70: The Double-X Factor

"Social history and culture would tell us that it's perfectly healthy for a man to have an interest in sex, and probably for him to be interested in violence, too. 'Boys will be boys.' But women? One can hardly suggest in proper political correctness that a woman might be interested in a little violence. And God forbid a woman should want to play something to do with sex - someone call Nathaniel Hawthorne, stat. The whitewashed political world would have us believe that any woman who has an interest in such subjects - and it isn't a far leap to include games as a whole as well - must be some kind of deviant."

Erin Hoffman explains why sometimes it's hard to be a woman (in games).

The Double-X Factor

Thanks again Erin, for describing much of my struggle in this industry. I just recently started in computer games, but I've been in the Hobby game industry for the last 5 years. It is really just as cut-throat as computer games, and has a far longer history.

I guess, if I were able to talk to young teen girls who might have any interest in this industry?? I would tell them that together we can change things.

Thanks again.

I am absolutely, absolutely convinced that the single best way to get women involved in game development is to erode the stigma that engineering - or even just software engineering - is for men. As it stands now, the rule of thumb is geeks are males and that's all there is to it. A second rule of thumb is that computers - that is, using a computer for anything much more complicated than checking your Myspace or whatever it is you damn kids do these days - is for geeks. Thus, computers are for males. And since game development involves programming, well, it's easy to see where the stigma comes from.

I think wanting to be a game developer involves two things for most people: One, you know first-hand the potential that games offer emotionally; Two, you have an interest in its technical underpinnings. We're eroding the first barrier now, but - as it stands now - technology is for men and tomboys. Maybe this is cultural. Maybe it's genetic. I'm not qualified to judge.

In any case, technology is the gap.

One thing that caught my eye was just at the end: the female demographic is more into social technology right now. I think this is perfect: I'm male, in college, and am now beginning to complain that there is no good social MMOG out there. Perhaps I'm a little feminine; I don't care, but I'm much more interested in playing (and designing) games that social interactions isn't just a function of "Let's go kill Monster X" or "I'll pay X for item Y", or worse yet "Someone give me item Y, I'm just a (noob if you're lucky, girl if you're not)".

Maybe it's time for political elements in games, maybe it's time for social skill to be a benefit for gaming. And maybe, we need the female element to tell us males how to do it.

And maybe, gaming as we know it will go the way of the Monarchy, and be overturned by a new, clunkier, less efficient, but all around better system.

Hey all -- thanks very much for your comments. julzerator, glad you liked the article. I do hope you get the opportunity to talk to young women in your area. Mentorship is so valuable.

Bongo Bill, I agree that there is a technology gap, but I believe it is closing. Believe it or not things like MySpace are actually assisting in that. They seem primitive but dealing with MySpace itself is not wholly uncomplicated... in large part due to the poor engineering of the site! Getting an attractive site layout there is no small task, and I wouldn't be surprised if the girls who figure out how to do it -- and a lot of them spend a large amount of time doing so -- conclude that this computer stuff ain't all that hard. Now that social networking sites and other spots on the Internet are showing them that there's something here for them, too, it will only be a natural following step for them to be carving out their own spaces and figuring out how to create their own versions of these sites.

Zac, I would agree with you that I'd like to see more thought-involved gameplay and I do personally believe that social engineering is the next step. Most games these days will have some kind of group connectivity feature to them, even if it's just leaderboard sharing, and online communities are becoming the norm rather than the exception. This is happening inside and outside the game industry, and it will change the way we operate as a society, both for good and ill, I think. I doubt that gaming as we know it is going to face any kind of extinction anytime soon, but the audience will continue to broaden and deepen in connectivity as these kinds of mechanics become standard expectation among the playerbases.

Thanks again for your comments, all, I appreciate them!

ErinHoffman:
Bongo Bill, I agree that there is a technology gap, but I believe it is closing. Believe it or not things like MySpace are actually assisting in that. They seem primitive but dealing with MySpace itself is not wholly uncomplicated... in large part due to the poor engineering of the site! Getting an attractive site layout there is no small task, and I wouldn't be surprised if the girls who figure out how to do it -- and a lot of them spend a large amount of time doing so -- conclude that this computer stuff ain't all that hard. Now that social networking sites and other spots on the Internet are showing them that there's something here for them, too, it will only be a natural following step for them to be carving out their own spaces and figuring out how to create their own versions of these sites.

So, what you're saying is... the very brokenness that is half of the problem with MySpace, and the immense popularity that's the other half of the problem, are both helping to make computers (and I mean actually doing things with them, not just using them) seem less intimidating?

Man, now I'm all conflicted.

Bongo Bill:
So, what you're saying is... the very brokenness that is half of the problem with MySpace, and the immense popularity that's the other half of the problem, are both helping to make computers (and I mean actually doing things with them, not just using them) seem less intimidating?

Man, now I'm all conflicted.

Actually, in a weird way that's kind of true. There's a strange tipping point in social gaming where a steep learning curve is actually of some benefit, because it requires players to cooperate with each other. You get this feedback loop where a site is poorly designed but has something compelling at the bottom of it -- take the virtual horse breeding sites, for instance -- and it runs slow, and it's a pain, but a core group of players wades through it because they find the base concept engaging. Now when new players come in, as they will in phases as the site gets bigger, you have at the core of the site a group of "experts" that get positive social feedback out of being specialists on the site -- they gain popularity and what I would call "social capital" by teaching new players. And because the site can't just be navigated easily, the new players are grateful to and develop a connection to the senior players, while eventually also inheriting their expertise and continuing the feedback loop with new users that they bring in. So the social network is strengthened by the learning curve of the system.

But it is a balancing act. Make the site too difficult and you aren't going to hook the initial users. Make your base concept not compelling enough and that too will fail. I think the MySpace layout system actually isn't the best example because while there is a certain amount of social capital involved in having an attractive MySpace, the payoff isn't high enough and there isn't a vector for the transference of information, other than sending another user a link to one of the sites that will automate creating the layout. A better example of this principle at work is NeoPets. To an outsider that site is a godawful maze, but it became wildly popular.

I agree with you, though, MySpace is the suck.

Erin, as usual the article was well written and thought provoking, thank you very much.

and ironically there's quite a similarity between social websites and MMORPGs in the sense that it's a grind to mastery, a journey overcoming obstacles and drudgery. And I think that the first step to take would be to compel players/individuals to help others in the community (whether that be MMOG or myspace) through more than just being helpful. For while there are people who will be very friendly and helpful in these networks, there are always more who do not aid those of lower level/knowledge, simply because it's putting in effort without immediate reward.

This however is the greatest problem at the moment, for while games like World of Warcraft dominate the market, where social interaction is rarely rewarded unless playing instanced content, there is very little incentive to be a social player if you don't deliberately seek out interaction, which may be resisted by the opposing party on grounds that it will "slow me down". And while it should be possible to solo in online games, there should be other rewards than "phat l00t" at an end-game stage for being more socially aware than going to the Auction House and occasionally screaming abuse on general chat.

to attract a more diverse market than predominantly young males games would benefit from stronger social incentives, and moving away from 'you must go kill 10 orcs for me, you will be rewarded with these shiny boots of shinkicking' gameplay, or perhaps just more diverse game-play that may include crafting and social aspects as actual gameplay rather than just hitting 'make all' or battering your way through an obscure branched dialogue until you get the right combination. Oh and a change of setting from either high fantasy, sci-fi, or modern day middle-east wouldn't hurt either

 

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