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Video games are for boys
December 4, 2013 11:20 AM   Subscribe

Despite a customer base that crosses many demographics, a large part of the video game industry has remained resolutely focused on appealing and marketing to male players in the 18-24 age group. It wasn't always this way. Although early coin-op and console game development was male-dominated, titles in the 1970s were either marketed for entire families or for adults in bars and later arcades. What changed? Polygon investigates.
posted by figurant (135 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite

 
What do you expect, flowers to womans?
posted by longtime_lurker at 11:48 AM on December 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


As a female gamer who's about to turn 30 years old in two days, I thank you for that demographics link. It made me smile and feel a little less like I'm in a minority group when it comes to my primary interest.
posted by royalsong at 11:50 AM on December 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


A large part of the video game industry does focus on appealing and marketing to other demographics. A large part of Nintendo's product line is like that, plus there are lots of things on phones and tablets. You have to remember that gaming isn't just Sony and Microsoft.
posted by Mitrovarr at 12:01 PM on December 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'll relate a conversation I had last week in a local game store, one of the independently-owned ones where the employees can apparently play games on break or whatever. I noticed one of the male employees was playing one of the Mass Effect games, and furthermore, playing as Male!Shep, which is just ridiculous. Because I am annoying and poorly socialized, I asked why anyone would play as anything other than Fem!Shep. "I find it easier to relate when I'm playing a male protagonist," he answered.

"Must be nice," I replied.
posted by asperity at 12:03 PM on December 4, 2013 [24 favorites]


Seconding Mirovarr. It's important to remember that AAA console games are actually a relatively small part of the gaming industry. Most of the real money is in "casual" games, hidden object games, and other segments that are much more gender balanced. What's striking, though, is how many people will play 10 hours of Bejeweled a week, yet not identify themselves as "a gamer". This is where the stereotypes really kick in.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 12:07 PM on December 4, 2013 [7 favorites]


My favorite example of the kind of advertising I wish game companies would do more of is: this intro to one of the SingStar games. It shows a fabulously diverse group of people and makes me smile every time I see it.
posted by asperity at 12:09 PM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


A large part of Nintendo's product line is like that, plus there are lots of things on phones and tablets. You have to remember that gaming isn't just Sony and Microsoft.

Yes and it's a great thing TF Polygon A addresses that.
posted by trunk muffins at 12:13 PM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Just thinking aloud, and I'm really not trying to justify anything: it seems like the really big budget, hardcore games are the ones with both a heavily-male user base and marketing push, but many of the games with more even or heavily-female user bases are games with smaller development budgets and which market themselves differently. For example, Angry Birds is EV-ERY-WHERE, but the people behind it don't feel the need to advertise on TV or on the sides of buses. The very nature of GTA V as a business venture, on the other hand, necessitates a gigantic advertising push.
posted by Sticherbeast at 12:14 PM on December 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


asperity: Because I am annoying and poorly socialized, I asked why anyone would play as anything other than Fem!Shep. "I find it easier to relate when I'm playing a male protagonist," he answered.

It seems to work that way for some people. I have a lot of trouble playing RPGs with a female protagonist. I find I can sort of stumble through them, but it's weird, and there's no way I'm touching any of the romantic options. I can't deal with playing evil characters either, but that's because I don't enjoy spending the entire game feeling like a horrible person.

That makes a pretty good argument for including a solid female-character option for the player, because I'm sure there are some women who feel the same way. Fortunately most decent RPGs have included this option lately.
posted by Mitrovarr at 12:14 PM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I was really happy when they started adding female avatars for the pokemon games. The games are no different, to the point that you have an awkward conversation with one of the girl NPCs in the newest game if you happen to be straight and pick the female avatar.
posted by royalsong at 12:18 PM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


"I find it easier to relate when I'm playing a male protagonist," he answered.

Eh, still I bet some of guys play as FemShep because "dat body" or "because I like it when two ladiez get it on", so it's not entirely a more or less enlightened position.

