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Three Moves Ahead Episode 48 – The Gaming Gender Gap

January 19th, 2010 by Troy Goodfellow · 36 Comments · Podcast, Society, Three Moves Ahead


This week, Troy and Tom welcome Lara Crigger, Jenn Cutter and Tiffany Martin to the show to talk about the gender gap in strategy gaming. Well, that’s where it starts. It turns into an almost 90 minute discussion of the place of women in gaming, their portrayal in games, the importance of peer groups, more Brutal Legend and the coming demographic shift.

So less strategy wonkery than usual, but you guys can deal for a week, right?

Listen here.
RSS here.
Subscribe on iTunes.

Tiffany Martin’s blog
Tiffany’s thoughts on classes in Borderlands
Lara Crigger on her changing gaming habits
Hire Lara Crigger
Jenn Cutter’s Open Alpha
Jenn Plugs Flash of Steel and TMA and says nice things about me
Tabula Rasa
Pure Pwnage
Battle for Wesnoth
Cross Edge


36 Comments so far ↓

  • Alan Au

    Games are everywhere these days. A recent study (2008) from the Pew Research group found that 97% of American teenagers play games, which cuts across gender and socioeconomic lines. Sure, it’ll take a few years, but as those kids grow up, the overall impressions towards games will change. Even today, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who hasn’t heard of Mario. In short, I think that some of the gender issues in games are temporary problems that will go away as games become more a pervasive part of society.

    Of course, there’s still an issue with subject matter. I’m still completely confused by the concept of “girl games,” partly because I also consider the idea of “boy games” to be sort of contrived and ridiculous. I suppose you could pander to the hormones, but marketers use that to sell just about everything.

    There was a comment about strategy games encompassing more than just wargames, but I sort of wonder how much context matters. Does Dawn of War attract players that would balk at Company of Heroes because of the setting? Could you make a game using Civil War mechanics that wasn’t set in the U.S. circa 1861, and would anyone play it?

  • Alex2000

    A bunch of comments in this show annoyed me, but I’ll keep this short a point two a couple of things.

    Re – Tom’s ragging on Bayonetta for setting the hobby back or some such B.S. Look, in Hollywood you get Chinatown and American Pie. ESPN has the NFL and women’s beach volleyball. Computer games *can* have Dragon Age and Bayonetta.

    I am a big fan of Tom Chick, but I’ve to say that he comes off a bit like a sanctimonious prude!

    WTF is it with Americans? Killing god knows how many people (in game! yes only pixels), over the top gore, decapitations, blood etc, all no problem. But, some over the top sexuality (again only pixels!), and that crosses the line? All ready to whip out your bibles.

    I am married, 33 years old (not < 20 !), and I like my T&A in games just fine thank you.

    One of the ladies complained about underdeveloped female characters in games. Well look. It isn't as of there are tons of well developed MALE characters in games either! I don't recall Duke Nukem having Shakespearean levels of depth, do you? Do you honestly think a Larry Croft, would have been any more well developed than Lara Croft was? Are any of the male characters in Borderlands better developed than Lilith? Please!

    Dragon Age, as pointed out in the show, is different of course. But then again, ALL the characters are well developed. It's a great story! I am 70 hours into the game, and loving every minute of it. But I guess if it were up to Tom and other killjoys around here, Leliana's sexy leather armour, and my female mage's robe would be burka-like in it's modesty. Well, no thank you.

  • Michael

    Around 32:00 when there’s talk of narrative and strategy games — the starcraft campaign + expansion had a really great arc that I enjoyed immensely… and they did that with just some voice-overs and pre-mission chats!

  • Ian Bowes (spelk)

    I think out of this discussion, what is interesting when talking about games, are the players different opinions about the same game. None of this is really impacted by the gender of the player as such. I think if you focus on gender differences, you’re just pointing your eye of Sauron at the stereotypes that you may be trying to debunk.

    For me, a gamer is a gamer, and I’m always interested in gamers opinions about a game. Especially if the game is a new one I’ve not heard about, and has some fundamental unique twist on our tired game stereotypes.

    It was a bit of a shame that the discussion couldn’t remain more in strategy gaming, but since the topic was about a notional “gender gap”
    it always tends to take a step back to a more “bigger picture” look at gaming.

    I’m not so sure strategy gaming itself is getting a smaller piece of pie, because the game playing and buying demographic is opening up, I’d say strategy gaming has to evolve to encompass the new gamer opportunities. Strategy plays an important role in a lot of established gaming genres, and seeing it span even more as devs streamline, or abstract and hybridise is very encouraging to me.

    What strategy games would the panel hold up as shining beacons of hope to the genre, for attracting new gamers to Strategy? Regardless of gender.

  • Joseph

    I think the premise that women are treated poorly in games is a faulty one. This is not to say that there is not shallow characterisation, but rather that when it is true for the female characters; it is generally true for their male counterparts: For every sex object there is the utterly forgettable hero-man.

