(NOTE: This article was originally written during the early years of Vic George's Imaginarium, back when it was hosted by Exit3.com. Its views reflect the gaming industry up to that particular point in time. For the most part, I'm leaving this article without any updated commentary.)
While some gamers think this shouldn't even be an issue, unfortunately it remains one as long as equal opportunity for both genders has yet to be fully realized. We're talking about females getting into videogames, enjoying what males have taken for granted during the over 35 years of videogaming in the arcades and at home. The early 1980s helped create the beginning of a gaming revolution with games that had appeal to both males and females -- Pac-Man being the prime example, which gave birth to an opposite-gender sequel called Ms. Pac-Man that turned out to be superior to its male originator. Some games were even designed by women -- Carol Shaw of Activision brought forth River Raid for the Atari 2600, Donna Bailey designed the arcade Centipede game along with Ed Logg, and Roberta Williams of Sierra kept the early-generation PC owners busy with the several chapters of the King's Quest saga. Unfortunately, like the women's movement and their efforts to get the Equal Rights Amendment passed in the 1980s, the revolution to get females making and playing videogames was short-lived as the games themselves required more people to design them and more complex thinking in order to play them.
To get this out of the way, boys and men shouldn't feel defensive about girls and women wanting to play videogames. There's no rule that states that videogaming is strictly male territory. Even if most games seem to be designed mostly with its core audience -- young teenage boys -- in mind, females seeking vicarious thrills by taking on roles of mostly male characters shouldn't feel intimidated by doing so. Besides wanting to see Lara Croft in less clothing, why do most boys take on the role of a female lead in Tomb Raider? (Well, it's kind of a stretch right there, since most boys don't seem interested in imagining themselves as females!) Personally, I think any male who feels threatened by a female wanting to play videogames is a total wimp!
Designing games that appeal to girls as well as boys, however, isn't an easy thing. There have been various attempts at doing girl-oriented games, most of them being pretty embarrassing by gaming standards like the various Barbie games that came out during the early 1990's. Sunsoft's Belle's Quest, one of its two games based on the Disney movie Beauty & The Beast, was horrible, since the player had to guide Belle back and forth just to get her to go anywhere and basically couldn't do anything herself. (Stereotypical crap!) On the other hand, there were also standard action games where the female lead character seems to have been inserted into the game as an afterthought rather than any real attempt to make the games more appealing to female gamers. The Metroid series brings this thought to mind only because back when the first game in the series was so popular, most players never knew that Samus Aran was actually female until they finished the game (or entered the JUSTIN BAILEY code in the passcode reentry screen). Finally, there are the myriad fighting games that include the token one or two female fighters that provide little more than just eye candy for hormone-challenged males. Strangely, one fighting game that was only released in Japan, Pretty Fighter, features nothing but female fighters, basically performing moves that real females might find offensive or just in bad taste. All in all, though, it basically ends up that those games are being bought more and more by male gamers who are more interested in getting their jollies from seeing these female characters in action.
So what kind of games do female gamers enjoy playing? In the early 1990s, as I can recall, it was Tetris, the great-grandfather of the modern-day puzzle game that made more people waste their time on PCs than anything else and also sold Nintendo Gameboy systems with its battle mode. What is so special about this game that it would appeal to female gamers? Well, it's a cerebral game, for one. Another thing about it is that it's so simple to pick up on, so hard to put down, and it gets so difficult to play as you really get into it. A third thing is that the game isn't so dependent upon flashy graphics or sound to make it appealing, since its gameplay is more than enough to draw players in -- there isn't even a trace of blood, a brief glimpse of a woman's breasts, or even cuss words that come out when you play Tetris (except when you really get a good high-scoring game going and you end up wrecking the progress you made!).
Are female gamers still finding games interesting enough for them to play in today's generation of game systems and programs? It's really hard to tell, since the America OnLine videogame sites are packed with comments by what may be an overwhelming majority of male players. Somehow I predict that the Nintendo 64 might be the system of choice for female players, with its line of games that use animal characters instead of humans to convey the action -- and of course Super Mario 64, the father of the modern-day 3D run-and-jump game with its emphasis more on fun exploration than on overendowed and overexposed 3D female models. The games themselves, though, need to be priced within the range that everybody, male and female, can afford.
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