If you haven't ever heard of Her Interactive, it's about damn time you did. They're the world's only--only!--developer focused squarely on the girl market, and they've been churning out amazing games based on the classic girl detective series, Nancy Drew. What I want to do here is introduce the games and talk a bit about why I think Her Interactive has been so successful. Though many people would like to pretend Her Interactive didn't exist when ranting about "the industry's failure toward women" and the like, I think it's important to look at these games and try to figure out why they're so much better than the average "girl game."
First, a few admissions. I'm addicted to Her Interactive's Nancy Drew adventure game series, even though it's ostensibly intended for girls aged 10-15. I've played through every one of them up to the 13th game, Danger by Design, and intend to grab that one soon. The reasons why I like the game are simple: They're extremely well-designed, full of colorful characters and wit, and highly playable. They basically take everything that's fun about graphical adventure games and strip out the junk that makes most of them so frustrating. These are "hit the ground running" games that will challenge players--not abuse or neglect them. My wife and I like to play these games together, working through the puzzles and speculating about the motives of the various characters. We've had a great deal of fun with this series, as I expect anyone would who was willing to give them a fair chance.
One reason why I think these games have been so popular is that they have that peculiar habit of actually respecting women. Realize that we're talking about an industry that just last year abolished strippers (oops, "booth babes") from entertaining clients at its trade shows. We're talking about an industry that's so ...damn stupid... they think "The Frag Dolls" will attract young women to gaming.
Her Interactive, a bastion of common sense, knows the truth: Girls aren't stupid, they aren't obsessed with "boys," and I'll be damned, many of them don't even like the color pink or Hello Kitty stickers. Girls, just like boys, are inquisitive, and enjoy exploring cool environments while solving intriguing puzzles. Of course, girls are actually superior in one way--they actually want to use their brain to solve a problem rather than a BFG or a chainsaw. That's where the Nancy Drew games really shine.
First, I'll talk a bit about the Nancy Drew games in general. When I say the games are "non-violent," I don't mean that there's no violence here. Far from it. The avatar in these games, an amateur detective named Nancy Drew, frequently finds herself in danger of many kinds, whether it's having her skull crushed by falling rocks, electrocuted by a boobytrapped fence, blown to bits by dynamite, or murdered by a suspect. Furthermore, there's often (but not always) a murder that brings Nancy Drew to the case in the first place. The reason why these games are considered non-violent is that Nancy, being the superior person that she is, doesn't have to resort to it. In fact, the ones who perpetrate it will inevitably find themselves in jail, foiled by Nancy's superior cunning and ingenuity.
Another fact about these games (and the books) that might raise eyebrows is that Nancy is far from being a "goody two shoes." She certainly doesn't mind taking the law into her own hands if it means getting to the bottom of a mystery--whether that means tresspassing, breaking and entering, spying, or, shall we say, borrowing evidence from the scene of a crime. And while she's certainly a well-mannered young lady (don't even try talking on a cell phone when you're in company), she'll get feisty with anyone who tries evading her questions. Wrapping up the package is her bravery and coolness under pressure. If there's a better role model out there for young women (or young anyone for that matter), I've yet to see one!
Finally, the difficulty of these games in kept in check by two basic strategies: a "junior" and "senior" detective mode, and the ability to elicit hints from Nancy's friends Bess and George, as well as occasionally the Hardy Boys. The implementation of these techniques varies from game to game.
The early games suffer a bit from a somewhat confusing cursor, a magnifying glass that turns blue when you can turn. It takes a little getting used to, and can definitely confuse even an experienced adventurer. This problem is eased greatly by the third game, when the cursor becomes an arrow clearly indicating left and right when turning. Her Interactive gradually improves the interface in other ways as the games progress, while other innovations, such as a "real-time" clock or cell-phone based email, come and go.
All of the games feature far better music that anyone has a right to expect. Some of the games have much better music than even mega-budget games like Cyan's Myst series--these are themes that you'll likely be humming weeks after finishing the game. Probably my favorite music is in Danger on Deception Island, which features rich Celtic-instrumentals, and Secret of Shadow Ranch, with a very nice Western score that's sure to set your toes a'tappin.
I've ranked the individual games here on a scale of one to five:
* : Virtually unplayable. Only suitable for completists.