    Conversely when there is quality writing it is often the female characters that shine: Does anyone remember the name of the faceless protagonists of System Shock’s 1 and 2? Did they have one? Did I type them in? The only name I remember is the name Shodan gave me, and I’ll never forget Shodan.

    In fact I think that much like a Woody Allen film women have most of the best roles: Jade (BG&E), Kreia (KOTOR2), Annah and Fall from grace (PT:T), Jeanette Voerman (Vampire The Masquerade: Bloodlines; admittedly a sex object but an interesting one), Lastly April Ryan of the Longest Journey is the only video game character to have ever ‘moved’ me in any significant fashion. I would be hard pressed to offer a list of male characters I’ve liked nearly as much, even less if you remove the comic relief.

  • Lara Crigger

    “What strategy games would the panel hold up as shining beacons of hope to the genre, for attracting new gamers to Strategy? Regardless of gender.”

    Personally (and consider the source), I think board games are a perfect gateway drug for the whole strategy genre. Board games, as I so ineloquently expressed on the podcast, take a basic mechanic and impose a narrative on it — and not just any narrative, but one that you and your friends create together; in a sense, you become the characters, and this round of Risk or Endeavor or whatever becomes your story. It’s a great way to get new players invested in the game, which will inevitably lead to seeking out other sources of that same kick. At least, that’s how it worked for me. :)

    As far as strategy video games go, I’d say it depends even more so on the person’s interests (since vgs are a bit of a longer commitment than board games). Something like Civ IV’s great for history nuts, good ol’ Starcraft is perfect for sci-fi junkies, Brutal Legend’s great for metalheads, etc. Find a theme they can get behind, and that will carry them through any learning curve they might encounter.

  • Troy

    “It isn’t as of there are tons of well developed MALE characters in games either!”

    There are, actually. No, your average action meathead isn’t, but there is a greater variety of male characterization across the genre, and you can’t simply look at the protagonist/player character (since these are largely meant to be blank slates.) From the almost silent hero in Shadow of the Colossus to the Prince of Persia to Solid Snake to the male bonding in Gears of War to RTS campaign heroes…the male character experiences are inarguably deeper and more different from each other. And male sidekicks and villains are almost always better developed. Duke Nukem wasn’t even the ideal male protagonist in his day.

    And even if that were the case, it would not excuse the industry for failing to do justice to female characterization. It would just mean that men should complain more.

    ““What strategy games would the panel hold up as shining beacons of hope to the genre, for attracting new gamers to Strategy? Regardless of gender.””

    Episode 29 was dedicated to this topic in a fashion, and it’s a question we talk about from time to time.

    I think that Lara’s recommendation of Civ is a good one if you like history. If you want something quicker, I think Rise of Nations is great as an intro RTS and Jenn Cutter, my RoN guinea pig, will be writing up her experiences later this week.

  • Lara Crigger

    “But I guess if it were up to Tom and other killjoys around here, Leliana’s sexy leather armour, and my female mage’s robe would be burka-like in it’s modesty. Well, no thank you.”

    I feel compelled to clarify my stance, considering I was the most vocal against Bayonetta of the panel.

    I don’t think that’s what any of us were trying to say. I have nothing wrong with the use of sexuality and beauty in videogames — in fact, I welcome it, because I think it can help to build a better narrative, and, well, let’s face it, I’d rather look at Nathan Drake’s butt for 15 hours than, say, Mickey Rourke’s.

    At the same time, I’m very offput by games that use hypersexuality — sex should be a garnish, not the main dish, you know? Often a game that leans on impossible proportions and gratuitous nudity for a woman (or, let’s be fair, that obnoxious, long hair/pretty boy vampire chic for a man) is trying to wallpaper over a lack of truly interesting narrative or content. It’s the same thing for movies, TV, or any other media.

    Now, if all one cares about in a game is the mechanic, then I suppose there’s really no problem with that. But I’m a story junkie, and I play games so that I can immerse myself in the narrative.

    My specific issue with Bayonetta is that it appears to lean on hypersexuality, rather than any sort of interesting content. A timeless battle between witches and angels, with some memory loss thrown in for good measure? Yawn. But toss in some stripper moves and a girl who wears her hair as clothing, and here we’ve got a game.

    The panel assured me I was judging Bayonetta too harshly, and that I should take another look — which I will, eventually. And while Bayonetta turns ME off, I don’t resent its presence, and I certainly don’t mean to suggest that games like it should be prevented from being made. Everything has its audience, and I’m not interested in playing the sex police today.

  • Ian Bowes (spelk)

    I think Troy’s comment on more stealth RTS is a good thing, is basically the key to getting more people interested in ‘Strategy’ as a whole.

    Where can we squeeze or “hide” some strategy to give people a taste of something they might not otherwise have considered?

