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Friday, June 14, 2013

Why I Want Women to Succeed in the Video Game Industry


I recently read this set of strips posted by Kotaku and got to thinking that even after forty years, the video game industry is still making games without the broader consumer base in mind (pun not intended). Geek girls are abundant. Gamer girls are profuse. Yet I can't find games for my daughters to enjoy.

And that's why I want women to succeed in the video games industry. I have two daughters and I want them to play video games. Video games have always been a positive influence in my life. They were there for me when I was lonely. They inspired me to become a writer. The helped me bond with my future wife -- I would bring up my GameCube to her college and we'd play Mario Kart and Smash Bros. She didn't know an A button from a right trigger then (case in point: Kingdom Hearts), but now she can fight any Twilight Princess boss without needing to hand the controller over to me.

I want it to be the same for them, but I look and look and can't find anything for them.  At least anything that's not licensed crap like M&M Kart Racing or Hannah Montana Grins and Stands There. I've made something of a foothold with the new Nickelodeon TMNT. They love the show, so we play the old arcade game on my MAME emulator.  However, there are problems (beyond explaining who Bebop and Rocksteady are, and that Leatherhead is a bad guy in this one).  The three-year-old doesn't know to push buttons so I have to configure it so I play for her, and the five-year-old doesn't have the aggression to play properly.


We were recently on vacation with another family. Their seven-year-old boy was always playing some Flash combat game on the computer. He was shouting at the screen "ooh, oof, yeah, kick him, aw", playing some beat-em-up. He didn't care how he was doing, if he was winning or losing, he just loved to play.

Meanwhile I tried introducing Snoopy Coaster to my five-year-old on my iPod. They love Snoopy (another inheritance) and the gameplay is so simple -- touch once to jump. Should have been a lock.  After a few minutes, she turned to me and said "Dad, I'm not good at this game. You can play."


I wanted to explain that playing video games is not about being good or not. It's about having fun. It's about seeing how far you got. It's about little rewards like nailing an arc jump, watching everyone go around a loop-de-loop. But how do you explain that to a five-year-old? And we're not even playing the buff space marine misogynist stuff. This should appeal to her.

All the parenting experts and teachers say "Don't worry about teaching your kids to use technology, they'll pick it up in a flash." Yes, but will they pick up enough so that they don't need to rely on somebody to set their home page for them? I worry about that. And the first step to getting good enough is to love the device.

So when I hear about Microsoft's E3 "smack-talk", the fact that not one game only a scant few games upcomers featured a female protagonist or premise (sorry, forgot about Mirror's Edge 2, but there was a hell of a lot more hype given to the space marine and/or dark assassin genre), I see an industry losing touch with its audience (see also: Microsoft's Xbox One controversy, the PS3 "Share" button, and the poor sales of the Wii U).  Or at least unable to acknowledge that the audience is changing, more than from boy to man.
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