Computer games draw more women

August 13, 2002

Adolescent boys are not the only ones playing computer games.

In fact, says Dr. T.L. Taylor, assistant professor of communication at North Carolina State University, recent trends show increasing numbers of girls and women enjoying games on their computers as well.

But the burgeoning numbers of women aren't just playing what are traditionally known as "pink games," in which stereotypical female behavior like socializing and relationship building is the focus of the game, Taylor says. Contrary to stereotypes, females are also increasingly involved in what might be called "guy games," where power, might and combat abound - and where game companies endow women with physical characteristics rivaled by Playboy models.

Taylor's two-year, ethnographic study of one massive multiplayer online role-playing game - EverQuest, in which online subscribers to the game invent personas, or avatars, and enter a world filled with dungeons, dragons, magic and monsters to attain higher levels of power and status based on experience and might - suggests that women play games online for a variety of reasons. She thinks that much of the current literature - which seems to adhere to the myths that women play computer games to socialize or chat, and which focus on the need for the creation of more "pink games" - needs revision.

"Gaming industry figures estimate that about 20 to 30 percent of people playing a computer game like EverQuest are women," Taylor says. "That's pretty amazing given the industry has not taken women's participation in this genre seriously yet." She also says that, according to some gaming industry estimates, if you consider games like dominoes or solitaire, the number of women gamers actually surpasses the number of men.

In a forthcoming paper, "Multiple Pleasures: Women and Online Gaming," Taylor examines the contrasting motivations behind female participation in online computer games.

She doesn't deny that a need for socializing or community is a large reason for gaming online. After all, when a player can log on to a game and be one of 40,000 or so people playing at any particular time, there's a great chance for socializing, making new acquaintances, or renewing old ones.

"Massive multiplayer online games debunk the stereotype of the isolated gamer," Taylor says. "People now have relationships with extended communities in virtual worlds."

Moreover, skills typically seen as feminine - social inclusion, social adeptness, and forming and maintaining relationships - are seen as positive traits in the gaming world, Taylor says, as these traits frequently lead to more success in the game.

Taylor finds that the opportunity to forge an identity in a virtual world is another motivation to playing online computer games. She's learned that women gain an affinity for their avatars whether they represent real-world women or are diametrical opposites of their real-world personalities. In short, online games give women a chance to engage in various identity performances.

Taylor also says the competitive nature of the game - something that would be a stereotypical rationale for men enjoying computer gaming - is another powerful motivation. While many games pigeonhole virtual women into objects who need rescuing, EverQuest allows women to play a notable, active role.

At the same time, "EverQuest has consistently not addressed the representation of women when designing avatars," Taylor says, and she's almost surprised that so many women play "a game that is not really designed for or marketed to them."

Exploration, another traditionally male motivation for playing computer games, is another major motivation for women gamers, according to Taylor. Gamers get the opportunity to engage new worlds with various inhabitants (like dwarves, elves and the like). Also, as opposed to real-world limits on "unsafe places" that are frequently placed on girls and women, the virtual world makes no such distinction. Dangerous places are just as dangerous for male characters as they are for female characters.

Taylor also found women who actually revel in some of the combat of online games. She doesn't think, though, that online games will lead to increased instances of female violence in the real world. Instead, she finds that fighting in a virtual world is more an opportunity to demonstrate game mastery. So women enjoy the combat because it allows them to advance in the game.
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Media Contact:
Mick Kulikowski, News Services, 919/515-3470 or mick_kulikowski@ncsu.edu

North Carolina State University

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