Girls N Gaming conferenceOn Tuesday, May 9, UCLA and?the National Science Foundation (NSF) sponsored an afternoon conference entitled “Girls?’n’ Gaming,”?focussing on “where girls and women are in gamers and what they want.”? The conference followed a workshop: “Beyond Barbie and Mortal Kombat: New Perspectives on Gender, Games and Computing.”? Below are notes from?the first?of the three panels.?

(Rough notes)

Of particular importance to WRT:
The argument that links across media forms can create an easier entry into the gaming world.? Mori Ito (USC, cultural anthropologist) raised this regarding Pokemon, offering that the animated series and card game helped draw users into the video game.? How might these other more fully-formed or sedimented or accepted media forms provide avenues into games? (This, of course, is Christy’s realm.)

Also, of interest were the number of researchers working with at-risk youth populations, adolescents from inner-city or minority population, and?the use of games as pedagogical tools?to open conversations about societal problems, such as HIV.

Quote of the conference:?
Holin Lin, National Taiwan University.

In Taiwain, playing games isn’t “serious,” but doing game research is “hilarious.”

Yasmin Kafai, Grad. School Education and Information UCLA
Carrie Heeter, Dept. of Telecommunication, IS and Media at Michigan State U
Jill Denner, Education Research Associates

10 years ago, a conference, “From Barbie to Mortal?Kombat,”?on the east coast run by Justine Cassell and Henry Jenkins, later publishing from Barbie to Mortal Combat, the book. Now 10 years later, much has changed.

Some statistics: (from Kafai, Cassell, James)
40% of girls are gamers
70% of girls are “casual gamers” (Tracy Fullerton, USC, calls this term part of?the ghetto-ization of girl gaming practices)?
$7.3 billion games industry
100% of schools are online
93% of classrooms wired
87% of 12-17-yr-olds online in own home or in friends home
50% of households with teens have broadband
8-18-yr-olds spend ave. 6hrs day in front of a screen (tv, computer, etc.) and at least 1 of those in front of a computer.
30% of all blogs are in Japan.
(please send corrections)

Notion: Games are pathway into technology fluency. While girls are playing games, they are not yet making games.

Also, in pivotal player: Victoria Vesna, chair of Design and Media Arts, UCLA.

Panel 1
Jill Denner (mod)
Brenda Laurel, Art Center of Design, Purple Moon, (mod)
Tagline: This research is good.
Mary Flanagan, NYU
The people who make games also affects who plays the game
Tracy Fullerton, USC
If we’re going to have games for girls and buy girls, that means the game industry is going to have to change, and that’s not going to be easy.
Jen Sol, Numedeon, inc., Whyville
tagline: It’s important to get player involved in generating content.
It’s crucial to get girls included in every stage of the design process.

Opens SNL sketch: Chess for Girls. (with bubbles, dresses, etc.)
BL: Sees this as a direct parody of her Purple Moon projects of the 90s.? (I’m not so sure.? But it did play well into the debate).

Q:1 What is the history of games for girls?

Brenda Laurel: Pacman: Only game that appealed to girls
someone said it was about an eating disorder.

1985 Barbie: Throwing marshmallows at the mall, since supposedly girls tend toward slower projectiles.? The game was a complete failure to everyone but the marshmallows.

1994: Internal research
Barbie Fashion Designer. (A Huge hit and a complete shock, outselling even the boys games)

More recently:(Sims)
World of Warcraft

A culmination of researchers on “girls and games” caused a “late-90s blip”

Strategic: Getting girls involved in games succeeded in refraining the discourse. Now–thinking about “gender” as the topic, not “girls.”

Whyville, played by girls 8-15 year-olds, mostly girls, who aren’t thinking of themselves as “gamers.”

Q.2) What game play or narrative structures are successful with girls?

a) Neopets: not immersive, not 3D, involves creative, distributive play
b) Harry Potter: The girls wanted to play Hermione
JS: Kids are always finding holes in Whyville, like cheating, starting businesses. Some businesses in Whyville have Millions of clams (the coin of the realm)

TF: Game industry has buckets, genres
But Halo has these beautiful moments when you are fighting and the snow falls, and while others might be fighting, I like to stop and notice the color pallette, the beauty.

anecdote: Has been playing multiplayer games with former college buddies, she used to?hang out in bars with?with. She plays games in their “backyard” (a level of Halo).?? But at some point she realized she was playing a very different game than they were. She was?playing,?”We are going to the bar” They were playing “Dude, I’m going to SOOO kill you tonight.”

