Women, Gaming, And Evolutionary Theory

2 Nov

I was happy to see that the new issue of The Escapist (Issue 17) is about women and gaming. I looked forward to interesting articles. After reading the first one, I’m not so happy anymore.

The first article is Chris Crawford’s Women in Games. He takes a look at gaming and women with evolutionary theory as background. This article made me go “HUH?”. Now it’s not evolutionary theory itself I have a problem with but – BUT! – I have a problem with the relevance Chris Crawford attributes it for games in this article.

I shudder to think what kind of game would result if Chris Crawford’s model for games for women would be followed:

“The ideal game for women, according to this simplified model, would be some sort of interactive soap opera or bodice ripper, presenting the player with complex social problems as she seeks the ideal mate.”

He tries to lessen the impact by terming this a “simplified” model, but I think the terms “soap opera” and “bodice ripper” are pretty telling. They are terms with negative connotations and Crawford uses them to describe what a gaming experience must be like for women to be an ideal game – and in doing so he shows a condescending view about women. Apart from that, I really don’t think I would enjoy a game designed after what seems to be – according to Chris Crawford – my goal/purpose/main interest in real life: “to seek the ideal mate”. I play games for entertainment and fun and – yes – to escape for some time from my real life, to experience different worlds and realities, … What does that say about a game based on “my real life”?

Maybe he thought of the success The Sims had with female gamers. Evolutionary theory might explain this in parts, BUT I would say it’s not a game I would use to convince non-gaming women to play a game. For my sister I probably would use Ico or maybe a Jump-and-Run. For one of my friends I would probably use a game with a more developed story than just the standard “save the world”. But I would always use a game with good = easy to learn gameplay. I think a good option for most is Beyond Good and Evil. And this game has the not-to-be-neglected benefit that you’re playing a fully clothed female character.

My point? Evolutionary theory might explain – although I find it highly doubtful – why more women like to play The Sims than men, or why a woman with no previous gaming experience would pick up and play The Sims, or why a women with no gaming experience might pick up a game based on Crawford’s simplified model in general, but it doesn’t explain why a lot of women like to play other games than games based on Crawford’s simplified model, or why they don’t care overly much about The Sims, or why they play regularly when there are no “ideal” games for them. I’m sure that my sister and my friend would have more fun and entertainment playing a game based on their individual tastes than on a game based on Crawford’s simplified model. Sooner or later, for someone who invests some time in games and gaming, other aspects (like personal interests, aspects of the game(play) itself) far outweigh the basic and very rudimentary aspects postulated by evolutionary theory – if they influence at all.

Chris Crawford’s uses evolutionary theory to create his model of “the ideal game for women”. Although he states that human choices “arise from three layered sources” with “the cultural element dominating in a great many situations” (see: http://www.escapistmagazine.com/issue/17/4), he neglects to explain why the cultural element is not important when considering entertainment choices. He outlines the basics of evolutionary theory and concludes, because the primary evolutionary skills for females are social reasoning skills and because “the classic female mass entertainments are the soap opera and the bodice-ripper” which deliver “intense and intricate social conflicts requiring elevated social reasoning” (http://www.escapistmagazine.com/issue/17/8), that women also might want to exercise their primary evolutionary skills in games (which are also entertainments).

“Women in Games” is an article that goes on and on about evolutionary theory, but only develops flimsy connections between it and women and gaming (what I expected initially from the article), and forgets the cultural element. Outweighing the “ideal-ness” of Crawford’s simplified game model is the “ideal-ness” because it corresponds to what is expected of women – the cultural element is dominating. Games based on Crawford’s model make playing games socially more acceptable for women because these games correspond to the traditional female role – in a sense they make her stay “in her place” – so more women might play them.

I think that a game modelled after Crawford’s “ideal” game would be successful with women because it corresponds to their culturally desired role – and therefore makes playing it acceptable for them in society -, and not because it corresponds to their primary evolutionary skill. Look at all the female gamers with long-time experiences in games – they branched out from, abandoned, or never knew Crawford’s model and claimed their right to decide for themselves what they want for entertainment. Their choice depends on the game itself – short version: does it suck or not? – and not on hazy evolutionary skills. It’s not mainly the games that need to change to attract women to playing games – there’s no need for evolutionary theory inspired gender-ghettos in games – it’s culture and society that need changing: playing games is an acceptable form of entertainment and both males and females may well enjoy playing them – if the games don’t suck (and, for a start, if the female characters in the games finally find some clothes).

End of story. It’s time to leave the cave and to arrive in the “Now”. It’s time to make playing games acceptable for both genders – culturally, socially, and in gameplay. Time to make games that don’t suck.


Read the funny O, Chris Crawford … We Shake Our Heads At Thee at http://oghc.blogspot.com/ for more.

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