As for my own experience, I admit I played a MaleShep the first time, and spent the better part of an evening making him look like Hercule Poirot. But then I found out your still stuck with that gruff generic American voice, which grew to be kinda disconcerting as I went farther into the game. And then I just got bored with the game and played something else. And to admit something else, I've never beaten any Mass Effect game, at all!
posted by FJT at 12:21 PM on December 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Casual gamers don't identify as gamers typical precisely because they are casually interested and don't identify with "gaming" as some cultural shibbolojabba. In my 33 years "gamer" has morphed from "peeps who play RPG games with pen and paper" to "people who play first person shooters and soup up their PCs to max their FPS." I don't know when "people who play AAA console games" entered the definition but I am decidedly skeptical of their commitment to gamer motion
posted by lordaych at 12:26 PM on December 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


Yes and it's a great thing TF Polygon A addresses that.

It's a good article, but it doesn't fully address this. It seems to say that the only special thing about the Wii was that it marketed to different demographics, when really the biggest deal about the Wii was that its motion controller created different kinds of games for the home. What's more, the Wii was never situated as a gaming machine for the stereotypically male "hardcore" gamer who likes FPSes and whatnot. The article places too much of a focus on marketing, when really the product itself was also inherently different from its competitors.

There's also a lot to be said for the fact that Angry Birds and its ilk are designed to be best enjoyed on a phone or a tablet.
posted by Sticherbeast at 12:31 PM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I was really happy when they started adding female avatars for the pokemon games. The games are no different, to the point that you have an awkward conversation with one of the girl NPCs in the newest game if you happen to be straight and pick the female avatar.

One happy surprise for me recently was installing the tweedpunk survive-em-up Sir, You Are Being Hunted, and discovering it has a Madam, You Are Being Hunted option. Does nothing except change the title screen and some lines of dialog as far as I can tell, but I was still delighted.
posted by figurant at 12:34 PM on December 4, 2013 [7 favorites]


Roeser believes that if the makers of Call of Duty came to him and said they wanted to pursue the female market, it could be done. It would just be a matter of making the message appealing to women and reaching them through the right channels.

Are you really sure about that? Call of Duty's status as a male-oriented product is pretty well established, not just in its marketing and cultural perception but in the actual game. It's run through and through with culturally-male stuff like militarism and heroism-through-violence. An attempt to market Call of Duty toward a female audience would need to sell a big old pile of thought luggage, not just a shooting game. Or maybe it would just end up looking like that comedy trailer for The Shining.
posted by skymt at 12:36 PM on December 4, 2013


Mitrovarr: That makes a pretty good argument for including a solid female-character option for the player, because I'm sure there are some women who feel the same way. Fortunately most decent RPGs have included this option lately.

Yeah, the option's becoming more common, and that's awesome. I don't disagree that it's easier for many people to get into characters that feel more like them and don't even really think it's a bad thing. Just pointing out that it's still a hell of a lot more likely for men to have that option and to have had it for a whole lifetime playing video games. If you're a female (or POC) gamer, you've almost certainly gotten used to having to deal with playing as characters that don't look like you.
posted by asperity at 12:43 PM on December 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


It's important to remember that AAA console games are actually a relatively small part of the gaming industry.

I don't believe that's actually true. They account for more than half of all revenue assuming you mean AAA games in general and aren't excluding PC games for some reason.
posted by Justinian at 12:48 PM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


(It's true that "casual" gamers spend quite a bit of time playing games, but that doesn't necessarily translate to revenue)
posted by Justinian at 12:49 PM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Roeser sounds like he's drunk too much of his own Kool-Aid. You cannot compare two slight variations of the same shampoo, with merely different packaging and fragrance, with two videos that are thoroughly different on every level. It sounds like he's just marketing himself. Or, that he don't know what a video games are.

I don't care what he asserts he can do. The guy behind Oogieloves was a marketing wiz, too. I want to see him actually, successfully market a game like Call of Duty to girls and women. He might be surprised by the fact that the game itself would have to change, and in a way more substantive than its fragrance. Maybe small changes - maybe big changes - it all depends on what you're doing.

