This reading, What Games Made by Girls Can Tell Us, by Jill Denner and Shannon Campe, is a chapter from Beyond Barbie & Mortal Kombat: New Perspectives on Gender and Gaming.
For this post, I’ll be posting insights from the reading and then directly responding to them instead of posting my commentary section and a reading summary section.

Macintosh Media Box, Back Cover of Game Jewel Case
Macintosh Media Box, Back Cover of Game Jewel Case

  • 1990s saw rise of many games designed and marketed specifically for girls
  • Barbie Fashion Designer success attributed to: appeal of Barbie franchise, game with problem solving and sense of accomplishment associated with making a real-world product (clothes)
  • Most games targeted at girls had character-centered plots, dealt with friendship issues and social relations, and featured brightly colored graphics
  • These games continue to attract some, but not all, girls
  • Growing research looking beyond focus of girl-specific games to see what features in them attract girls:
    • competition and conflict alternatives; cooperative; include multiple ways to win
    • real-world settings; a narrative girls can relate to
    • opportunities to explore a range of identities
    • show little meaningless violence
    • have rich audio and images

Barbie would have been more of a deterrent than an incentive to play in a video game for me – I was not into pink or dolls or homemaker role-playing or clothes/fashion. As a kid, it’s hard to say what would have attracted me to video games. I did not grow up with a gaming-capable computer or console in the house. By the time I got into video games, I was playing what my (mostly male) friends were playing: Team Fortress Classic (eventually TF2), games from Blizzard’s Warcraft universe (I played a lot of Warcraft II even though it was already old at the time and most were well into Warcraft III, then eventually got into World of Warcraft). In the long-run, I’ve decided that first-person shooter games are not my favorite, though I still play TF2 every now and then and really enjoy it. Ultimately my interest has been in puzzle games, story-telling games, and World of Warcraft (WoW). I play WoW for a lot of social reasons, but when I’m playing alone I like to explore the world – I’ve gone back to complete old quest lines that are for characters a million levels below me, I’ve flown around to get exploration achievements, I’ve completed resource quests for achievements/skill, as well. While my primary enjoyment in WoW comes from playing with people either in my guild or real-life friends, the vastness of the game world and the beauty of it round out my interest there.

  • Girls Creating Games (GCG) program designed to “test game creation as a strategy to increase girls’ interest, confidence, and skills with computer technology”
  • GCG was also a research platform to examine how girls engage with the tech and what they would make
  • Girls met for 23 sessions, learned to design and program a digital game with Macromedia’s Flash software, worked in pairs to write and program (126 girls made 45 games; ages 11-14; 31% Latina/60% White; 90% had a computer at home that they could use)
  • GCG requirement: “create interactive, story-based, choose-your-own-adventure games”
    • This format was practical constraint based on complexity of software
    • Consistent with previous studies that found story-telling can be used to interest girls in programming
    • Mechanics are the same in each game, but the games are unique in theme, story, characters, and game features
  • Game content was coded into 3 main themes with 12 subcategories:

GCG Code Categories

  • Other interesting data points from GCG:
    • 18% had endings where the player could only win or lose
      • Wins: getting an A on a test, getting a trip to an exotic place, becoming friends with an enemy, or getting a boy
      • Losses: school detention, getting hurt, or losing friends
    • Personal triumphs were not triumph over someone else, like being best in class or team MVP; triumphs were things like making a sports team or doing well in school (w/o comparison to others)
  • Games created support previous assertions that girls like games based on real-world situations
  • Prominent theme: expressing and working through fear in game stories
    • Getting into trouble (50%), threat of violence (34%), negative repercussions for relationships (20%), school failure (11%)
  • Most games addressed social issues that are on the minds of teen girls
    • Dealing with authorities (57%), making moral decisions (45%)
  • Game titles:
    • My Big School Test
    • Soccer Fever
    • Getting Lost
    • Music Mania
    • Jr. Lifeguard
    • To Go to School or Not Go to School
    • A Horrifying Alienistic Experience – aliens invade school, hide or help?
    • Welcome to the Great Cat Rescue
    • Me and My Ape – player brings pet ape to school
    • Fashion Emergency
    • The Day I Got Paired Up with the Hottie
  • Main Character choices:
    • Allow player to choose sex (42%)
    • Female main characters (22%)
    • Mixed main characters (15%)
    • Gender-neutral or unclear (13%)

I am very curious about how many girls would have created games that were NOT based on storytelling if that parameter had not been given as a project requirement. I understand that the parameter was based on previous research that showed girls like playing storytelling games, but I feel like this study might have benefited from having girls create whatever they wanted. Perhaps a separate group that was not given the storytelling parameter. I am also curious to see this study repeated today now that the number of girls playing games is growing. Girls have more access to technology today, more exposure to games — what might they create today?
Just because a girl creates a storytelling game, is that necessarily the takeaway for what she wants to play? There are so many options for creating and playing, it’s hard to say that what a person creates is what they ultimately want to play. There is also the question of technical expertise — with limited knowledge of how to create a game or use the given software, can a person really create what they want? Is the technology from the study limiting the output?
Denner, J., & Campe, S. (2008). Chapter 9: What games made by girls can tell us. In Y. B. Kafai, C. Heeter, J. Denner & J. Y. Sun (Eds.), Beyond barbie & mortal combat: New perspectives on gender and gaming () MIT Press.

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