiting girls from entering video arcades, nor are there any laws against girls playing games on their Nintendos and Playstations, yet it's clear that computer/video gamers are far more likely to be male than female.

Do females like to have fun? Of course they do! So why aren't they flocking to Quake marathons and Mortal Kombat bloodfests? The initial conclusion is quite obvious: these games must not be appealing to females in general. Again, the question is asked, "why is that?"

It's probably an exercise in futility for a male such as myself to try to understand the female persuasion, but it seems to me that most games are geared towards satisfying male fantasies: achieving wealth and power through aggression and conquest. But a game that allows for more creativity, exploration, and interpersonal relationships will certainly benefit everyone, male and female alike!

(end of excerpt)

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CDE (not verified)
Self fulfilling marketing cycle? More likely representation.

Boys (even (especially) 30-40 year old boys) are targeted by the marketing for certain titles, so they fund the vapid cycle of deinvention that comes from genre conformity and franchises.

Making a war game? Make the player feel manly. Making a fighting game? Have women in revealing clothes.

So much money is invested in this cycle that we see other game types (broadly and lazily labelled "social", "casual" etc.) as inferior, yet - with no sense of irony - we train a generation of male gamers to settle for a 6-hour session of trigger-squeezing followed by 15 months of gradually declining multiplayer repetition. Incidentally, what about stigmas for male Peggle addicts, and what exactly is not "social" or "casual" about a 10-minute burst of Halo 3 multiplayer?

Moreover, the lack of in-game representation across all non-white non-male demographic groups is a direct & logical cause of this lack of engagement, not just for females. On the other hand, social games with space to design a character, or "nurturing" games (== god sims without the warfare?) allow true first person engagement, not first/third person mimesis, and "casual" games may lack any characterisation at all; no sense of alienation, no empty vessel to fill, just a game to play.

Read the Virtual Census (http://nms.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/11/5/815), don't ask an audience of game consumers. What do we know?

Matt Barton
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TV
CDE wrote:

Read the Virtual Census (http://nms.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/11/5/815), don't ask an audience of game consumers. What do we know?

There's an interesting line in the abstract: "Overall, the results are similar to those found in television research."

Seems a bit odd to me, since there doesn't seem to be any great disparity between the number of women, minorities, and the elderly, who watch TV compared to men. Or am I misunderstanding the quotation?

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Anonymous (not verified)
Disparity
Matt Barton wrote:

Seems a bit odd to me, since there doesn't seem to be any great disparity between the number of women, minorities, and the elderly, who watch TV compared to men.

There's not a huge disparity in gender among gamers either. Whatever the public perception, we are frequently wrong. We think teenage males play games - the average gamer is over 30, and the gender bias is something like 60-40.

How do we know we are not wrong about violent game consumers too? And where do you draw the line on "violent" - Survival Horror? Carmageddon? Mini Ninjas?

A major problem is that we can't check any of this accurately through self-selecting samples. Have you ever been in a multiplayer lobby with a female gamer who dares to use her mic? The reaction from many males is either rejection or immature sexual advances, which is hardly encouraging female gamers to "out" themselves. And the Fragdolls, through no fault of their own, have remained a small group of pro-gamers who seem to hold an exclusive or minority place in gaming society - just as most male gamers will never be "MLG" contenders, most females will not be recruited by Ubisoft or winning tournaments, so the female-positive message is (perhaps only slightly?) overshadowed.

When you're that good at something in a male-dominated field, it can be perceived as "...despite gender" rather than "...and it has nothing to do with gender", no matter how you present yourself or what the truth is.

Anecdotally from my friends list, there are males who play more Viva Pinata than the females, females who could win by fair means or foul in Burnout Paradise and have been breezing through arcade fighters since Soul Calibur 2, males with 250/250 on Peggle and 1250/1250 on Beautiful Katamari, and females with thousands of Halo 3 ranked matches behind them.

In fact, if it wasn't for the sheeplike marching off to Modern Warfare among the males, there would be somewhat of a balance between music games, RPGs, casual/cute games and "male" games.

Perhaps the core question should be "why do males shout louder about their exploits in violent games than the rest of their collection?" instead.

Or we should stop asking the consumers, since they can only consume what is out there.

