Girl Gaming

Earlier I mentioned a post about girls in gaming. It was chosen for the Speak up post of the day on Kotaku. Jason Taylor (whose Kotaku page is gone) added this is the comments. In my opinion, it is a very concise account not just of women in gaming, but the discussion of women in gaming too. Genetics vs. society is often confused, and I can’t remember many pregnant game characters….

On a related note, I had a conversation between myself and another commenter on Kotaku. The other commenter said biology was the reason that more women don’t play games, not that women were not included in games. I thought that the biology of women did not exclude them from an interest in gaming, and that if anything, their biology gives them certain advantages in gaming. Hit the jump for the entire conversation, but be warned it is very long.


I think the writer of this piece has failed to understand the general differences in genders from a psychological perspective and seemed to dwell on the superficial elements of “girl gamers.” (“It has a girl and some story to it so it MUST be attractive to more girl gamers!”)

As someone that’s been playing games since before the 8-bit revolution, I can appreciate games as both a gamer and a woman. Why? It’s not pandering to me. Sure, the animated blow-up dolls in the vast majority of stuff that comes from some developers (I’m mainly looking at you, Japan!) is highly offensive and comes off as wank-material for teenage boys, but the stuff that doesn’t shove tits in my face and has a male protagonist has been more entertaining to me (Half-Life, Uncharted, Assassin’s Creed) than games where my gender is presented as an “inclusive” element rather than a believable component of the game.

We don’t need to falsely pad the industry with women because girl gamers are a minority, that’ll just fill positions with unqualified people that happen to have different sex organs. I know several qualified female programmers, designers, artists and producers already.

Why are they a minority? Biology. That’s right, this industry is male-dominated because it attracts the behavioural characteristics more commonly found in males than females (in both development — women tend to not enjoy the sciences/engineering/tech as much as men — and gameplay).

Those of us that happen to enjoy videogames and happen to be women have been enjoying games essentially targeting “boys” for decades now and see no need to force the markets to eliminate what has attracted us to it so publishers can get a bigger piece of female demographic profits.

Do we need to add more explosions and shots of vehicles to Sex & the City, Desperate Housewives and daytime Soap Operas because a very small portion of male viewers turn in every episode? How about we add a male member to The View that talks about martial arts and guns?

The examples of games and companies mentioned above were successful because they were good games – not because they had female protagonists or pandered to women.

To say that female gamers were solely attracted to games because they could play a female character is somewhat uninformed and a little offensive to me – it basically says that women are shallow and superficial enough to only be attracted to something because it represents them. How many people played the original Metroid and didn’t care when they found out Samus Aran was a girl at the end? How many female cosplayers still play Link from the Legend of Zelda series?

/end rant” —Demosthenes

 Bondage_Zombie (who wrote the speak-up topic) replied:
“I appreciated what she had to say, too, even though it made it painfully obvious that she didn’t read my article. It’s a hot-button issue, but i’m glad she took the time to post.

Everyone invoked biology as a reason that there aren’t more females gaming, but that’s a false note. Women ingest entertainment media just like men do and that means there are more avenues for it to find appeal, whether it’s games with a strong narrative or without.

I simply quoted a new market research study that asked leading questions to try to quantify their perception of how and why females game, but I didn’t use it exclusively or heavily rely on it; I used it as a springboard for my own writing, just like she used it as a springboard.

it’s all gravy .”

But she replied with this:

 “A good story and the availability of strong female leads help their games appeal to women” Did you or did you not write this?

I read your article and this line is what struck a chord in me.

Also, my rant is also directed to the many responses to this article that seem to think that artificially padding the industry with women and making more female characters instantly makes things somehow better.”

I responded regarding biology in her original post:


Biologically, I don’t think that women are less capable of enjoying science or video games than men. I think it’s much less about development and more about exposure. You were exposed to games long ago and enjoyed it. In fact, as a woman who likes games you are proving that women are quite capable of enjoying the current popular genres available.

Comparing all of gaming to Sex and the City is to compare apples to oranges. You would have to compare Sex and the City to a specific title, perhaps, Duke Nukem. Neither are really that concerned with attracting both sexes. But some other TV shows are, and some other games are too. Call of Duty was very inclusive with the “there’s a soldier in all of us” commercial for Black Ops.

I’m not sure how the inclusion of females as positive leading roles in games as a way to attract women that do not currently game is “uninformed” or “offensive”. In general, I don’t think the discussion applies to people who are already gaming, be they male or female. To say that it is a matter of Biology, and that including more women would mean including people that were unqualified definitely seems offensive and uninformed.”

 She replied thusly:
“Haha. If you don’t believe that the male and female brain are different as a matter of evolution and biology instead some misguided concept that some evil patriarchal society has suppressed women away from such fields, we really don’t have much to say to one another.

Our culture has become 100% accommodating to women these past few decades and, as a result, we’re short-changing both genders in a vain attempt to enforce a uniformity that goes against our biology.

