Once upon a time about six years ago in a Gamestop, not so different from a store near you, I came across an in-store display. “Games for Girls” it read in its lavender lettering, flowers adorning the sides. I doubt any guy bought the games that were in that display. Indeed, I can’t imagine any girl buying many of the games in there either. If you’ve spent any time anywhere, you probably know the games that were displayed: Imagine: Babies, Girls Mode, Cooking Mama, some horse game. I exchanged a knowing look with the female cashier, chuckled a bit, and went on my way, but the advertisement has never left my mind in all these long years. I had never really wondered why before a couple days ago. It’s beyond a simple incredulity about the stupidity of the campaign and I’m discovering this area of gaming is much greyer than I originally thought.
What are ‘games for girls’?
No, seriously. What are games for girls? Think about it. With the ever-increasing rise of the girl gamer in the market, what games come to mind? What would one put in a game to make it appeal to girls? Rather, what aspects do the game makers latch onto to tempt female gamers into buying their games?
In these games I find that mainly the game makers are trying to connect with the player’s inner nurturer, a traditionally more feminine quality. During its advertising campaign, Nintendogs showed mostly young girls adopting the dogs, taking care of the dogs, laughing at the silly things the dogs did, but the game in and of itself isn’t gender-specific. Literally, it’s a game about taking care of dogs. Just about everyone I know owned one version of the game close to the DS’ release. But it’s decidedly turned into a ‘game for girls’. The most telling aspect of this is with the bundle the game has been sold with. In the first generation there was one bundled with a teal DS and one with a pink DS, but in this new generation there’s only one, and that’s packaged with a pink 3DS. A little subtle, perhaps, but after looking at several commercials from varying countries just about all of them focus on female players. Is this because taking care of puppies is a more intrinsically feminine job? No, of course not, but it’s an exploitation of societal norms.
Another broader example of this would be all the fashion games that have been coming out—well, I suppose the trend started when I was in elementary school, but they’ve been coming out in droves. There are about umpteen bajillion games where the player is either a wedding planner, or a fashion designer, or a shopping consultant trying to make the best look for their client. This trend isn’t limited to console games either, regular dress-up games can be found all over the internet on sites titled things like “games-4-girls.com” or “lovelygirls” or something in that same vein. From what seems like the dawn of time, dress-up has been seen as a primarily girly activity, but it’s not necessarily true. Going on sites like Gaia Online shows that both males and females enjoy dressing up their little avatar and, even more, that they don’t feel the need to stick with same gender. Boys can have girl avatars, girls can have boy avatars, and they both can enjoy dressing them up. So making the focus on girls on a wide majority of these sites is expected why? Because it’s still playing off that nurturing norm that is assumed of every female: the “paper doll” (pixel doll?) will draw in a female audience member because we need to ‘take care of it’; we will have a desire to make it look its best and send it on its way.
These cultural assumptions on very basic femininity are intrinsic and impossible to escape, but are these types of games ultimately harmful? I’m going to say largely ‘no’ and the reason why has to do with creating safe spaces for female gamers that many more mainstream games fail to provide. This lack of foresight can especially be harmful to casual gamers because they may not fully realize what precedent has already been set by the male-dominated gaming community.
I have two examples to illustrate this: both are ridiculous, but very telling of a trend that needs to stop. About five years ago, I was hanging out with my friend and watching her play Call of Duty when we both, for shits and giggles, decided to get into the team chat and talk to the people on our team. To no one’s surprise, all of the other members on the team were dudes but somewhat more surprising is how they began to act after it was revealed one of their team-mates was a girl. Some of them were normal (bless you) but others began to stay away and, worse yet, others decided it was their job to protect us. Either way, because of our gender, our skill in the game was automatically called into question (along with receiving about three friend requests that had less friendly intentions, if you know what I’m saying).
More recently, I’ve gotten into the game League of Legends. There’s a joke video on YouTube called “how to get chicks on lol”, but I’m sure no one is surprised that people actually try it.
More than once when I’ve been playing I have been laning (see: playing in the same proximity as) with a character that is in the wrong area because they wanted to fail at flirting or something. I don’t really know. It’s just really disheartening to know that just because I enjoy playing as a girl character that I’m more likely to be accosted by other players. Maybe that’s why there’s a 90% male player-base (in my opinion, this is not something to be proud of).
To make my point, a game being advertised to girls is not necessarily a warning flag, but rather an attempt at a calming sign. A ‘game for girls’ is not going to have people judging you for the size of your pixelated tits. A ‘game for girls’ is a game where it’s okay if your skill level, or ideas on how to play are different because you’re not going to outwardly be jabbed for it. It’s harmful in the way that it perhaps divides younger girl gamers from others—but I have yet to see this have any longstanding negative effects—and perpetuates stereotypes as being profitable, but it gives a sense of relief almost. It’s an area where the girl playing the game is still discriminated against, but it’s an easier discrimination to swallow.
Do you have any experience with games that are advertised largely towards girls? Leave me a comment. As for now, I have much more to say on the issue, but I think this has worn out its welcome as an introduction. Next time I’ll be comparing two games from a genre that doesn’t get too much attention, but still manages to fall into this dichotomy.