    I think with the streamlining and hybridisation of certain strategic concepts going into more mainstream games, we’ll get more players interested in Strategy, and that will happen regardless of gender.

    Brutal Legend may have done Strategic gaming a great service? Perhaps Plants vs Zombies is the way forward to getting more people involved in thoughtful games? More accesibility, more paced thoughtful gameplay is what we need to peddle..

    Has Bayonetta got any strategic merit, or is it merely an action beater/gunner?

  • Tom Chick

    What the…? Alex, I have no idea how you figure I was “ragging on Bayonetta”. To me, that game as a perfect example of the difference between sexy and sexist. I thought I made that pretty clear in the podcast.

    “Sanctimonious prude”, however, I can accept. I routinely complain about the hypersexualized portrayal of women in videogames, but I’m a card-carrying Bayonetta apologist.

  • Tom Chick

    Ian, Bayonetta isn’t at all a strategy game. It’s simply a superlative beat-em-up from the folks who made Viewtiful Joe, Okami, and God-hand.

  • Chris Floyd

    Great, great episode, guys. It’s fantastic to hear articulate and enthusiastic female gamers voicing their opinions. So congrats on that, Troy and all the other participants.

    Now that that’s said, I have to admit, I was a little disappointed here and there at how shy or just plain dismissive the panel could be in discussing gender differences. I think if you had set the ground rule with the panel beforehand that yes, we will be discussing generalizations here but that they would be meaningful generalizations, you could have gotten into even more enlightening territory. As it was, everytime the idea came up (from a sheepish Tom or Troy, usually) that women like this or don’t like that in gaming, the response was “I know women who hate/love that!” Well, yes, and no one’s denying that or saying they’re not welcome to be atypical. Nothing wrong with atypical. But the fact is, a huge chunk of the milieu of video gaming is not appealing to a huge chunk of women. There’s all kinds of interesting implications to this fact, but you have to accept that premise to really investigate it.

    Tom made a valiant effort when he made the (I think) very commonsensical but still controversial statement that women understand childbirth in a way men do not. This is a biological fact with many psychological implications. As applied to gaming it means (as I think Tom tried to get at) that women typically–yes, I’m *gasp* generalizing!–have different “buttons” that need to be pressed for them to deeply enjoy a gaming experience. Or even to see the point of a video game in the first place! What those buttons are and why they might exist and how broadly they exist is a really fascinating question with implications for the industry. The fact that there are a million individual exceptions doesn’t change the empirical fact that much about non-casual video gaming right now does not appeal to women as a group or that some breakout games like the Sims DO appeal to women for some pretty obvious reasons that some people don’t want to talk about.

    I don’t want this criticism to take away from the many great discussions that were in this podcast. I hope you’ll return to the topic and I definitely hope to hear more from Lara, Jenn, and Tiffany in the future. But maybe next time don’t be so afraid to talk about gender differences in a show about gender!

  • Troy


    I get what you’re saying. But one reason I had three women on the show – instead of the usual token one for an episode like this – was to show just how varied the female gaming experience is.

    Could I find a girly-girl who likes games to offset this instead of a board gamer and two tomboys? Maybe. I should also have found a woman who loves strategy games, though I suspect her reasons for liking them would have made for a very agreeable podcast.

    I sometimes think that gamers in general and game designers in particular ascribe a similarity to the female gamer that they never would dare to ascribe to the male gamer. No one makes a game, for example, asking what “men” would think of it or how they could reach “men”.

    Though I agree with you that gender differences do exist, I think that male gamers are too willing to accept the patriarchal assumption of a single “other” and nuanced “selves”.

  • Alex2000

    @ Tom – Sorry about the my confusion on your Bayonetta stance. I posted my comment a few hours after listening, and I guess my memory was a bit hazy.

    Tom, you are my favorite game reviewer, and my “goto” guy for games opinion, so I hate to say this, but your (admitted!) prudishness sort of pisses me off.

    I’d have to go back and listen, but if I remember correctly you basically that the only people who enjoy a little T&A in their games are teenage boys. I am 33, married, and like a little “Fan-service” just fine.

    Lost has scenes of Yunjin Kim and Evangeline Lilly walking around in bikini or half naked.
    The women on CBS’s Survivor spend all their time in swim suits. Do only teenage boys watch Survivor? No. Do men only watch it to see hot chicks in bikini’s? No. Is that the only reason I watch the show? No. But do I like it? Of course!

    If yours is a quest only for balance, making “Alan Wake” into an equally un-sexualized “Jane Wake”, id have no issues. But there is no need for a jihad against sexy chain-mail armor.

    I loved HBO’s Deadwood, and The Wire. But I also enjoy cheesy T&A shows like Survivor.

    Call for a computer game equivalent of The Wire (which also had plenty of naked actresses btw)! I’d be first in line to buy something aimed at a mature adult audience.

    But there is no need to purge the medium of games that include a “hyper-sexualized portrayal of women”.

