Female gamers on the rise, but where are the heroines?
The article looks at female game developers making inroads into the industry--hopefully to make games that go beyond shooting people in the head.
Wander into any videogame store and you could be forgiven forthinking that women do not play games at all but the statisticspaint a different picture.
More than 40% of game players in Australia are female, yet mostgames on the store shelves are of little interest to them.
Despite this, the profile of the typical gamer has changeddrastically over the past decade, with middle-aged housewives nowas likely to play games as teenage boys.
The average gamer in Australia is now 28 years old, up from 24just two years ago. And despite being largely ignored by the gameindustry, 41% are female.
Women and older Australians are the fastest-growing audience forcomputer and video games and if trends continue, by 2014 theaverage age of Australian gamers will be the same as non-players -42 - with an equal number of male and female players.
Trends are similar in the US, where 38% of gamers are female,spending an average 7.4 hours a week playing, according to theEntertainment Software Association.
Women have no interest in the majority of commercial games thatare released, particularly when they are being marketed almostexclusively to males. Instead, studies show most women gravitate to"casual" titles such as online puzzle and card games, trivia, wordchallenges and action arcade games.
It's not surprising that women tend to shy away from most of thegames on the store shelves when publishers routinely use semi-cladfemale characters to ply their wares, appealing squarely toadolescent male fantasies. And invariably the type of game thatgets most media attention are violent and aimed at young men, suchas Grand Theft Auto IV, which hit the streets last week amid theusual critical outcry.
The industry's response to luring women gamers has often beencynical and heavy-handed. Many of the games aimed at females areunimaginative, such as Ubisoft's new (paradoxically titled) Imaginerange of hand-held games that feature stereotypical "pink" subjectssuch as dressing up, cooking and nurturing babies and pets.
Many industry insiders believe the key to creating more gamesthat appeal to women is to get more women into the industry. Bydiversifying the workforce, developers hope to create products thatappeal to a wider audience.
In Australia, female game developers make up only 5% of theindustry while the International Game Developers Association putsthe worldwide figure at about 12%.
To fix the imbalance in Australia, a "Women in Games" group wasestablished to promote development as an exciting careerchoice.
Eve Penford-Dennis, an art tutor at the Academy of InteractiveEntertainment, has worked in game development for 15 years. Shesays that although most people in the industry assumed that genderinequity would eventually balance itself, "it never did".
One of the big problems with games often cited by women is thelack of characters with which they can identify.
While action heroines such as Lara Croft may inspire debateamong girl gamers for having a bit each way - showing somehick-kicking girl power while at the same time displaying plenty ofcheesecake sex appeal - many female game characters are merelyornamental and inevitably scantily clad.
Ms Paldi argues that "until we (women) start making gamesourselves there is no way we will be able to see representations onscreen that we can recognise and identify with. We need to startmaking a generation of games that women want to play and get themexcited about creating their own content," she says.
She says another major hurdle is stereotypes: "There is an awfullot of negative press surrounding the type of games being made. Butnot all games are about shooting people in the head."
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Seattle, Washington, United States