Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Silicon Sisters Girl Gaming Company --more harm than good?


I don't know how I feel about this. They have the right intentions at heart perhaps, but I am entirely against trying to "make games for women". Why don't we just introduce more women into gaming as it already is? I really don't see how creating more Sims games is solving any problems or breaking any barriers.

At the same time, her mission is scarily similar to that of Pretty Gamer, and that makes me wonder if I'm underestimating her...
"There's no desire at Silicon Sisters to exclude males. There's just a desire to explicitly include females," Forbes replied.
And here's where she lost me:
"While hardcore gamers may argue endlessly about controllers versus keyboard and mice, those who didn't grow up with games just see a dizzying array of buttons and skills needing to be mastered before jumping in. The vernacular of gaming, the little things we know from playing games since the NES days, is one that many women aren't familiar with. What we've learned through years of practice and now take for granted seems like an impenetrable barrier of entry for others."
I feel like that last bit does not sound like a statement about women gamers, it sounds like exactly what every developer is ALREADY doing for casual gamers. Given, a lot of casual gamers are women, but I think people very much take for granted how many women do play games already. As a woman, I grew up with the same "dizzying array of buttons and skills" that my brothers did. As a result, yes, I do have a leg up on newbie gamers who are interested in joining the fray. I just think it's a mistake to pin the majority of those new faces as women, or to say that those gamers are only women.

The problem with creating games directed at women is not that women don't already play video games. The problem is that not enough developers are trying to market existing games to anyone but men. I'm not talking about the games themselves--I'm talking about marketing. A great non-gaming example is the Droid. The commercials for the phone were full of men and explosions and thinly veiled jabs and how it's not a wimpy phone for wimpy women. This phone has no features that are specifically built for men. As a result of the marketing, 80% of people who own a Droid are male.

Now, think about all the mainstream video game commercials you've ever seen...can you think of any that even included a woman playing the game? Or that didn't make it clear that it was not a game for "pussys"?

The real reason games like WoW or platforms like the Nintendo DS are popular among women is not because they unlocked some secret mystery into the way women think; they were marketed toward a broad audience and thus received a broad audience. When I think of WoW, I think of all the hilarious commercials they've had lately, especially the ones involving Mr. T. I don't feel like it's a game built for an exclusive audience, and I enjoy the humor. If you look at Nintendo DS commercials, or ANY Nintendo commercials, you'll find both men and women featured.

I am not going to pretend like women don't think differently than men--we do. On a neurological level, there have been many studies showing just that. However, I believe most games have such a wide spectrum of elements (shooting, puzzles, adventure) that they can be figured out and enjoyed by many different types of thinking.

We don't need to dumb down games for women. We just need to show them that it's OK to play, and that no one is looking down on them for picking up that controller and giving it a whirl. The most harm that's being done to women in gaming is making them think they aren't good enough to understand modern games, or that it's shameful to mess up a few times compared to people who have been gaming for years.


  1. Did you quote the mission someplace in this post or did I miss it? Might be a good idea so people can appropriately compare versus having to jump back and forth.

    Also, that companies' mission isn't anything like PG. We're not in the business of designing, creating, or marketing games. Yet. =)

    Lastly, You ask: "Why don't we just introduce more women into gaming as it already is?" Easy - people are dicks. Think about the gaming community as a monolith. What do you see most frequently? Lots of monochromatic, war based games, brutal griefing and hazing of anyone who isn't an expert the first time they ever play a game, and an overall unwelcoming atmosphere for anyone who isn't an 18-35 year old male. It's hard to get someone into a place they clearly aren't wanted.

    I agree that marketing is a problem. The industry uses money and risk as an excuse not to take chances and try anything new; the same old stuff gets designed, created, and marketed over and over and over again.

    That's one of the reasons I wanted to start Pretty Gamer: the bottom line is that none of those groups are going to make a place for us because they don't know how. We have to make them. All of us.

    That doesn't mean we're all the same - it just means we recognize the need to do our own thing, since the other team just isn't fully on board yet.

  2. Ah, sorry, I meant their "mission" as the sentence about doing something that was mainly for women but not discriminating against men if they like it too. :)

  3. Ooh - also, your quote about the controllers wasn't from the founder of Silicon Sisters, but from the author of the Ars Technica article (Ben Kuchera). At least the way I'm reading it - though to be fair, he seems to be missing some quotation marks in places, making it more difficult to figure out what is attributable to whom.

  4. Are you sure? Because that last part definitely looks like it was surrounded in quote marks in the article.

  5. Sub-note: This is why I shouldn't get lazy and edit my own posts. :p

  6. "hazing of anyone who isn't an expert the first time they ever play a game" -Tajah

    That's something that always holds me back, and I consider myself to be a take no crap kind of a person. I always feel like I need to play for a while in some sort of campaign mode alone before joining any multiplayer action.

    It's funny because this just recently came up with Alien Swarm. Shy(hubby for those that don't know) kept saying how I needed to play it and I still haven't jumped into any multiplayer games because I've only gone through the miniscule tutorial once and feel unprepared. He of course jumped right in and doesn't understand why I have yet to. I did the same thing with TF2, playing on deserted maps with just him to show me the ropes before I would play with strangers.

    I will say that I feel comfortable playing something for the first time if it's with friends, but when it comes to a random group I behave as if I'm the new kid in school at recess. Crazy, I know!

  7. When someone starts talking about potential women gamers who get confused by buttons and such, I immediately realize they're not talking about me, but about my mother. My mother is a game-playing woman - she loved adventure games back in the 90s, and has a Wii now - but she does not at all see herself as a gamer and is completely unskilled and un-versed in most modern games and culture.

