Awaking the Digital Imagination

a networked faculty development seminar

Brenda Laurel (games for girls?)

Posted by Gisele El Khoury on October 30, 2010

Brenda Laurel believes in the study of computers from a humanistic perspective. She has used elements of drama (she has a PhD in theater) to understand computer interactions. She talks about the links between Aristotle’s Poetics and Human-Computer interaction and examines the six elements and causal relations of Aristotle’s model versus that of human-computer activity.
These six elements are:

  • Action,
  • Character,
  • Thought,
  • Language,
  • Melody (pattern),
  • Spectacle (enactment).

She noted that the differences are the ways the senses are affected.  She mentioned some ideas/experiments that were used before to make the experience/play as “real a possible” by addressing touch, smell and taste:

1920’s: Director David Belasco used odors as part of the performance of realistic plays (later he abandoned this when noticing that the smells distract audience from the action on stage)

1960’s: Sensorama, invented by Morton Heilig-Father of Virtual Reality- who imagined that, for the price of 25 cents, «Sensorama» would offer multi-sensorial impressions of a virtual, ten-minute-long motorcycle ride through New York City. Apart from seeing the film, the «Sensorama» user would simultaneously experience the corresponding vibrations, head movements, sounds, and rushes of wind. But Heilig was unable to commercialize his visionary prototype for a cinema of the future. In a later interview he stated: «The Sensorama may have been too revolutionary for its time.» ( 3D in the 1960!!)

1980’s: Tina and Tony’s Wedding (play):  audience were invited to follow the actors from room to room, to sit on the furniture and to share in the wedding banquet.

It was interesting to know that the “interface agent” Phil  (Apple Knowledge Navigator Circa 1988)  was not accepted very well by people because they though that he stupid because his physical traits did not match his language capabilities, his thoughts or his actions. “Phil” was later changed to a “simple line-draw cartoon character with very limited animation. And people seemed to find the new version much more likable.

What is also interesting to know about Brenda Laurel is her research on games for girls. In this video she talks about designing games for girls, based on her extensive studies at Interval Research and her experience as the founder of Purple Moon a company that target young girls between the ages of 8 and 14. It was folded in 1999 and merged with Mattel.

In 1997 two games were released Rockett’s New School and Secret Paths in the Forest. Both games were more or less visual novels and encouraged values like friendship and decision making. The company faced criticism including charges of sexism, mostly due to their belief that girls would not enjoy the more popular action-oriented games often associated with boys and young men.

I remember playing “Doom” (which is widely regarded as one of the most important titles in gaming history). It was one of my favorite games; I didn’t find it “boy oriented” (still I have to admit that some of the monsters used to scare me but I enjoyed playing it.) I know that “Doom” remains notorious for its high levels of violence, gore, and satanic imagery, but I though that it was one of the favorite games for a whole generation regardless if it was played by boys or girls. I was wrong! A week ago, I emailed Todd Hollenshead the co-owner and CEO of id Software (the company that created Doom) and asked him if he has some data on how many “girls” played Doom, and this is his answer:

“While I have anecdotal evidence that girls/women played DOOM (and many other supposedly “male oriented” games from id), such as your email, we never retained any demographic data about the users that would prove a certain percentage of players were female. Certainly that percentage is above zero. But I’m just as certain that a large majority of the players were male.“

Ok, so my friends and I were exceptions because we played and liked “Doom”! This is why I have to agree with Laurel that it seems that we need some games girls-oriented for the ages 5 to 10 but beyond that I don’t see a girl in her thirteen of fourteen playing “Rockett’s new school” (It would be too boring – this is MY personal opinion)!

4 Responses to “Brenda Laurel (games for girls?)”

  1.   Paige Says:

    i’d like to second your call for more exciting and interesting tech outlets for girls–while i feel that we need to address the fact that there are more men than women who are active in techie-fields like video games, blogging, etc, most attempts i have seen to do so are too squishy/touchy-feely and are purple and pink all over. is it possible to target something to girls without perpetuating stereotypes and gender roles?

  2.   Sondra Smith Says:

    I love that you enjoyed playing Doom … I just wish I understood why! I think perhaps I have never spent enough time in a video game environment to get “hooked”. My experiences have been too brief and unsatisfying. No doubt my 1970s upbringing was also a factor. ;/0

    I agree with you that we need more/better technology that girls will find stimulating and worthwhile. I really don’t understand the conundrum but having raised children of both genders to adulthood I have been continually amazed but convinced that there are (beyond the most obvious biological) real differences. It is more than unfortunate — it is shameful — that “girls games” are so much less intellectually challenging than “boys games”.

    However, I am also greatly encouraged by most recent data we’ve collected from students at St Lawrence suggesting that the gender gap with technology use is less worrisome than it used to be. Unfortunately, I don’t remember the specifics … but your post reminds me it’s a topic I need to return to.

    And also … very cool that you received a reply from Mr Doom!

  3.   Gisele Says:

    I agree with you Paige, most “girls games” have this “pink/purple” touch and they are not challenging at all… this is perhaps why I liked Doom (to prove to my brother that I can play it and win at the end)… I don’t know. What I know is that companies should be more creative and put more thoughts when they are creating games for girls.. I’m sick of these games where you have a house and a family and you have to run everything and make sure everyone is happy … Seriously (like I don’t have enough “responsibility” in real life!!)

    And also … very cool that you received a reply from Mr Doom!
    And it was a prompt reply!! I didn’t expect him to answer at all. It was nice from him…

  4.   Chris Says:

    I speculate that there’s some data out there on the demographics of MMORPGs – particularly World of Warcraft – that suggest a relatively high percentage of female users compared to games of the 80s and 90s. I don’t want to speculate as to why, though.