  • Tom Chick

    Alex, I’ve never said that the only people who enjoy T&A in games are teenage boys. Heck, *I* enjoy T&A in games and I’m old enough to be your older brother!

    My problem is when the treatment of women in videogames is limited solely to T&A. It alienates half of the potential audience. For a long time, it was an enormous problem. That’s gradually changing. Games like BioShock, Bayonetta, The Path, The Sims, and Dragon Age make important statements about femininity.

    But that doesn’t mean we can’t also enjoy stupid T&A. Hey, speaking of which, did you play House of the Dead on the Wii? You totally should.

    As for other media, let’s look at your examples. Lost is a good call. Lost has the really smart Elizabeth Mitchell, the tough Michelle Rodriguez, the classy Mira Furlan, the distinguished Fiona Flannagan, and whoever played Libby. None of these women is played up for her sex appeal. They’re all beautiful, to be sure — this is TV land, after all — but instead, they have significant qualities above and beyond their sexuality. You could even make an argument that the series is trying to do something like that with Evangeline Lilly, but it doesn’t come across very well.

    I can’t speak to Survivor because, uh, dude, it’s Survivor. You watch Survivor? Really? Like, for serious, or ironically? :)

  • Joseph

    That their is a greater variety of shallow male characters is not in dispute, there are far more male characters which is a bigger problem; female characters are largely absent; even more so in the strategy genre. To suggest that female characterisation has been shallow is to ignore half the problem: The standard of writing in games has not been very good, we should not be demanding better writing for female characters we should be demanding better writing. Which leads back to the original point: writing that ignores half of the human experience is not good writing.

    …and Solid Snake? Seriously? that’s what we’re going for, for good male characterisation? The problem is evidently worse than I thought.

  • Justin Fletcher

    Random thoughts:

    Lara, if your problem with strategy games is the lack of a traditional narrative, then take a look at Valkyria Chronicles for the PS3. The X-Com meets third-person shooter gameplay is superb, and it has a lengthy story with excellent voice acting. You won’t confuse the story with “War and Peace,” but it is somewhat complex and surprisingly dark for such a beautifully rendered game.

    The lead characters are standard archetypes, but they’re given a little more depth and development than you might expect. Even the non-protagagonist members of your squad have distinct personalities and relationships with each other on the battlefield: loners, bigots, caregivers, veterans, misandrists, and so on. These qualities are used mostly as buffs and debuffs, but they add a lot of flavor and foster more emotional investment by the player.

    I’m working my way through it now, and I can see why it was a critical darling after the North American release a year or so ago. Check it out, if you haven’t already, but be warned: it will definitely eat up your free time. A large part of that time is spent X-ing through the many, many cutscenes. They can all be skipped, but since the narrative is important to you, I don’t recommend it.


    As was alluded at the end of the podcast, the biggest problem with getting new gamers into strategy, regardless of gender, is accessibility. But I’d say it’s a problem more for adults than for children playing their Bratz games. Whether kids have the intellectual mojo to grok strategy games is debatable, but adults definitely have less time to learn the ropes and more potential distractions.

    As much as I’m digging Valkyria Chronicles, it is not a shining beacon of hope for attracting new gamers to strategy. It is much too complex, and its interrelated systems are not always clearly explained. This can lead to frustrating failures when the game world doesn’t react the way you expect, not due to dynamic decision making by the AI (yay!) but to a mechanic of which you weren’t aware or that you didn’t fully understand (boo!).

    Of course, I would weep openly if games like VC stopped coming down the chute, so I’m not saying that we need to simplify strategy across the board. But what happens when new strategy gamers get sick of Plants vs. Zombies? Right now, it seems like the options are to find another tower defense game or to jump to Dawn of War II.

    OK, so that’s an oversimplification. But there needs to be more middle ground for the barely-initiated.


    Hmm. “Child bearing vs. war” doesn’t really work as an analogy. The latter is something that our culture normally attributes to men, while the latter is something that can *only* be experienced by women. Perhaps “child bearing vs. erectile dysfunction?” There’s got to be an Atlus game that deals with that.


    Was that really the thinking around NOLF’s sales? That people didn’t want to play as a woman? That seems impossible since all of the initial Tomb Raider titles were released in the years immediately prior to NOLF.


    There’s a difference between “titillating” and “sexy,” and I wish more developers would figure that out. Hint: It doesn’t always mean less clothing. I don’t want to take anybody’s chain mail bikini away, but can I please have the old Judy Nails back?

  • Alan Au

    Most videogame characters are archetypes, since that provides for literary shortcuts. Still, I suppose it wouldn’t hurt if writers used a wider variety of archetypes, rather than sticking to such a small set.

    I suspect that this also accounts for the lack of variety in female characterization, with female characters being typecast or relegated to the role of a foil for the male characters.