    Do I think there need to be more quality games for people like my mother? Absolutely. More power to Silicon Sisters if that's their mission.

  8. For the record: I apologize for the poor writing, lol. I have been right and properly scolded by Editor Tajah. :p

    Won't happen again!

  9. More like "kind suggestions, encouragements, and things to think about" rather than scolding! <3

    Awitelin: Um, even people like me. I don't own a modern console, and have no idea how to use an xbox controller. =P That doesn't make me less of a gamer, it just means I'm skilled at and possibly prefer a different medium.

    Most modern games are made and created for guys by guys, with the needs/wants/interests of women as an afterthought - if at all. Someone has to be the pioneer and *study* things like how females approach and interact with games - you know with actual SCIENCE and use that data to better create and develop games. Versus the "hey, girls like pink and barbies, right? Let's make a game out of that" that happens now.

    j0z1e: I'm that way too. I like to know what I'm doing before I jump in because the harassment wrecks my concentration and then I suck even moar. =P But I find recently that I've started caring less and just do my own thing, esp in TF2. Trick there is finding great servers to play on, with welcoming clans.

  10. @Tajah: Actually, I wasn't arguing that folks like my mother, or you, were any less of a gamer either. Although my mother doesn't take the title of "gamer" as something for herself, I'd classify her as such in a heartbeat. And as I said, I'd definitely welcome more games out there that appeal to either you or her.

  11. @Awitelin My mom is definitely a gamer, too. While she would never admit that, her hours of Puzzle Quest on her DS speak volumes. When I bought her Professor Layton, she didn't speak to any of us for a week because she was too busy busting through it. She's awesome.

    Suffice to say, I have no issue with creating games to appeal to a certain type of gamer. In this case, to more casual or puzzle gamers.

    I do however take offence when ALL female gamers are thrown into the same category. Obviously we all have a wide range of different tastes and skills.

    I just don't like it when people say there are games for men or games for women. There are just good games, and I believe that your gender doesn't factor into whether or not you enjoy them.

    One thing I should probably mention in the article: I think it's cool that they started a company for women by women. More ladies need to realize that it's ok to get into the industry. I just don't like their angle.

    PS: @j0z1e Let me know when you're playing Alien Swarm next! Are we Steam buddies? I still need to get my third medal in that game, and it's so much easier on a team of friends!

  12. This is going to be a counter intuitive thought here but I don't like this idea of marketing differently for women at all. I like the idea of completely different marketing for everyone, sure. But focusing on women as a demographic and marketing toward that demographic kind of irritates me. For example, there are two radio stations I listen to here and they both play commercials for McDonald's and Wendy's. One plays the commercials you hear everywhere else (only with their stations music in the background) and the other station which plays rap and r&b has completely different commercials that are obviously targeted for a black audience. They're also horribly dumbed down and sometimes are pretty offensive. While they might appeal to like young kids or whatever and that's the audience they're shooting for, they've completely alienated another part of their audience. Just like when I see things that are obviously marketed to 'people like me,' I'm like, who in the hell is coming up with this crap? Because marketing 'to women' is such a ridiculous notion.

    How about marketing to intelligent people who don't want to be 'sold' something but told something about a product they might like or need? I'm personally tired of having stuff marketed so far down my throat I can't even scream about it anymore. Just show me cool shit and I'll make up my own mind.

  13. I agree with Lindsey, I think that marketing for most things is full of crap. I'm almost always disappointed by stuff I buy because I think it's going to work one way (the marketed way) and it doesn't. If companies were just honest about their products I would be way happier.

    In the case of games, I play a ton of demos because I like to see how a game is for myself. I could care less about ratings and metascores. Just show me a straight list of features and some real game footage and I'm happy to give it a shot.

    Eye-shuh, I'll check my friends list on Steam, I think you're on it. Shy has been logged in most lately because he's trying to finish up Bioshock. I can't wait until he gets a new monitor so I don't have to share my desktop anymore! :P

  14. I think good marketing doesn't have to be directed at a specific audience. I wasn't implying that there should be more marketing directed at women, I was saying there should be less video game marketing directed at men.

    It's easy to make a testosterone filled ad for video games, same old stuff. But it's not easy to take risks and market your game for what it is, or with a bit of style or humor.

  15. I thought the same things about the same pieces in the article as eye-shuh did in the post. Silicon Sisters sounds a lot like Pretty Gamer in its desire to empower and provide resources (and games) for women. I'd like to know more about what they intend to provide for women, and how.

    If products like Mirrors Edge or Halo with a female lead or any game that is more egalitarian and doesn't have the same generic female characters, then I'll call it a win for women gamers!

    I'd love to play games where the women are more dynamic and have real characterization, not some trash-talking princess cheerleader (more on this later....) or a bubblehead bimbo, or the hyper-macho masculinzed female character.

    I say "good luck" to Silicon Sisters. With caution...

  16. I think we all agree that the marketing we've been subjected to so far is sub par. But I don't think it's fair to paint Silicon Sisters with that brush without more research and clarification of their mission and goals.

    Also, marketing by demographic isn't going away. It's nothing new. But there's a difference between marketing TO a certain group and marketing FOR a certain group. It seems to me that Silicon Sisters is in the latter category.

    After all - I'd love for a gaming company to put their money where their mouth is by actually seeking out my opinions and needs with regards to gaming. Instead of making blanket, stereotypical assumptions and then being surprised when there's backlash (or when the title tanks).