** : Not a great game, but worth getting.
*** : A good, solid game.
**** : Excellent--definitely seek it out.
Secrets Can Kill (1988) **
The first Nancy Drew game, Secrets Can Kill, is one of the most interesting titles in the series, even if it's obvious that this early game isn't as polished as the later titles. Nevertheless, it shows some interesting innovations that weren't pursued elsewhere--if you like "Easter Eggs," or hidden, non-gameplay related secrets scattered throughout a game, then this will be your favorite Nancy Drew game.
The basic gist is that you've been sent to a rural town to solve the murder of a high school student. Solving the mystery requires careful attention to detail and lots of dialogue with the three or four suspects who will gradually give themselves away as you begin confronting them with the evidence you find. Many of the puzzles here, like those in most of ND games, are actually valuable ways to introduce yourself to real-life skills, such as finger-printing, "kanji," braille, and the periodic table. I really enjoy learning about these things and feel that I actually emerge from these puzzles a bit wiser than before.
The Easter Eggs here are mostly plays on Nancy's name, but also on the characters in the books. Writing down and translating the morse code cunningly drawn around a map of Florida, for instance, might reveal a message like "You're an ace!" or the like. These puzzles don't always pertain to the game, but they are fun to find and solve.
Unfortunately, this substantial amount of required disk-swapping in this game is likely to reduce your enjoyment of this game. Fortunately, this is the only ND game where this a problem. There are illegal means of fixing this problem, however.
You can read my earlier review of this game here.
Stay Tuned for Danger (1999) ****
The second ND game, Stay Tuned for Danger, is probably the best of the series so far. It takes place on the set of a television soap opera, where Nancy has been called in to investigate the attempted murder of the show's male lead, a pompous fellow named Rick. What makes this game special is the personalities of the suspects and their interactions with Nancy. Furthermore, the interface is more polished here (no disk swapping required!). It's pretty obvious that the production values have increased with the second installment.
One interesting (if perhaps off-putting) graphical technique here is interspersing digitized photographs with CGI. While the characters are all CGI, it's not uncommon to find a family photograph of them alongside digital photos. The effect can be rather disconcerting--a "Roger Rabbit" like style. I can't say I particularly cared for it.
One of the puzzles in this game is the infamous "three ring" puzzle, somewhat of a staple in graphical adventure games. Most of the other puzzles are of the cryptographic sort, though there are also action sequences that require precise timing and quick thinking. The last scene is extremely difficult at senior level, and it took me several attempts to get it right.
Nevertheless, the developers did a superb job here of actually making the player feel part of a soap opera studio, an interesting place to be even in the worst of times. Also, by the second game, we already see many of the "tropes" that will show up again and again in later ND games--the eccentric old woman who refuses to give Nancy any straight answers, the "oh so cute" suspect who tries to charm Nancy, and the somewhat conniving female who tries to browbeat her.
Message in a Haunted Mansion (2000) ***
This is the first "horror"-themed ND game. While there's little of "redeeming" value here in terms of educational aspects, it's a fun game. This time, Nancy's been called in to help investigate some suspicious "accidents" occurring at an old house that's being remodeled. There's an old legend that treasure is hidden in the house somewhere--you can guess where this is leading.
Again, Her Interactives scores with interesting characters and lots of suspicious activites that only make sense much later. Some of the puzzles here are actually quite challenging, and players will need to be very observant and make note of details that might seem irrelevant at first.
Treasure in the Royal Tower (2000) **
This game showed up the same year as Message in a Haunted Mansion, and it seems that the rush might have led to a less polished game. This is my least favorite of the ND games, and is certainly one of the most repetitive.
It's another "hidden treasure" mystery, with Nancy being snow-dayed in a mysterious castle. The mystery is mainly concerned with Marie Antoinette, a fascinating historical figure who is definitely worth learning more about.
Though there are certainly some interesting twists to this game, I'd recommend it only to completists.
The Final Scene (2001) ***
The Final Scene seems to echo back to the earlier Stay Tuned for Danger, and with good effect. This time, Nancy's task is to discover who kidnapped her reporter friend, Maya. The wider context is a historically-important theater that is in danger of being demolished, and the suspects are those out to see that it's spared.
The Final Scene is loaded with witty humor and plenty of references to earlier games, particular Stay Tuned. There's more emphasis here on technology puzzles, such as working an old projector or winning vintage electro-mechanical games (a theme that will be repeated often in later games). Furthermore, the old historic theater has a nice look to it that creates a lovely atmosphere.