    Unfortunately, breaking the mold is a risky move for developers and for publishers who like familiar things. That means we’re stuck with macho space marines and brooding noir detectives for the time being.

  • Lara Crigger

    I’ll check out Valkyrie Chronicles, Justin. Hadn’t heard much about it — but a quick skim through Wikipedia makes it sound kinda neat. Thanks for the recommendation!

  • Alex2000

    @ Tom – I don’t own a Wii, and yes I love survivor. The babes in Bikini’s, the scheming, the backstabbing; it’s great. After 10 years it still gets good ratings.

    I think you missed my point a bit. I was trying to say that I think games are a medium just like TV or video.

    Maybe Tomb Raider, or some future game will be the video game equivalent of Baywatch or survivor – eye candy for men with a watchable (playable?) story over top. But so what if it is?

    Let there be a game equivalent of Lost or Deadwood. Let there be a game equivalent of cheesy shows like Survivor or CBS’s Victoria’s Secret Fashion show (which does well every year btw). Actually, let there be a PC game equivalent of porn while we are at it! If people don’t like it, they won’t buy it. End of story.

    You may rolls your eyes at them, but Survivor has gone 19 seasons, Baywatch went 11 seasons.
    The Wire (greatest show in the history of TV!) went 5 seasons. Deadwood – 3 seasons. Lost – going into its final 6th seasons with declining ratings.

    Look, if 8 out of 10 games that came out were like “Artificial Girl 3” then I would be willing concede that there was a crisis, but now? Honestly, maybe it’s because I am a guy, but I’m just not feeling it.

    Look, right now, for great story and interesting characters I fire up Dragon age (then I’ll move onto Mass Effect, and Bioshock, then back to Oblivion (with all those mods it’s changed a lot I think)). When I want to play strategy I load up EU III. For FPS fun, I am playing Borderlands.

    Maybe it is selfish for me to say, but: I’m happy! I just can’t get myself worked up. I think things are basically fine. I think we have been in a sort of gaming Golden age for a couple of years now. I don’t have time to play all the great games out there.

    As for women? Well, it will work itself out. Companies like EA want to make money. Maybe a developer will find the game version of Twilight and will make a fortune. Good luck to them. Honestly. But in the meantime, back to Dragon Age.

  • Michael A.

    Re: Justin’s point about accessibility; it doesn’t help that for many strategy gamers, “simplified” reads like a dirty word. A game like Panzer General would struggle to get made today.

  • Alex2000

    Changing gears slightly, a couple of times during the podcast Tom tried to go in an interesting direction with the ladies, but was stymied by somewhat ludicrous answers.

    I forget exact words, but Tom tried to bring up innate differences between the genders, and what that might mean for games, and game developers.

    This *key* area for discussion was completely shut down by the ladies answer: (paraphrasing here) that there are no innate differences, and people just like what they like, and that any differences between the genders exist for cultural reasons. Nothing to see here, move along….

    I mean….. Say what ?!? I guess I had better email all those scientists working on early childhood development and tell them to put down their pens, and pack things up!

    Lara (or whoever it was) has declared the age old “Nature vs Nurture ” debate over! That raging debate you have been having for over decades, if not centuries? It’s over. Lara says it’s nurture. You can all go home.

    Tom tried very gently (too gently!) to press the ladies on this. I think he was as incredulous as I was but was too polite to push very hard. He brought up strategy games, and The Sims, but dropped the issue without much pressing. At one point he finally said to one of the girls (The Tomboy ~ Lara I think), “See, I think you are an outliers”. The everyone-is-born-the-same, but just-grow-up-to-like-different-things banalities continued. Then Tom dropped the issue.

    Look this is a key issue, and would have led to an interesting discussion. What is a “girl” game? What makes a good “girl” game? How can you make strategy games more appealing to women?

    But this was practically shut down because of the both-sexes-are-the-same-people-just-like-different-things line.

    Someone had better tell Hollywood that their romantic comedies and Twilight aren’t chick-flicks. Nothing to see here, move along…..

    Look guys. Interesting topic that I think deserves another shot.

    Bring in some really girly girls. Some Grey’s Anatomy/ Titanic/Twilight fans. You know. Actual girls. They might have to be new to gaming. Sit them in front some strategy games. Maybe: The Sims, The Movies, Rise of Nations, and Panzer General. Maybe throw in a couple of non-strategy games like Dragon Age and Bayonetta.

    Ask them, to talk about if they liked or disliked each game and why? What aspect of the game did you like? Assuming they didn’t play games much before ask, why not?

    P.S hmmmm

    Of course, if the girls completely clam-up the show will go catastrophically bad, so you would need to find someone who can talk on air. Maybe someone from another podcast in a different genre. Maybe someone from a TV or Anime podcast (actually I have an Anime Podcast (plug! plug!), but my co-host is not female). Maybe the chick from Television Zombies……

  • Paul C.

