On Girlish Counter-Playing Tactics (a response)
Today I stumbled into a “game studies” article that I found at best problematic. I should note that I use “game studies” here in as broad a way as possible, and by problematic I don’t mean that “it makes discussions of certain issues in the discipline more difficult”. What I found problematic is that this article, “Girlish Counter-Playing Tactics” by Rika Nakamura and Hanna Wirman (http://www.gamestudies.org/0501/nakamura_wirman/), sets back perceptions of female gamers by at least 10 years by using a fundamentally flawed study backed by unreasonable and unproven assumptions of female gamers.
But before we go into the authors’ ridiculous assumptions, let me address her flawed methodology. In this so-called “study”, the authors “analyze” three games – Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura (2001), Warcraft III: The Reign of Chaos (2002), and The Sims (1998) – through what they define as a “feminist” counter-play perspective. Their study consisted of focusing on certain play assumptions (to be tackled later) while they “played the games through couple of times and used many tactics during this.” In order to determine whether these games were suitable for a female audience, the researchers themselves played through the game instead of having a test group and a control group. Granted, the authors’ approach is not uncommon in literary studies. However, when commenting on the classification of a text – presumably what the authors were attempting to do – researchers should use something more concrete than assumptions that don’t hold any water. Most interestingly, when performing a literary analysis, one must read the text carefully. The authors of the study, however, state that “because playing through the example games takes tens of hours, we did not play all the games through with ten tactical approaches.” In other words, their readings were not terribly thorough.
I shared this article with a friend and colleague, and she noted something curious. The actual objective of the study, according to the authors, is as follows: “this paper aims to show that there could be more entertaining and more interesting computer games for girl players than games presented in this article.” My friend pointed out that if a study was going to show that there are other more suitable games, then perhaps the study should focus on discovering whether those “more interesting girl games” are actually “girl games”. As my friend eloquently put it, “then why aren’t you making a study on THOSE other games?”
My friend also agreed with me in that the authors were trying to make the analyzed titles fit into a mold they clearly didn’t. She stated that when analyzing a game’s appropriateness for a certain audience, what should be focused on is on the player. She said that ” games are static. You can study their attributes, but you cannot influence them into altering themselves.” (Myri)
Now on to the assumptions that the authors used to write their analyses of these titles.
The author assumes that there are certain “girlish counter-play tactics” that games should implement if they are to be girl friendly. Below are some of the ridiculous the assumptions:
- Girls want to play games with girl avatars.
- Girls want games with character development.
- Girls want games that focus on social relationships.
- Girls want games that are non-violent.
- Girls want games that focus on cooperation, not on competition.
- Girls want games where they can be caring.
- Girls want games with realistic (ordinary) settings.
- Girls want games where they can progress at a “peaceful pace”.
- Girls want games that focus on story.
- Girls want games that allow for alternative pathways.
I should notice that some of these assumptions actually address questions of design that most players, not just “girls”, prefer. For example, gamers who enjoy RPGs will prefer games that focus on story and character development rather than mindlessly blowing up stuff. Other assumptions, such as “girls want games where they can be caring”, are outright sexist, as they presuppose the concept of woman as caregiver.
Now, perhaps I am biased. My perception of “gaming” is one that comes from growing up in the 80s, where people simply played games, and even girls who played games saw “girl games” as ridiculous (anyone remember the Barbie titles?) Perhaps it’s because I don’t buy into the concept that Call of Duty 7and Madden XXVIII are for guys while Farmville and CakeMania are for girls, because I have a broader idea of what video games are than “guy games” and “girl games”, an idea that includes everything from Wario Ware and DDR to Final Fantasy XIII-2 and Infamous 2, or because I have never thought of grouping people in convenient groups that allow for discrimination and instead focus on the individual (so instead of thinking “girls like X type of games”, I think “that one girl likes X type of games”), but I don’t see how one study carried out by two individuals on themselves can be generalized to a broader group.
At any rate, that’s just my two very informal cents on this issue. It really might be that, as this article suggests, girls just want to play social nonviolent games with stories (Farmville and Cakemania, perhaps?), but I’m fairly certain that this kind of blanket statement, whether it is as a feminist (or anti feminist) statement or something about any group of people, is ridiculous.