The only problem I have with this game is that it feels at times a bit desolate, and a few of the puzzles are not very intuitive. There are a few of the sliding-puzzle type here, which are fairly common in the ND series. Still, any adventure game with ties to Harry Houdini can't be all bad.
My one disappointment with this game was that I thought it was leading up to something like the famous opera scene in Gabriel Knight 2. I mean, you spend half the game around a grand old stage...
Secret of the Scarlet Hand (2002) ****
Secret of the Scarlet Hand is easily one of the best ND games, and I definitely recommend it highly to anyone new to the series. By this point, Her Interactive had worked out the kinks in the interface. Furthermore, they return here to the "edutainment" formula that worked so well in the first game, but one-upped themselves by focusing it all on one key area: the ancient Mayans. The Mayans are fascinating people to begin with, and an excellent theme for an adventure game.
The story this time is that Nancy is an intern at a museum for Mayan artifacts. One of the artifacts is stolen, a mysterious "scarlet" handprint being the only clue. Everything is leading up to a monolith artifact--what is inside it? As always, the suspects are, well, suspicious, and no one seems the least bit innocent. It's a thoroughly engrossing game, and, as usual, the music is spellbinding.
Many puzzles from earlier games recur here in various forms, with staples like morse code and glyph translation coming into play. There is also a lengthy segment involving a headphone tour of the artifacts--Nancy must correlate the right audio segments with the exhibits. It's a bit heavyhanded in terms of edutainment, perhaps, but nevertheless a fun way to learn about Mayan history.
Ghost Dogs of Moonlake (2002) ****
Here we have the second "horror" ND title, echoing the earlier "Message in a Haunted Mansion." This one takes place in a quirky old farmhouse deep in the woods. Nancy's been called there to investigate some freaky "ghost dogs" that chased her friend (who'd bought the property) out of the area. Of course, Nancy realizes there's nothing supernatural here--someone has an interest in keeping people away. The only problem is, it seems like everyone in the area has a different motive for doing so!
There are several interesting themes circulating here. The house originally belonged to a gangster who was rumored to have a hidden speakeasy there to keep his partiers out of sight of prohibition-era cops. Nancy will also learn a lot about the forest surrounding the area, particulary the kind of birds who live there.
All in all, this is a fascinating game that definitely ranks with the best of the ND series. The ghost dogs and old house are genuinely creepy, the characters are eccentric and intriguing, and the puzzles are challenging and often even educational. Furthermore, the graphics, atmosphere, and music are all top-notch. In short, this is a very fun game with a lot to offer.
The Haunted Carousel (2003) ****
It seems inevitable Her Interactive would base one of its games in an amusement park. It's an obvious choice that's been made by several other adventure game developers. The story this time is that a carousel has been starting up all on its own, freaking out customers--but more importantly, a theft and a series of accidents have forced the insurance company to shut down the park until they can figure out what's been going on. As usual, each character has a unique motive, and I must admit to being fairly surprised at the end to discover which one was really behind it! The characters are really great, and you'll definitely enjoy getting to know them. And, to make this game even better, one of the characters is dealing with some pretty serious issues with her deceased father that definitely ramp up the social value of the game and take the series into new directions.
There are also plenty of interesting facts to learn here, as well--particularly about the history of amusement parks and carousels. I've always been a bit intrigued by this subject matter, and this game has definitely spurred that interest (pun intended). You'll learn about the early carousels and how the horses were built, as well as get "into the guts" of one to see how it operates. Riding the historic old carousel, complete with authentic organ music, is not to be missed.
Danger on Deception Island (2003) ***
This was actually the first ND game I ever played--and I think it should say something about its quality that I've since played 11 others! This ND game is back in the "edutainment" category, with Nancy's being called to stay with a marine biologist and uncover a plot involving an orphaned killer whale (or orca).
As she solves the mystery, Nancy learns all about orcas (in ways ranging from the heavy-handed to the more subtle), kayaking, flag signals, and lighthouses. There's an emphasis in this game on exploration, and Nancy even gets to use a kayak to explore the bay. Like many of other games, there's a crazy old bat that will give you clues after proving yourself by solving her tests--and a grumpy old man that seems determined to inculcate himself.
