I almost missed a great letter to the editor that appeared in Gamasutra two weeks ago. The writer takes Kristen McDonnell to task for perpetuating the stereotype that “typically, women in general like puzzle, card, and word games. Some quotes from the rebuttal:
News flash: a lot of women enjoy the hell out of Stephen King, Joss Whedon, Saturday Night Live and MXC (which, due to its puzzle-related content, should be removed immediately from Spike TV and be re-broadcast fulltime on WE and Oxygen). And: Men don’t all flock instantly to the same games or get the same experience out of a game, so why should women? Finally: Please, please, please call off your quest to develop the single game genre to lure in some marketing department’s perceived ideal, a perpetual girl-woman that has never matured beyond a morbid, society-pressured fascination with pink nailpolish, Barbie, and shoes.
I don’t buy the notion that women can’t become avid consumers of AAA titles. Women just need to be enticed into console games in general. At least one study has found that once women get into AAA games via any given genre, they become likely to branch out into other genres, including competitive genres.
I’m not suggesting that marketing is solely to blame for the state of things. There is, for example, the issue of female character hyper-sexualization in many games. Some argue that male game characters are equally extreme in their comeliness, so why should it matter? I think there’s one key distinction. Try the following thought experiment. Imagine a game in which all the female characters are very attractive, but not in a hyper-fictional manner. Now imagine the male characters — equally attractive, but with one notable “feature” — a huge bulge in their pants. The very thought makes me laugh, but I suspect that many men would be slightly repelled by such a game. Who knows how many women fail to become hardcore gamers because, consciously or subconsciously, they dislike staring at giant tits for hours on end? (BTW, I recognize that there are exceptions. Lara Croft was appreciated by many women, despite her “endowment”. But Lara Croft also represented strength and independence.)
Anyway, I’m not unique in calling for a concerted, long-term effort by console makers, publishers, and developers to market more towards women. But I think the call is worth repeating. This isn’t a charity case or a politically-correct social cause. We’re talking about billions of dollars in potential industry revenue being squandered. The Tycoon in me just can’t stand that. 😉
PS. Before someone tries to play gotcha: yes, I know that women do indeed represent the majority of puzzle game players. This doesn’t change the fact that they could be enticed to play other games…