Bill Loguidice
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I think a lot of it does have

I think a lot of it does have to do with the basics, biology and society. Women have lower testosterone levels, so they trend towards less violent play, which probably leads to less of an inclination towards violent media. Also, society still reinforces woman as nurturer and more defined roles than are probably necessary. Heck, even a fit woman is often called "manly", even if she just has a touch of muscle. In short, the issues run a lot deeper than just our industry and there's no simple solution. The good news is that like it or not, casual gaming, social gaming, etc., are as important today as ever, and the audience is more diverse than ever, so we'll continue to trend towards reaching more and more beyond the supposed teenage male target.

***************************
Bill Loguidice, Managing Director
Armchair Arcade, Inc.

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Michelle (not verified)
Who's to say we don't? From

Who's to say we don't?

From anecdotal evidence talking to like-minded women the stigma seems to be about playing games full-stop rather than specific types of games, I am seeing more and more women in the "violent" games I play, even if the argument is true I don't see it being a problem for much longer.

To look at it another way, girls who pursue any out of the ordinary interest are extraordinarily tough - they have to be - we deal with far more generic taunts and pokes about our hobby than most guys do.

Matt Barton
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Girls Being "Hit On"
Michelle wrote:

Who's to say we don't?

From anecdotal evidence talking to like-minded women the stigma seems to be about playing games full-stop rather than specific types of games, I am seeing more and more women in the "violent" games I play, even if the argument is true I don't see it being a problem for much longer.

To look at it another way, girls who pursue any out of the ordinary interest are extraordinarily tough - they have to be - we deal with far more generic taunts and pokes about our hobby than most guys do.

This is pretty much what I was thinking. Maybe the girls are out there, but we just don't realize it. I play World of Warcraft, and my wife and at least one other woman are in our guild. I remember several times when a new guy would hear their voice in Vent and be amazed that they were actually female. Naturally, one of my friends felt almost obligated to hit on the other girl. She didn't seem to mind, but I know I'd be irritated if I couldn't go anywhere in an online game without somebody trying to be flirtatious. It's immature and presumptuous, but (sadly) for a lot of these guys, this is their only chance to interact with a woman in a situation where they feel comfortable. The woman can't see how nerdy, ugly, or fat or whatever they are in real life. Furthermore, the stakes are a lot lower. Naturally, since they've had so little social interaction with the opposite sex, they seem immature or crude. Perhaps some of this intentional, but I bet some of them are simply imitating what they've seen on TV or their friends do (or say they should do).

My guess is that this is simply a transition phase. Once there is a critical mass of females on online games, this ridiculousness will ebb if not stop altogether. I know I make a point of never asking a female what she looks like, her relationship status, or any of that stuff. I don't consider it any of my business to know, and it doesn't make any difference whatsoever on the way she plays the game.

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cde
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Never mind "Maybe"

The girls are out there. Surveys and censuses have shown this. The whole question seems misdirected; whilst males do not brag about their awesome VP gardens or how they had a perfect run on a singing game, girls do not brag about their killing sprees.

The question is not "why does gender X not do activity Y", but "why do genders X and Y feel unable to discuss their enjoyment of activities Y and X?"

Give a young boy a doll, or give a young girl an action figure, and they can have a lot of fun - until someone tells them how they should play, and targets them with shiny pink or blue cliches.

(by the way, stereotyping male gamers as unattractive social misfits with no experience of female company is just as bad)

Mark Vergeer
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I played Mario64 ' the girlie way'

The thing is that a lot of women - no matter how emancipated they are often take care of the children next to their jobs and household tasks. Leaving them little time to invest in a game that requires longer periods of gameplay in a single session. Games that provide quick fast satisfaction in short bursts are often puzzle games and other more friendly games. Easy, accessible. Pick up and play kind of things.

Men have more leasure time on their hands - or they tend to take more time and are able to invest on games that require longer sessions and these type of games often are more aggressive strategy type of games. Men still get away with that....

Perhaps the roles the genders fill and the amount of free time one experiences because of that is more what it boils down to than girls automatically being more creative/loving/constructive and boys being more competitive/destructive and the way they play videogames.

Men and women have been different since the beginning of time, then during women's emancipation there was a time that the differences were not to be talked about at all because of the risk of being called sexist - women started power dressing and actually ended up having broader shoulders (with aid of padding) then their male office counterparts. Little boys are actually worse of today with a lack of male role models in the schooling system. Males are either perceived as caveman or as feminine metroman and never has the male identity been so vague as today....

And Elise says it all boils down to testosterone levels.... or a kind of 'male psychological macho thing'

Growl!

PS3: MarkVergeer | Xbox 360: Lactobacillus P | Wii: 8151 3435 8469 3138
Armchair arcade Editor | Pixellator | www.markvergeer.nl

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