Some women excel at the sciences, math and engineering – bloody geniuses, even. Unfortunately, there are more men with interest in the subject than women and it has nothing to do with exposure – people gravitate to what they like regardless of accommodations. In fact, the American education system favours women over men now. The genders learn differently and since our society’s education system is moving more toward the way the female mind learns, we’re seeing a major decline in the number of male graduates (as well as graduates in the sciences and engineering) — sadly, that little tidbit of info isn’t receiving any attention because of certain agendas in our commercial and political systems.

I didn’t just list a single show – Sex in the City, Desperate Housewives and The View are all shows that target women as their primary demographic and yet we never hear anyone having a whinge about how there aren’t enough men portrayed in them. The “There’s a soldier in all of us” campaign goes against your point as there are NO playable female characters in Black Ops.

On your final point; to include women just for the sake of having someone with ovaries in your workplace is EXTREMELY offensive and uninformed. If a company were to be given a choice between two candidates for a job and one candidate was more qualified but lacked the proper sex organs and ended up getting the position, that’d be sexist (and sexism offends me greatly).”

I replied:
“Hello again,

I do not believe in any fictional villainous societies.

If American society has become “100% accommodating to women”, then why from 1970 to 2004 has the disparity in wages between women and men only risen 18%, still 20% behind men (according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics)?

I never said women did not excel in different fields. I did not say that the American Educational system should keep favoring women, as you said it does.

I didn’t claim that you only listed one show, but merely restated only one show. The point that I made is valid with any show that you would like to list, or any combination of shows.

The inclusion of Black Ops does not defeat my point. I included Black Ops not to imply that there are women characters available throughout the game, but to imply that a given game or show can target whoever it wants through marketing, and one way to do that is to include females as players of the game, as the commercial did. I regret that my lack of clarity allowed for inaccurate inferences.

I did not say that men and women do not have different biology, I said that their different biology does not impact their ability to play or enjoy games. Both men and women are fully capable, biologically, to enjoy video games along with many other forms of media.

And yes, brains are different. A study done a few years ago found that women have better peripheral vision, a better ability to predict outcomes in relationships, and are better able to multitask. These biological traits do not exclude women from gaming, but instead indicate that they may excel in gaming.

As a side note, many studies have indicated that the number of women playing games is approaching the number of men playing games. According to the ESA, there are more adult women gamers than there are gaming males 17 and under. The split these days is believed to be around 55/45 guys to gals. Not much of a difference at all! The trend is mirroring internet usage, meaning that originally men used the internet more but now that time has passed a gap no longer remains. Even if you were right in claiming this biological gap that kept most women from gaming, they would be quickly evolving out of that theory.

Padding the industry with a bunch of useless women would be a horrible idea, but you seem to suggest that this is the only possible alternative, or that I suggested this was the only possible alternative. I did not.”

She replied:

The disparity in wages is directly correlated to the same statistics that show us: women are generally not present as long in the workplace (often don’t work as many hours/days as their male counterparts), more likely to use sick days, and more likely to lodge lawsuits against a company. The women that do equal work are paid equally to mail counterparts. The illusion of a ‘glass ceiling’ is often referenced but yet the ‘glass floor’ is NEVER mentioned by these same people (how many female trash collectors, construction workers and miners died on the job last year?).

The point of this article was: a need for more female characters and better stories in games to attract female gamers (which I disagree with). When Black Ops failed to supply either of these, its inclusion of one woman in a commercial juxtaposed to many men isn’t really much of a “See?! This game is for girls, too!” marketing campaign as a “See? We have a token girl in our commercial so we’re not sexist!”

The Biological gulf between the genders lies in the way we approach problem solving and activity: Statistically, men are more apt to enter direct conflict and competition against others. Women are, statistically, more versed in subterfuge and social dynamics. FPS games, as an example, are nothing more than a digital representation of the old Cowboys & Indians/Cops & Robbers young boys tend to play rather than playing House or hosting a doll party with their Barbies.

Do boys play House and girls play Cowboys & Indians? They sure do but they’re not the majority. There have been several studies illustrating how gender roles existed for a reason long before society’s imposition and there’s a reason men were usually the hunters while the women were the gatherers.

Games still draw from those primordial elements of our biology and we tend to find fewer girl shooters (hunters) as a result of that. 

I replied:

I mentioned wages because you said American society was 100% accommodating, and it is not. I only used that extreme example to point out your extreme example. In any given profession where men are working as much as women it’s more like 5%. But, we can disregard it, as it has nothing to do with games.

In regards to the Call of Duty commercial, there were actually three women in the commercial vs. twelve men, which is a realistic ratio. I used it as an example because it was mentioned in the original post by Bondage_Zombie. The commercial could have only used men as players but included women as players too. (Since the ratio is three to twelve, it is arguable that if there were more female leads in Call of Duty, more women would be represented in the commercial too.)