    To expand on what Alex2000 brought up about the “Nature vs. Nurture” question that was brought up, my wife was sitting on the couch next to me working when I was listening to the podcast. She is a professor in psychology and neuroscience, and commented that what Lara was saying is somewhat contradicted by the science on the issue. It is a popular conception that the differences between the sexes are a result of socialization, and while socialization unquestionably is a part of it, there are several studies that point towards biological differences being involved as well.

    One example is that when male and female chimps are given a choice of toys to play with, the male ones prefer to pick up toy trucks, while the female chimps prefer to pickup dolls. You can’t really argue for socialization being much of a factor with chimpanzees.

    Another study has shown that female children who have more pre-natal exposure to androgens (hormones generally associated with male development, testosterone being one example) are more likely to display preferences associated with boys.

    Its important to understand that in issues like this, the research doesn’t really say anything about how any one individual is going to feel/behave/think. It is talking about tendencies and trends across large groups of people. It is hard to get out of the trap of using personal, anecdotal evidence in our thinking and reasoning about them, but there is science out there that we can also rely on to inform our thinking. It is important that we not use what science says to pigeon-hole individuals, or limit our expectations for them, but it is equally misguided to just ignore the differences altogether.

  • Lara Crigger

    “You know. Actual girls.”

    Wow. Just… wow. Last time I checked, I’m an “actual” girl. (Woman, really.) Are you an actual boy?

  • Lara Crigger

    Paul C —

    That’s very interesting research — could you link to some of the studies? I’m fascinated by the idea of nature vs. nuture, since it’s played out so keenly in my own life (I wonder how much of my own preferences come back to me being raised by a single father, for instance).

    On the re-listen, I don’t think I really communicated my stance very well, and jumped a little too soon at some questions. I don’t mean to suggest that gender is meaningless. Women and men ARE different — but not as different as we are quick to presume, which was what I was trying to get across.

    For whatever reason — biological or upbringing, it doesn’t really matter — women do tend to gravitate toward play that rewards cooperative interaction and interpersonal relationships, just as men tend to gravitate toward play that rewards competition and personal achievement. And we didn’t really get to the Sims much in the podcast, but I think that’s why the Sims has so much more of a female audience than something like, say, Sins of a Solar Empire — the Sims is all about social interaction.

    But in the end, I do think the question of “what strategy game will this person like?” does come back to personality more than gender. Despite the prevalence of Hannah Montana games and Fashion Stylist Adventures, there’s no such thing as a “girl game”, in that it will appeal to ALL females across the board. (Just as there’s no such thing as a “boy game”.) What sort of stories the person likes, how the person likes to play, what they find interesting, etc. matters FAR more than what sort of undergarments they wear.

  • Alex2000

    @ Paul – Thank you for that informative post!

    Where was Bruce when this show was being recorded? I know he is a medical doctor and not a psychologist, but at least he might have been able to give a more informed opinion, and might have been able to steer the discussion a bit better.

    Or, knowing that he wasn’t going to be on, take a few minutes and do some research into the issue! I would give you a pass, but you are guys are real-live journalists(!), not just a bunch of nobodies recording in your basement (like me and my own show ~ Anime Pacific ~ plug! plug!).

    I don’t expect Woodward and Bernstein for a podcast, but a few minutes spent on a google-search for “Nature vs Nurture +toys” might have been in order. Take a look at this:


    Obviously, I don’t think Tom came to the show completely unprepared. I think he had a clear line of argument worked out before-hand:

    Women like the Sims – it is a social game, a game about nurturing – The ladies on the show liked boardgames, more social interaction – how can we apply the aspects of female friendly strategy games and board games, and make more conventionally “male” strategy games like Dawn of War or Rise of Nations more “female friendly”. Great set up for an interesting discussion about *strategy games*.

    Except the ladies threw-out the very basic premise of the show!! Forcing you to veer off topic for most of the show and discuss how games need better character development. Well fine. That was interesting as far as it went, and you did succeed in getting me worked up over a perceived threat to my in game “fan-service”.

    But you set up what could have been an interesting debate, and couldn’t really follow through.

    Now maybe you didn’t know the ladies were going to derail the episode by denying the existence of gender differences, but that might have been nice to know *before*(!) recording the show. Maybe you couldn’t have convinced them with the science (see above), but you could have at least talked them into playing “Devils Advocate” for 60 minutes. Someone (Troy?) screwed up here.

    Look. This wasn’t an Vietnam level fiasco. You went in with some lines of questioning, some points for debate, but then you found the rug pulled out from under you, the basic strategy for the show got thrown out the window, and found yourself in something of a quagmire. Only Tom’s new strategy of talking about female characters in games salvaged something out of your long 90 minute slog. No, not Vietnam. The show was Iraq! …. or maybe the War of 1812 *. :-)

    I think these points need to be addressed on the show. Maybe next episode, at the start, Bruce to clear some of this stuff up. Or if not him, maybe get Paul C’s wife to come on if she is game!