The best part of this game by far is the music. The game is based on a quaint Nantucket-like village, and the music is decidedly "Celtic" in the tradition of those mood CDs you find on special booths at Hallmark. However, the tunes here feature a lovely guitar, and sometimes it reaches such a point of aural beauty that you feel compelled to just stop playing and listen to it. In all seriousness, a "Music of Nancy Drew" CD would be a great idea!
In short, Danger is a great ND game with some pretty solid "edutainment" value. I'd especially recommend this to anyone with an interest in marine biology!
Note: You can read my earlier review of this game here.
The Secret of Shadow Ranch (2004) ****
Just when I thought I'd seen the best of what Her Interactive had to offer, I played the tenth game in the series, Shadow Ranch. Ah, I love this game. What's not to like? Again, the music is superb, fitting the Western "ranch" atmosphere perfectly. They ought to sell this game in every Cracker Barrel across the US!
I've always loved horses and learning more about them, and this game delivers mightily. Nancy not only learns about how to properly saddle a horse, but also about identifying different breeds and the proper way to feed them. I had no idea there was so much to know about proper care of horses! Once she learns how to properly ride a horse, Nancy rides out to explore a spooky ghost town that wouldn't be out of place in a Myst game. It's obvious that the developers tried very hard to show what it's like working and living on a real ranch, and they deliver.
What I remember most about this game is the rich personalities of the characters. The cook is particularly amusing, offering up funny anecdotes and as vivid as any of the colorful hosts on The Food Network. The other characters are just as eccentric and likeable.
Shadow Ranch is definitely one of the best ND games. The only problem I had was learning how to use the lasso correctly. Perhaps there is a technique to it? Ah, I guess I wasn't cut out to be a cowboy.
The Secret of Blackmore Manor (2004) ***
Of all the ND games, this one seems to have the most in common with other popular franchises, particularly the Myst games and many of the titles from the Adventure Company like "The Black Mirror." The setting, as the name implies, is one of those old gothic mansions. Nancy's been called there to investigate what's been going on with the owner's new wife, a woman who's convinced she's got the "Penvellyn curse" and is doomed to become a werewolf. Yeah...Meanwhile, her daughter is being indoctrinated into some kind of weirdo cult by a very creepy tutor, and a batty old aunt is around seemingly just to annoy the heck out of you.
On the "edutainment" side, there is much to learn here about some very interesting subjects: heraldry (coats of arms and the like), astronomy, and alchemy. These last two subjects in particular have shown up in countless GAGs, and they fit into ND quite well. I think a more important lesson here is about the narrow, cloistered-like society of the "nobility," with their thousand-year old family trees and snooty mannerisms. Thank God I'm an American.
Also, this game features some very difficult puzzles that seem almost ripped straight from Myst or Riven. There's one of those sliding room puzzles that will have you foaming at the mouth until you learn the trick to it. There's also a very annoying "game enlongation" technique with lighting--the only way to get a "glowstick" to explore the lower depths is to play games of chance with the little girl. Winning the games takes a lot of time, and the glowsticks don't last long. I know I was calling the waahhhmbulance before I managed to beat this game.
Nevertheless, this game seems to be an effort on Her Interactive's part to demonstrate that they can make the same type of game as the competition. This game is quite dark (in a figurative and literal sense). The puzzles are also more challenging than usual. Heck, I was stumped on many occasions.
This might be the best game to start with if you want to ease into the ND series from more popular games like Cyan's or The Adventure Company. However, I doubt it'd be as much fun for a younger player as Shadow Ranch or any of the other games I've given four stars.
Secret of the Old Clock (2005) ***
The big gimmick with this game is that it's set back in the 1930s, when the first Nancy Drew novel appeared. To that end, the developers have worked hard to recreate the 1930s atmosphere, complete with a bigband-type soundtrack, antique cars, and quaint old devices like wind-up phones.
The plot is fairly straightforward--Nancy is called in to help her friend Emily save the Inn she inherited from her recently-deceased mother. There's recently been some suspicious accidents, probably involving arson, and Emily seems to be "losing it" mentally. Meanwhile, there's a bit of a question regarding why an eccentric old man with wads of cash didn't deliver on his promise to will his fortune to Emily's family. Instead, it wound up in the hands of a crackpot and thoroughly irritating "psychic" named Richard Topham.
