Games for Girls: A Not-So Hidden Bias

In terms of the two clear, gender-divided, advertiser-defined areas of the gaming audience, it can be exceedingly difficult, even impossible, to draw direct parallels. Comparing a game like Gears of War to Hello Kitty: Roller Rescue, while in a sense comparing a game that’s stereotypically appealing to a male audience to one intended for a female audience, does nothing to explore the finer intricacies that attempt to further deepen the divide between gamers, but instead gives way to the simple, generally assumed idea that games created with girls as their target audience are to be ridiculed. While several games of this genre certainly deserve their infamous status, there are also many of this genre that undeservedly get lumped in with the negative sentiments of their kin. Today I hope to shed more light on one of these games while also exploring why its sibling game got a much better rep. Today, we see how the acclaimed DS game, Elite Beat Agents, stacks up against Princess Debut.

girlgamesIf ever there was a gaming genre which would be at the bottom of the list for gender comparison, it would be the rhythm games. In the American market, the only other rhythm game I can think of that had notable characters would be Dance Dance Revolution. Even then, saying that those characters actually are in possession of character would be questionable. Despite other games like Project Diva—games with not fully fleshed out characters, but characters that have an inkling of a personality—coming out, I think it’s safe to assume that people don’t play rhythm games for the entrancing story nor the memorable characters. However, this is what both of the games in question have. To an extent.

Elite Beat Agents follows the journey of three, well, elite Beat Agents—agents that cheer on people to do their best in hard times by dancing and going “yeah!” a lot—as they travel across the globe and eventually fight an evil alien overlord. While these characters aren’t anything more than cheerleaders, what it has going for it is that the stories are very memorable: every time I hear September by Earth, Wind, and Fire on the radio these days, I remember cheering on that mother at her weather forecasting job so she could have a clear day to picnic with her son.

In contrast, the premise of Princess Debut is a little less self-explanatory. The player character ends up being sent to a parallel universe where she must learn to dance and preform in the kingdom’s dance contest. It’s a little bit like The Prince and the Pauper in that the princess, who happens to look exactly like you, ends up going to school and such in your place, so not only is the debut in the title referring to you debuting your dance skills, but also you debuting as an actual princess. Oh, this game is also a dating sim/rhythm game hybrid and it does both genres surprisingly well. As is to be expected, the characters are much better developed, but also, as it’s a game obviously meant for younger players, the length of the game (it can be run through in about an hour or two if you speed-run it) doesn’t allow for much character development.

However, where these two games are more comparable is in their gameplay. Both games wanted to cash-in on the Nintendo DS’ touch screen abilities—this system was practically born for rhythm games—and they both do it in the same ways: tapping, dragging and spinning.

(Princess Debut does get more challenging than the snippets of gameplay shown in this trailer, but there was literally no gameplay footage on YouTube). I can safely say that they were both on the same level of responsiveness with the controls, only hindered by the limitations and shortcomings of the console itself. If this is the case, that the gameplay, narration style, and quality are all roughly the same, then why is it that essentially no one has heard of the more female directed game? Of course, the answer goes to the oversight of advertising.

Let’s face it, when you watch television and see an advertisement for a game it’s usually for a game with the male market in mind: some first-person shooter or something with explosions, swordplay, and/or car heists. There’s nothing wrong with this. The problem is not the ad itself, but the unequal exposure between the two groups. Right here, I have the television advertisement for EBA:

I wish I could put one up for Princess Debut for comparison, but I can’t. It simply doesn’t exist outside of the web-ad Natsume itself put up (aka: the video earlier in the article). This is true for a lot of girl games, and I can’t exactly blame the companies because of the stigma around having such a game, but it’s a catch 22: if there’s no discussion of girl games, via advertising or anything widespread, then it will develop a bad rep, but if there’s a bad rep, there’s really not going to be any valuable widespread discussion. And even though the girl gamer is becoming more outspoken and prevalent (especially in media), it seems as though there’s a trend of them trying to “prove” themselves worthy of the title of ‘gamer’. I’m not saying that girls should focus on playing games geared towards the female audience, but I think gamers as a whole should start expanding their horizons on testing games. We all know that games like Skyrim and Dishonored are good games thanks to the thousands and thousands of articles about them from any type of gamer and non-gamer you could want, but what about other, less noticed games? To put this more concisely, if we don’t play the games and figure out what’s wrong with them, we can never improve them. Girl games are not inherently awful because they’re for girls, so how can we pick apart the gameplay and narrative to make them better not only for girl gamers, but for gamers in general?

It has to be us gamers that do it too, as it is almost impossible to trust the industry. This may sound a bit paranoid, but with all the backhand dealing that goes on with some reviews and preconceptions the establishment is expected to uphold, it can be difficult to find an entirely honest review. Comparing these two games is a great example of this. I searched for reviews on the two games to compliment this article and I was not surprised to find that EBA was rather well rated and rated better than Princess Debut. However, I was surprised to discover the discrepancies between the establishment’s ratings of Princess Debut compared to the user ratings. With tag-lines like “Half dancing, half dating, all girly” it doesn’t make the game appealing to anyone as it carries a subtle negative tint by using the word girly. In fact, this article that used said tagline doesn’t even say anything too detrimental about the game, yet it’s still given a mediocre rating despite the one main cited flaw (which reeks a little bit of the reviewer never having played a dating sim before). However, if you look at the user score compared to the site score, you’ll see that it’s a point higher. This is true with every rating site I looked at, even going so far as to have an inferred twelve point difference on Metacritic. It may not seem like much, but if you put it in terms of a test (which we’re all predisposed to think of fractions in anyways), that’s the difference between a C and a B which, as any school kid could tell you, makes a big difference.

Obviously there’s much that has to be done to improve the standing of games like this, especially when it seems that the gamers don’t care, the companies are biased, and that even the game developers are indifferent to what may actually make a good game. However, by comparing two games from “opposing camps” that are roughly equal in quality, it exposes some of the problems not only within the genre, but also the mindset of the public and the obvious bias that advertisers hold towards certain games. We need to fix this! There’s so much potential in bringing in younger girls into gaming that it’s almost criminal that they have to deal with some of the half-assed crap that is being put out now. We need to make the better games like Princess Debut more accessible to their audience and we need to work on stop being so close-minded with our assumptions about those games in the pink boxes and start reviewing them with a critical mind.

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About Tsunderin

Greetings and salutations! Feel free to just call me Rin—we’re all friends here, or nemeses who just haven’t gotten to know each other well enough. I’m a video game lover from the womb to the tomb, and Bioware enthusiast until the day they stop making games with amazing characters that I cry over. And while I don’t partake as often as I used to, don’t be surprised to find me poking around an anime or manga every once in a while either. A personal interest for me is characterization in media and how women in particular have been portrayed, are being portrayed, and will be portrayed in the future. I’m not going to mince words about my opinion either.