    * 1812 from an American prospective. As a Canadian 1812 turned out just fine thank you.

    God save the Queen.

  • Alex2000

    ” For whatever reason — biological or upbringing, it doesn’t really matter — women do tend to gravitate toward play that rewards cooperative interaction and interpersonal relationships, just as men tend to gravitate toward play that rewards competition and personal achievement. And we didn’t really get to the Sims much in the podcast, but I think that’s why the Sims has so much more of a female audience than something like, say, Sins of a Solar Empire — the Sims is all about social interaction.”

    Well right! From listening, it seemed clear to me that that is exactly what Tom was trying to elicit from you or one of the other guests.

    Then his next question would have been something like I outlined in my post above. But maybe I am reading to much into it.

    ” Despite the prevalence of Hannah Montana games and Fashion Stylist Adventures, there’s no such thing as a “girl game”, in that it will appeal to ALL females across the board.”

    Well okay. But you can say more females than males play game X. Why? You can say, that the average male/female is more likely to be interested in game X than game Y.

    Look, there are always going to be outliers. Not every women who went to see them loved Titanic and Twilight. But I think it is safe to say that most of those who did like them were female. And I am sure other Movie executives are looking at the success of Twilight, and trying to figure out “How can make a movie that that same audience will go see?”*

    It is perfectly reasonable for Tom or Troy to ask “How can a game company get the female audience who enjoyed The Sims to play a game strategy game like Rise of Nations?”

    That’s all where Tom was going I think. This is a strategy gaming podcast. He wasn’t going to bring up Barbie or Hana Montana games.

    * In fact, it is already happening – See the Marketing strategy change for “The Lovely Bones”.


  • Alex2000

    ~”Are you an actual boy?”

    Hah! Touche!

  • Alex2000

    @ Lara

    BTW, I think some obvious hyperbole is acceptable when I am clearly in mid rant.

    It isn’t like I craft these posts for hours on end. More like a stream of consciousness. Darn this lack of an edit option!

    Apologies for any offence!

  • Alan Au

    As for the comment about interviewing “actual girls,” I interpret that as a suggestion that the panelists are not necessarily representative of the “female game player” demographic that so many marketers are trying to attract.

    Of course, I have to tread carefully, because I also recognize that the male contributors/listeners here (like me!) are probably not representative of the “male gamer” population either. Sure, there’s some overlap, but the typical gamer probably doesn’t listen to strategy-gaming podcasts in the first place.

    After all that, I’m still left wondering to what extent gender preferences influence a gamer’s attraction/avoidance of strategy games. If it’s a numbers problem, I think that will sort itself out over time as the demographics balance out. If it’s a subject-matter issue, then that’s a different problem.

  • Paul C.

    Lara –

    Here are some links from my wife:

    This is a review of research on pre-natal testosterone exposure and the effects it has on gender-related behavior.

    This is an example of a specific experimental paper on the same topic as the above review.

    This is an experimental paper that explicitly compares the effects of prenatal androgen exposure to those of socialization.

    This is the monkey toy preference study I mentioned. I got mixed up earlier, it is actually with rhesus monkey’s, not chimpanzees.

    This is another monkey study, this time using vervet monkey’s, that used a somewhat different method, and found a stronger effect.

    My wife also suggested that if you are particularly interested in this stuff, Melissa Hines (the/an author on most of those linked articles) also wrote a book about sex and gender differences called “Brain Gender” that is intended more for general audiences. Here is a link to it on amazon:


    “Nature vs Nurture” is an interesting question. It is also a very hard one to answer, as the two are really so intertwined. People often think of genetics in a very deterministic way, i.e. you have this gene you will do this. But especially in areas as complex as human behavior it is rarely anywhere near that cut and dry. Most behaviors will involved multiple genes, and will also involve the question of gene expression, beyond just presence or absence of a specific gene. So you end up with tendencies and influences more than any sort of explicit deterministic effect. Then there is the issue that genetics/biological factors can influence you to seek out or create certain kinds/types of environments as well. There is also the growing field of Epigenetics which studies changes in gene expression controlled by mechanisms other than changes in the actual DNA, changes which can even be multi-generational (i.e. heritable) without changes in the underlying DNA. So it is a very complex question, and one that is unlikely to be fully answered for a long time, but people are working on slowly working their way into it.

    Hopefully you find this interesting and I didn’t go overly wonky on you there!

  • Jenn

    Take a few days away from the internet and look at what happens! Holy cow, there is too much here for me to catch up on right now. You guys are amazing. Every time I think I spend too much time thinking about games, people come along and school my ass with incredible new insights. Paul C., amazing links. Please thank your wife for my new breakfast reading :)

    Alan Au: “After all that, I’m still left wondering to what extent gender preferences influence a gamer’s attraction/avoidance of strategy games… If it’s a subject-matter issue, then that’s a different problem.”

