The Gamer Girl: Girls vs. Boys Games, An Overview
News flash: there is a difference between boys and girls. Gasp! Shocker, I know. The need to separate boy things and girl things began right when a child is born with either wrapping them in a blue blanket or pink blanket. Since then, children are conditioned to like certain things and gravitate towards certain activities, including different types of video games. Yes, biology does have a role in it and if I were to argue nature vs. nurture when it comes to what video game a child chooses to play…well, that would be a separate article. Instead, in this article of The Gamer Girl, I will be taking a look at the differences between “boy” games and “girl” games, but on a deeper level.
To get ideas on what is considered “boy” or “girl” games, I took a walk around my local GameStop and just looked at the walls of games. Then to get a better sense of other games than just new ones, I went to my local smaller game shop called Play, Trade, Repair Games and did the same thing. Let’s start with the “boy” games. Right when I walked into the store, it came as no surprise to me that there were no ladies inside (and I am not including mothers). I gravitated towards the sides of the stores and took a look at the cover art of the games. When it comes to marketing, visual aesthetics that are as pleasing and sparkly as possible will gain the attention of the audience and thus interested in seeing what the game has to offer. Upon looking at the Xbox 360 wall, I could not help but notice a familiar pattern emerging from all of the “boy” games. Most of the games, if not all, had a picture of some male figure with either their trademark weapon in their hand or some sort of weapon in general. They were stoic and emotionless in nature and in some sort of action pose. This was surprising…and yet it wasn’t. It was surprising because I never noticed it before (and neither did fellow writer Daniel who I took with me). It was actually difficult to find a game that didn’t have a male on the cover holding a weapon, aside from family/children games (ex. Sonic Generations) or major franchises that rarely used that type of marketing tool (ex. Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim). There were few females on the covers themselves unless they were either the main character (Final Fantasy XIII-2) or as a side character. And even then, the female was behind the male character or smaller in the background, and they were still holding weapons. The “boy” games on the Xbox 360 were the same as on the PlayStation 3 side.
Now to the “girl” games. Surprisingly (#sarcasm), there were few games marketed towards the female demographic. In the console gaming section, there was a lack of “girl” games, whatever that means. Cover art is what draws the attention, and the colors that were used for “girl” games were clearly girly. Lots of pinks, purples, light blues, basically pastel colors. Personally, I hate the color pink, so some marketers are failing in their mission to get me to buy their fluffy bright colored game. When it comes to “girl” games, they seem to be lumped in with the family/children type games like Sonic, Mario, or Cooking Mama. There are sooo many bright colors with all of these games, as opposed to the “boy” games where it is mainly black and white with so much detail. There was a lot less cartoony looking characters on the covers of the “boy” games as opposed to the “girl”/family/children games. Everyone was smiling on these covers too, something that was lacking in the manlier games. The different consoles do have different markets, although Nintendo is trying its best to move into the adult gaming world with ZombiU and Bayonetta 2 being released for the Wii U. But for the most part, Nintendo is a family friendly system and the games to reflect that. So many of the titles that I found for “girls” were on a Nintendo system, mainly the Nintendo DS or 3DS. Some of the games include imagine babyz, Nintendogs, Cooking Mama, and Charm Girls Club: My Fashion Show. All of these games either had something cute related or something that is stereotypical of the female gender, especially the imagine series. Few of these games made it onto a console, so does that mean girls do not like to play on an Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 and would much rather play with a handheld Nintendo product? It looks that way but there is an exception…
Dancing games like Just Dance or Dance Central are clearly marketed as “girl” games. Just look at the cover of the latest Just Dance 4:
Who is at the head? A female. Who is smaller or in the background? A male. No weapons unless you count your body as a weapon. This is a shift from the norm of male heads with weapons, but is that necessarily a good thing? Granted the motion capturing games haven’t exactly been the best for some consoles…but that’s beside the point! It can be a transitional game from handheld to the consoles for girls, although the marketing on the cover still leaves an icky taste in my mouth. Short skirts, lots of skin, seductive poses…So games that girls should play on the major consoles involve moving their whole body instead of just their fingers on a controller like a normal person?
There were a couple major titles that were thankfully unisex. There was either an absence of gender (still with weapon) or the cover had no person at all. The colors of both of these titles were unisex in nature as well, so anyone could pick them up and be interested in playing them. Those titles were Portal 2 and Pokémon (I will refer to the entire franchise as a whole, since every cover art is essentially the same). Although Portal has only had two games, the marketing on the front leaves the player, both males and females, interested in it. Anyone who has played the Portal games knows that you are a female solving the puzzles with your trusty portal gun. This aspect of the game was unknown to the player until they actually played the game. Yet, the game was widely successful, warranted a sequel, and introduced us to a new iconic enemy: GLaDOS (voiced by a female, how ‘bout that?). Portal 2, on the other hand, did feature their heroine on the cover so you knew straight up what gender the character was. Why this was necessary to add I have no idea. Either way, the Portal games are innovative and fun for everyone, regardless what gender you fall into.
As for Pokémon, this franchise has evolved throughout the years. The concept of gender was first introduced in Pokémon Gold and Silver when the Pokémon were given a gender. Although there were some Pokémon that were given a gender in first generation (Nidroran) and some were suggested to only be one gender (Kangaskhan or Jynx), we did not know the gender of the rest of them. But aside from that introduction, the cover art of the games had not changed in the least bit. Yeah, the names and Pokémon changed, but the covers remained exactly in the same format. Pokémon Red, Blue, Green, and Yellow had Charizard, Blastoise, Venasaur, and Pikachu in the cover (no people or gender specific colors in sight). Pokémon Gold, Silver and Crystal had Ho-Oh, Lugia, and Suicune (still no gender specificity here). Pokémon Ruby, Sapphire, and Emerald had Grou…I think you get the idea. Granted, the purpose of the game is to catch little creatures to train, battle, and love unconditionally, so the idea of having a person on the cover seems odd, let alone gendered. It just goes to show that the Pokémon franchise has kept their model for marketing and it has been successful ever since. And it appeals to both males and females, so that’s a plus.
All of this was just a quick analysis of the cover art. I did not even dive into the game-play of some of these games yet. While my adventure answered some of my questions, more questions arose. Why animals and cute things with girls? Don’t boys like animals too? Does the cover art of games change from generation to generation (ex. from PlayStation One to PlayStation 3 or NES to Nintendo Wii U)? Does the type of game matter with the cover art (FPS, fighting, RPG, etc.)? Do American games differ from Japanese games?
Is it even possible to market a game that the male demographic love to the female demographic and vice versa? Should game developers even market towards the genders, or study up and market towards a more unisex audience? Is it the marketing that is turning off some of the demographics…or is it the players?
These questions and more will be answered in the upcoming The Gamer Girl articles. But what do you think?