Q.3) Pitfalls in making games for girls:
BL: You think you know what they are like, but unless you talk to them, you are working on stereotypes.
Neopet helps kids “understand market economies”

10 years ago: girls described fear of breaking the machine.
Last year, described technology as a “safety blanket.”
You have to look at it (talk to kids) every 6 months.

JS: Whyville–we had parts the kids would make the avatars they wanted, so we gave them a tool to make pictures.

TF: How hard it is to get anyone to play a game, even board games. They don’t want to learn a new set of rules, etc.
* How does this apply to all elit.
Do we tend to write for expert players?

Q.4) How do we avoid recreating gender stereotypes?
MF: Rapunsel project (Peeps)
Game you are allowed to choose
Program characters through clothing (Clothing-oriented programming?)– You can swap it.? The goal is to help girls overcome their fear of programming throught?peer-to-peer motivation.? Lesson: consider motiving to play and involvement always.

BL: Use narrative inteligence by using sterotypes–they use stereotypes (myths, fairy tales) as a way of negotiating their own identity. AI teaches us that if you take stereotype and tweak it, you will have an interesting character.

Q.5) When Girls Design Games what do they do?
Jill looked at hundreds(?) of kids who made Flash games for a study: “Gender inclusive” games were made by girls, Gender-specific games made by boys.

MF: What happens when girls are let loose on open software systems. She could recognize which gender drew which avatar.

Questions from the audience
1)What was the first game you played?
BL: Star Raiders
MF: one of those hand-held Mattel football games
JS: Pacman
TF: Pong

2) How does game play vary across genders?
TF: It’s important to remember game play varies more at extremes of gender than between gender. We’ve done studies on girls, but when we talk of gender [in any homogeneous way] it’s mainly for conversation.

(Consensus: distributive and creative?play?are?hallmarks of?girl gaming tendencies and proclivities)

3) Ken Wells on Psychology:
You all speak of psychology of girls in very different terms than psychologists.
TF: I’m a game designer not a psychologist
JD: We’ve done studies as well in study of Flash games.
(JD has conducted both qualitative and quantitative research on adolescence in relation to gender, ethnicity, and even HIV risk behaviors)

3 Responses to “Girls and Gaming Conference (UCLA)”

  1. 1 delicatessen

    well, as per every other “girls in gaming” academic conference there is, we see a bunch of academic gobbledygook by girls who have a very SKEWED perception of the involvement of girls in gaming. all one needs to do is look at the sales numbers for games of any type to see how much girls are involved. and based on those sales numbers, what do we find out?: GIRLS DON’T PLAY GAMES. gee, what a shock. oh, and these statistics - “40% of girls are gamers, 70% of girls are ‘casual gamers’ ” - i have to tell you, when i saw these, i nearly fell out of my chair laughing. i don’t know where they get such ridiculous numbers from…maybe out of a magic bag or something, because they sure aren’t legit. try revising your estimates downward, by say oh…75% to 88%.

  2. 2 Jeremy Douglass

    delicatessen is probably trolling, but asking where they get these numbers is a good question, and worth a brief reply.

    Female gamer groups and researchers are sometimes accused of living in an ivory tower of gender balance, as if they generated statistics based on chatting within their bubble of friends. However the most commonly cited statistics that I’m aware of (disclaimer: I am not a female gaming researcher) come from the Entertainment Software Association or ESA (formerly the IDSA), with members including Activision, Atari, Capcom, id, Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony, among many others.

    ESA is not a female-gamer issues group. It is an industry group focused on a multi-billion dollar marketplace. Before they publish gamer data saying that 43% of video and computer gamers are female, they commission the study from a professional researcher firm, because the numbers are vital - not just for publicity but to marketing and development strategy.

    This does not mean that these numbers are immune from critique and should not be subject to analysis and debate. It does however mean that calling the best guess of an extremely experienced industry “a magic bag” is inappropriate.

    Industry figures will continue to collected, and the results will continue to be cited, by women gaming groups, by professional cyberathletes, and by academic conferences. Unless you are basing your downward revision on something other than a gut instinct, nobody is going to take you very seriously.

  1. 1 WRT: Writer Response Theory » Blog Archive » UCLA — University Profile

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