    Excellent question! I avoided them since, between elementary and high school, I wasn’t interested in managing every little detail to fight a war I had no interest in. It didn’t matter if it was historical or futuristic or Warcraft II. I’d start the game, play a few missions, then go back to my beloved consoles where games didn’t run like crap because I had a lousy computer. This ties more into the “PC gaming r d0med” rants that happen every day but, until this past summer’s upgrade, I ignored all non-Portal PC games. I see console ads everywhere, all the time. Strategy? If I didn’t hear about it from Tom and Troy, I didn’t hear about it. People who don’t look for game news probably have no idea that there are awesome hex or real-time or whatever strategy game out there with their name on it! These days you don’t even (usually) need sweet specs to enjoy solid games like Rise of Nations and it’s a pity more people don’t know that.

    Alex2000: “How can a game company get the female audience who enjoyed The Sims to play a game strategy game like Rise of Nations?”

    I wish I knew. Even with Troy telling me how fantastic RoN was it took him physically mailing me a copy to get me to install and give it a shot. Yes, I am totally spoiled with Troy as a friend. I had one local friend hardcore into The Sims. They made copies of people they didn’t like and, uh… yeah. Let’s call that person an ‘outlier’, too. I’m surprised that there hasn’t been more crossover between the two games. Surely tactics learned would cross over quite well! Advancing through the ages and getting your Sims to keep up their tasks to build a better home (cheatcodes aside) require many of the same skills, only I get to crush opposing factions in RoN. Not sure if you’d be penalized for burning down your neighbours house if you didn’t like them anymore in The Sims. I trust someone can fill me in on that ;)

    Justin Fletcher: Valkyria Chronicles, woo. That game needs more love. I wish it wasn’t an exclusive so it could reach more people.

    Did we outright dismiss gender differences? I haven’t listened to the show since recording it but it’s entirely possible. None of us could speak of all females or gamers or females gamers and could only approach from our own unique points of view. Before the show Tiffany and I discovered through text that our present favourite games list basically mirrored each other. Oops, so much for different there! My problem is that I am entirely too laid back about the issue, which is not something I’ll blame on being Canadian. All my life I’ve done what I’ve been told wasn’t for girls. I played on internationally touring male contact hockey teams, excelled in tech, & schooled people in games. I don’t even hear it anymore or get riled up by it right in front of me. People base their opinions of women based on video game stereotypes? Well, those people obviously have bigger social issues to deal with first. Girls are turned off by the marketing for games like Bayonetta? It’s their loss.

    Though this dismissive attitude may seem to sidestep the issue, I feel there are better ways to work towards genders being better represented in games, both on screen and among players, than rushing in for a fight. The view of gaming in society, well, mainstream media, has not yet evolved to the same level as books or movies. There are far more examples of sexist and vile content in literature or on screen that are never used to persuade people that the written word is not for ____ (insert class or race or gender here). There are so many factors in play that it’s impossible to pick one thing that can change this perception. General media has to catch up to the medium. The medium needs to pay the same sort of attention to scripts as it does to physics. Marketing needs to acknowledge that there’s often more to games than T&A and slo-mo explosions. For the record, I like both just fine! Gaming coverage needs to pull itself together and take it seriously enough to earn a seat at the big kid table. To use the most handy examples: you may not always (or ever) agree with Tom and Troy but you know that they’ve done their homework and presented their findings in a well-written and engaging package. The lack of sensationalism is refreshing and I hope it can soon be the norm. The end of Crispy Gamer puts a dent in the dream but it will not die!

    Whew. Now how far did I push us off topic this time?

  • Tiffany Martin

    Oh! Interesting comments all around!

    As the other “Actual” girl in the podcast I feel like I ought to reply or at least hang my head out there for commenters.

    I agree with many here that it would have been great to stay focused on more strategy-related topics. In the midst of everything, it seemed like the questions veered into topics related to gaming in general, our personal experiences with games, and our social gaming. I think this was a natural thing to happen when you get podcast hosts who are thinking of the best questions to ask three female panelists. You gotta start at square one: Who the heck are we? What makes us gamers? Because we’re such weirdo outliers these things are important to address.

    You can argue that in fairness women shouldn’t be made to explain themselves as gamers, but the perception is that we’re oddities, and the premise of the podcast was to discuss the female gender gap with regard to strategy. It’s not insulting to want to know these things if the premise begins with “Hey, females, why are you playing these games if our perception is that your people do not engage in such practices?” (Like my paraphrase?).

    I was surprised to find that from my experience few women seem to play strategy when that was among the first loves for me in PC gaming. My “chick games” were far from that. I don’t think we’ll see any good research on the gender divide–I agree that one generation from now it will be an obsolete question to ask.

    Troy, Tom, I re-re-assert that I’m not a tomboy!
    (I own enough shoes to prove it!)

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