[Sophia George is chair and creative director of Swallowtail Games, based in Dundee, Scotland, and winner of the 2012 BAFTA Ones to Watch Award. She is currently making Tick Tock Toys.]
Recently in the games press we have seen a huge focus on gender in games, from Anita Sarkeesian’s Tropes vs Women in Video Games project to #1reasonwhy.
Yet, according to the 2012 Develop Salary Survey, 94 per cent of game creators are male. This is a huge problem, as women’s voices and life experiences are not being heard.
I think it’s great that the games industry is today perceiving the lack of women developers as a failing. We are seeing organisations start coding clubs and games design workshops aimed at girls, and efforts to get more women in the industry into the media, to act as role models for young girls. However, I think that we are overlooking a big problem – we need to make more compelling games for women and girls to enjoy, so that they can be inspired to work in this amazing and highly creative industry.
I am at a very early stage in my career at the moment, but I have always taken an interest in games ‘for girls’, probably due to often being dissatisfied with games growing up. Why do we rarely see games tailored for women and girls, as we do with other media? It’s one of my goals as a designer to make sure my games appeal to an audience that is often sought – but seldom acknowledged – in gaming culture.
Throughout the history of games, there have been several attempts at having gender-specific games, or games made and marketed primarily towards girls. In 1996, PC game Barbie Fashion Designer shifted over 500,000 copies, outselling titles like Quake, establishing the ‘Girls’ Game Movement’, also known as ‘Pink Games’. This movement was not only to expand the games market, but to also introduce girls to games, so that they may take an interest in computers, engineering and technology, and pursue careers.
Meanwhile, Brenda Laurel founded Purple Moon to make games for young females, spending two years researching how to make games that girls would like, publishing the team’s findings in the book From Barbie to Mortal Kombat. The research suggested that girls prefer gameplay activities such as creating, collecting and constructing, and preferred emphasis on story, characters and relationships, rather than goal-based gameplay.
Prior to the Girls’ Game Movement in Western countries, Japan had also explored the possibility of making games for girls, focusing on themes of social interaction. Japan’s ‘Women’s games’ enjoyed much more success than their Western counterparts, and are still popular today. Unlike the Girls’ Game Movement, Japan’s games for women were not created from a feminist standpoint, but a commercial one.
Japanese studio Ruby Party is an outfit created by taking female staff from Koei game teams, and getting them to make games that would interest them personally.
Angelique, released in 1994, was Ruby Party’s first game, and is very important in regards to gender-specific games. It was the first of its kind and set many features current in many of Japan’s Women’s games. The gameplay is a mixture of conversation and city-building, with a narrative inspired by girl’s manga. By basing the game on conventions of a pre-existing and very popular medium, the developers successfully familiarised girls with digital games, and even managed to appeal to adult women.
The game was vastly successful, prompting sequels, comics, animations, novels, live events and merchandise. Since then, Ruby Party has created many successful games for women and girls, and has prompted other companies, such as Konami, to do the same.
ON THE MONEY
Comparing the Girls’ Game Movement with Japan’s Women’s Games is interesting. Firstly, it is important to note that, unlike in the West, Japan’s Women’s Games were not motivated by political and educational motives. Instead, they were predominantly capitalist in their conception. And they are still an ever-growing niche, whereas the Pink Games had a rapid decrease in popularity after a few years, and now effectively cease to exist.
These days, women make up to half of the gaming population. Yet, I still think that there is a gap in the software quality. For me, I would love to see lots of women playing titles that go beyond match-three puzzle games, and moving onto games that have rich narratives, appealing graphics and complex mechanics.
Of course there are many women who enjoy current core titles – myself included – but I feel we need to create a wide range of games to cater to everyone, with characters that are diverse and interesting.
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