The point of the article was: more female characters and better stories attract female gamers, which you disagree with. You said the reason more girls don’t play games was a matter of biology. I think that the nature of games, along with the current number of women playing games, prove that the biology of women does not keep them from having an interest in gaming.

You said that women are statistically more versed in subterfuge and social dynamics due to their biology, but these elements are present in gaming. There are games that even mimic playing “house” at times, such as Fable 3 and the more obvious Sims games.

I agree that the chief reason women weren’t hunters was indeed biological: they have children and nurse babies. If they are going to be pregnant, having babies and nursing babies, it is logical for them to be gatherers. Babies on the hunt would be tricky.

Women tend to biologically have better dexterity and a higher threshold for pain than men, so they could probably do alright as hunters too (even if they were shorter and weaker), just like they presently do alright at gaming.

Men, on the other hand, would clearly fail at having babies, could probably manage to gather if they had to (since there were also horticultural and agricultural societies in addition to hunter-gatherer societies) but also do alright at gaming.

Gaming, therefore, is not a matter of biology in the same way that societies are a matter of biology.

Also, all video games are not about hunters (shooters). There are games centered on puzzles, action, RPG, FPS, music rhythm, adventure, racing, and so on. Even the ones that are shooters involve more than simply hunting. To say that interest in gaming is a biological issue ignores the current diversity of game play offered.

The fact that women are playing games more than before suggests that it’s not about biology, as women are not biologically changing into men. Assuming that women have biological factors that include “house” type activities or gathering does not exclude them from gaming. These activities take place in gaming, because there are many types of games.

Therefore, the inherent biology of women does not exclude them from gaming. The biological factors of women seems to suggest the opposite: Due to their biology, women should enjoy games.   

She replied:

The biology referred to in the shooters (hunting) is but a single example. The other genres may entice a larger portion of female players but the concept of a complex technological device that requires multiple buttons presses falls into the male category of interest more so than the female category. It’s only recent (less than 30 years) that videogames didn’t require a technological knowledge base to access. This accessibility and lessening demand for technological prowess has made it appealing to more women over the years.

Also, where did you pull the “women are more dexterous” from? I’ve read studies that yielded results directly opposite to that.   

I replied:
The home console has been available since the early 70s, or about 40 years ago, and the controllers were rather simple: often a knob and a button. I assumed we were talking about home console and computer games, so I wasn’t considering anything akin to Higinbotham’s “Tennis for Two” of 1958, or Douglas’s “OXO” of 1952, or Ralph Baer’s attempts in 1951. These games usually used a knob and button controller too, but were rarely available to those not in the field.

There is a Time Magazine article from the late 60s titled “Employment: Caution: Women at Work”. In addition to saying that women are more dexterous, this article explains the time line and reasoning for more women entering the workforce.The infant birth rate dropped in many countries after World War 2, and there was not enough manpower to keep up with the demands of rising economies. If women in America didn’t show a strong presence in the workplace until the time of this article, they would not have had the same early exposure to technology as men in the field. Also, “GI-Bill educated ex-servicemen” were taking many of the “professional and technical” jobs, dropping the rate of women in this particular field from 45% in 1940 to 37% in 1968. Additionally, the introduction of the pill made women more hire-able. Because they were less likely to leave work for biological reasons, they were seen as more reliable workers. (Title 7 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 made it illegal to discriminate against them as well.)

To be specific, I was referring to manual dexterity. The idea of women being more manually dexterous than men has been a long upheld notion. This has even been given as a reason that women were more attuned to the delicate tasks of house-wifery. There have been more recent studies that have shown that men are as dexterous or more dexterous manually than women, but it is logical that we could also attribute that to advancing technology. Studies have shown that show video games improve manual dexterity. The modern male taking this test is likely to have years of practice with video games and other technological devices, thus improving their manual dexterity.  

(here is the Time article, which I did not link to in the post)

She replied:

Didn’t doctors in the 1960s prescribe cigarettes to patients for stress? I’d find any source from that era highly dubious at best, especially ones that claim women have been and are more dexterous than men. This reminds me of the same mindset that actually believes women are somehow more agile than men (a false notion presented in many videogames).

As for the pre-modern era consoles, those machines were not only expensive, they required some technological know-how to setup and use. Hell, the “first” videogame was believed by many to be on an old oscilloscope at an engineering school. 

I replied:
Throwing out any scientific knowledge before the modern area seems somewhat reckless, but that is off topic. The “first” video game in concept was a patent for a “cathode ray tube amusement device” in 1948. One that I mentioned before, “Tennis for Two,” did use an oscilloscope and an analog computer, and was interactive through the use of controllers with a knob and a button. The one before that at an engineering school was “Bouncing Ball” at MIT on their Whirlwind Computer in 1950. It did use an oscilloscope, but “Bouncing Ball” was not interactive. It’s a precursor to video games, but not a video game itself.

Thank you for replying back and continuing to engage in discussion. Since you doubt the validity of my sources and we are no longer discussing the biology of man and woman in regards to video games, I believe we have come to an impasse in terms of this discussion.


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