There are some fascinating aspects to this game. Besides the thrill of getting to explore a rural town circa 1930, there's a rather dark theme going on with the approaching depression. The characters (including a banker) offer hints of what's to come, and at times it's enough to bring a shiver down your spine. These are people on the brink of one of America's worst disasters, and that growing sense of dread permeates the game and gives it a unique feel.
Nevertheless, while there's some great stuff to learn about here, there's also a few annoying, er, features. The most obvious is the ability to drive Nancy around in her vintage 1930s roadster. These arcade-like segments are perhaps only as realistic as an early 80s 3rd-person race car game, and there's no danger of crashing the car no matter how much you try to ram it into a building. What is a problem is running out of gas or hitting too many potholes, which will burst your tire. When either happen, Nancy must "pay up" for fuel and tire repair.
To earn money, Nancy must deliver telegrams (25 cents a pop) to all the various locales in the town. This might be fun for about ten minutes, but it soon becomes an unwelcome distraction. I ended up spending about half the game time on these telegram runs. While there's an attempt to make it a little burdensome with witty comments from the customers, it gets a bit tiresome. The driving segment isn't really detailed enough to be much fun.
What is fun, though, is a putt-putt golf course. I'm not sure how realistically this part fits in, but Nancy must putt her way through a very detailed miniature golf course complete with windmills and alligators. The interface isn't perfect (it's a bit hard to place the ball), but it's a fun mini-game.
In short, the "gimmick" of the setting seems to be the strongest point for this game. The mini-games (car driving and putt-putt) are mildly entertaining, but a bit too distracting. This game really isn't representative of the rest of the ND series, so I wouldn't recommend starting with it.
Last Train to Blue Moon Canyon (2005) ****
This is the most recent ND game I've played, and I'm happy to say that Her Interactive hasn't lost their touch. The big "gimmick" here is that this time Nancy gets to "team up with the Hardy Boys." This is a bit misleading because, in a way, Nancy has teamed up with them many times before via phone--most of the games let you call the Boys as well as George and Bess to get tips (though you have to wonder how they know enough about your situation to do so!). This time, though, they're actually present as non-player characters, though they don't actually do much. At one point, you actually switch from Nancy to one of the Hardy Bros, but the scene is brief and focused on making sandwiches and eavesdropping for gossip as Nancy takes care of the important stuff (nice bit of role reversal, there).
The plot here is somewhat convoluted, but, in a nutshell, Nancy's been invited along to accompany the Hardy Bros. on a ride aboard an antique train. The train's owner apparently buried some treasure in a hidden location and left some clues onboard the train for his surviving family members to help find it. Unfortunately, his relatives were either too dumb or too disinterested to find it, so now the train's been bought by a rich, "like oh my god!" airheaded blonde named Lori. It's fun watching how the developers portray Lori--in most contexts, she'd be the "cool" one, but in a ND game, she's vile. I think the message is clear: Girls, don't be like this blonde idiot; be like Nancy!
Anyway, this game clearly has a lot going for it. The old train is fascinating and spooky, and I was reminded just a bit of the classic The Last Express. The puzzles here are also very clever, many of which seem decidedly Cyan-esque. A few puzzles involving odd machinery seem ripped straight out of Myst or Riven. Whether this is a good or bad thing depends on what you thought of those earlier games, but I certainly didn't mind.
There's a lot to learn here, mostly about gemstones and quilting, but also about the Wild West and the goldrush days. All in all, it doesn't fill as packed with useful facts as earlier games, but you don't feel dumber after playing it. Again, it's really the characters that make this game fun. There's clearly some "drama" going on with all of them, and it's fun to find out what's behind their masks.
There are also some genuinely creepy elements here. If old, disfigured dolls give you the heebie jeebies, you'll have a tough time with this game. Although there's nothing "Silence of the Lambs" like here, there's the same sinister undertone. The puzzle I'm talking about requires you to put 12 or so dolls in the proper order. That means finding a bunch of clues (riddles, pictures, receipts, and so on) to discover the name of each doll. My wife and I were both disturbed by all this, and I wouldn't at all be surprised to hear about it giving a 10-year old nightmares. Still, it's nice to see Her Interactive pushing the envelope a bit and not giving way to the impulse to make everything sugar-coated and pristine.
I hope I've managed to show here some of the breadth of this series of adventure games. Even the weakest game in the series has something to offer, and I'm sure that you'll want to play them all after you've gotten yourself invested in these characters. I know that I can't wait to get my hands on Danger by Design!
