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What it takes to entice the female gamer

May 25, 1998 - Web posted at: 1:10 PM EDT

by Amy Ng

(IDG) -- I'm going to say it again in case this still seems mysterious. Attracting the female gamer only requires one thing: a good game.

Although the focus on female gamers and the market for girls' games has helped an underrepresented segment of the gaming population gain voice, the attention has caused developers to believe that female gamers need games that are gender specific. I don't believe women need special games, they just need good ones.

Developers got an earful of stereotypical thinking at last year's Computer Game Developers Conference, which featured a seminar entitled "Games for Girls." Session speakers evangelized girl-oriented games that are not violent shoot-'em-ups in a pink box. Although the seminar addressed the preteen-girls market, developers came away from the event thinking women will play only certain types of titles: They'll play Myst, the logic went, but won't touch Quake or Age of Empires. In fact, women and girls do play Quake, Warcraft 2, Age of Empires, and other titles from different genres. And we play these games for the same reason men do: They are well made and fun.

Where the Girls Are

Long before Myst existed, female gamers shared the same arcade and living room space with their male counterparts. I know I did. My brother and I would sneak out while Mom was napping and feed quarters to the hungry Galaga or Tempest machine at the neighborhood corner store. When Atari 2600 came out we were hooked on Chopper Command, Galaxia, and Pole Position. I was back at the arcade years later trying to master StreetFighter II. Every Friday evening, UCLA's main arcade would offer unlimited play for a $5 entrance fee, and I would be there, blowing away robots in Terminator 2, trying new StreetFighter II combos, and playing my old favorite, Centipede.

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As for computer games, I'm a relative newcomer. I started with Warcraft 2 and Quake multiplayer and now play a variety of games across genres. I'm open to anything as long as it captures my attention, makes me care about my character, challenges me, makes me laugh, looks beautiful, and sounds great. All gamers, male or female, seek these basic attributes in a game. For more evidence of this cross-gender thinking, just check out the reviews from female-oriented sites like GameGirlz. They cover a variety of genres and--like all good reviews--focus on the quality of the game.

Sexism Doesn't Sell

The game development community should stop worrying about how to attract more female players and focus on designing games with great characters, involving story lines, and game play that's challenging yet logical. As the industry matures and technology bridges the gap between what we want to do and what we can do, the outcome should be better games, not DirectX games, AGP games, or games for girls. As a gamer, I don't want to be pigeonholed due to my gender, nor do I want to play a gender-specific game. I seek a title that won't insult me, go easy on me, or stink. I want a game with a level playing field in which winning boils down to my skill and intelligence. I certainly don't want to be distracted by the size of my character's chest.

Make believable characters that are strong, wily, and intimidating. Playing games is an exercise in skill and mental toughness--and women play to win. Don't insult us by making us play exaggerated sexpots with inappropriate clothing. It's not just a matter of political correctness: Gamers crave realism, and the more believable the characters are, the closer you are to creating a good game. Take the money spent on slick marketing campaigns, provocative ads, and pretty boxes and pour it into development and beta testers. We want better games.

Oh, by the way, don't call me a girl gamer, just call me a gamer.

Amy Ng is PC World Online's games editor.


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