One thing that Her Interactive has stressed in various interviews is the community aspect of these games. Girls are encouraged to work with family members or friends to solve these mysteries. To facilitate that, Her Interactive has set up a very active message board, which is carefully monitored. As I mentioned before, it's handy to play these games with someone else--I've often found that my wife is better at certain kinds of puzzles than I am. I imagine a child would greatly appreciate having an adult along to help him or her through the more challenging puzzles, though of course there is a "junior mode" that should lower the bar here.
As far as acquiring these delightful games, I'd recommend starting with Dreamcatcher's 75th Anniversary Collection, which includes the first five games as well as a Nancy Drew novel. I actually enjoy reading the novels as well, and try to find the special editions that include them. Most of the games are loosely based on the novels, but you'll enjoy both. Indeed, reading a few of the novels might actually increase your pleasure in playing the games.
After that, you might seek out the "Double Dare" compilations, which include two consecutive games for around $20. Other than that, you'll likely find most of them for sale in bargain bins or in special re-releases through the Adventure Company. Of course, the last few games are currently available through most PC software vendors, but you'll pay somewhere between $15-$20 for each title. I managed to score 11 and 12 on eBay for $10 each, so you can save some cash if you're as cheap as I am. You can buy many of them directly from Her Interactive, though you'll pay more there than Amazon.
Nice set of Nancy Drew reviews. Guess I'll have to buy you a Nancy Drew costume for Halloween this year, LOL. ;)
I did use to read the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew novels when I was younger. It's great to see a series of games aimed at women that don't depict them as "Rambo with breasts."
Graphical Adventure Games (GAGs) in general respect women than most other genres; RPGs tend to as well (especially the Japanese ones, but that is a different topic for a different time). Look at Sophia Hapgood from Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, a tough Indiana Jones girl reminiscent of the girl from Raiders of the Lost Ark. King's Quest IV was one of the earlier games to let players play as a woman. Despite what some recent articles I've read have implied, "girl gamers" like more than just puzzle games and The Sims; they also tend to like GAGs and RPGs for the stories and the characters.
=- Mat Tschirgi =- Armchair Arcade Editor
Hear my gaming podcasts!
That's a very true comment, Mat. Return to Mysterious Island featured a strong female avatar that was anything but Lara Croft. She was realistically proportioned, but the emphasis wasn't on her "sexiness" but rather her intelligence. Likewise, April Ryan in The Longest Journey is another strong female character that any woman could play with respect.
However, I was utterly scandalized to find an almost complete turn-of-face in Dreamfall, the so-called sequel to The Longest Journey. There, the female avatar is a "hottie" who starts the game wearing only panties and a bra! The camera zooms in on her bulging breasts and hips in an obvious ploy to arouse male players. I was severely disappointed to see this, since it means that Fun Com has basically given up on the female audience and chucked it all out for the sake of appealing to a few sex-starved males.
As a heterosexual male, I would NOT be comfortable playing a "hot" scantily clad dude in a game, but would and am very comfortable playing a "hot" scantily clad female. With that said, if you think about it, Conan, male superheroes, barbarians and other various fighters, often DO walk around in next to nothing or skin-tight clothing, and I have no issue playing them, as I think is the case with most men. I think the major difference is whether there's anything overtly sexual about the character versus being superbly shaped or scantily clad. As soon as one of those guys would try to be sexual in any way for the sake of sexiness, it would be unappealing to me. Of course it's not unappealing when a female in-game character I'm playing would do that, within limits. After all, unless I'm playing a game about a porn star or "floozie" for instance, I wouldn't want anything even remotely over-the-top, even in a female.
To the degree of my particular sexual preference, I am obviously biased toward beautiful women and am less affected by any type of offense that would be more perceptible to a woman. With that in mind, I do think that games, while still heavily geared toward the myth of the undersexed teenage hormonally active male gamer, are in fact reflective of society as a whole. After all, you can often find the "sexiest" and most airbrushed women in women's magazines. The same men are there in men's magazines, but to a significantly lower degree. I think with all things being equal, women due to if nothing else than overexposure, are much more tolerant of sexy feminine imagery than males are of sexy male imagery.
In heterosexual society, it's less manly to admire a male form as a man, but it's no less womanly to admire a female form as a woman. I think that's the key difference and is what drives more than the microcosm gaming.