It's especially frustrating when you look at how Myst, The Sims, and other games have a more even gender divide. These are games that are designed to be different from your COD-type games and your GTA-type games. And that's great! They're better games for it. (Well, Myst is. I've never played The Sims.)

Or, look at RPGs. Letting your character be of any gender (let alone race) is growing trend, long-overdue. When that creates more interest for girls and women, and of course it would, then that's great. But, you can't ignore the fact that RPGs are different kinds of games than COD or GTA.

...

Regarding AAA games and their profitability, it seems like there's a similar vicious cycle with regard to Hollywood blockbusters. Gender dynamics and cold-blooded business decisions intertwine. When you can rake a huge profit off of big-budget blockbusters, you become more and more risk-averse with those blockbusters. When games like COD, GTA, and so on are the huge hits, and when COD/GTA/etc clones are more popular than Myst clones, then you start putting more and more resources into those kinds of games, and you become (often offensively) conservative with how you market them.

I'm not defending this. I don't even like many video games all that much. And, by all means, correct me if I'm wrong.

But, I've been thinking about why I don't like so many modern video games for a while now, so this is what I've been thinking.
posted by Sticherbeast at 12:55 PM on December 4, 2013


Roeser believes that if the makers of Call of Duty came to him and said they wanted to pursue the female market, it could be done. It would just be a matter of making the message appealing to women and reaching them through the right channels.

You could make a AAA console release of Angry Birds and have it be a fantastic game with 98/100 on metacritic and a nice gender-neutral ad campaign, and the casual gaming market would still laugh at you for spending $500 on a gaming console (right before they pulled out their MacBook Pro to buy some more stuff for Candy Crush Saga.)
posted by Mitrovarr at 12:56 PM on December 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


it seems like the really big budget, hardcore games are the ones with both a heavily-male user base and marketing push, but many of the games with more even or heavily-female user bases are games with smaller development budgets and which market themselves differently

This is definitely true, and there are whole genres of games aside from the phone-based stuff going this route (I have spent waaaay too much money this year as a result of discovering the wonderful world of visual novels and related games.) I'm happy to see some of them go up on Steam where they'll get a larger audience, but I'd love to see more available for the various consoles. Unfortunately, those are much more expensive to develop for.
posted by asperity at 12:57 PM on December 4, 2013


Thing is, I don't think anyone would pay $75 on pre-order to buy Candy Crush 2: the crushening, or whatever. The "casual" market doesn't support that price per game, even if the hours of gameplay approach three digits. Popcap struggled at $20/game.
posted by bonehead at 1:02 PM on December 4, 2013


This study suggests that the massive gender imbalance in the marketing isn't actually reflected in who's playing. And this one illustrates that some games are more often played by males, but many are more played by women. Even punching-bag Call of Duty has many more female players than you might think from their marketing.

Marketing is important, but if it produced guaranteed results, the ad industry would be a lot more stable.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 1:02 PM on December 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


I was saving this for maybe an FPP later today/this evening but

SOMEONE IS MAKING A JANE AUSTEN MMO.
posted by Sara C. at 1:03 PM on December 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


I was saving this for maybe an FPP later today/this evening but

SOMEONE IS MAKING A JANE AUSTEN MMO.


It's the talk of the town!
posted by zamboni at 1:06 PM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Even punching-bag Call of Duty has many more female players than you might think from their marketing.

I saw a PS4 ad recently that had NO WOMEN WHATSOEVER in it. It stuck out to me.

Part of me wonders if the reason why this is, and as a corollary, the reason why COD presents itself as Brick Manslab, is because the marketing people think that depicting women in these kinds of ads would drive away more boys than it would attract girls. The marketing people would assume that they'd rather deal with a smaller number of girls than gamble away that allegedly-significant number of easily-scared boys.
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:09 PM on December 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


I saw a PS4 ad recently that had NO WOMEN WHATSOEVER in it. It stuck out to me.

I have no idea what market this XBox commercial is running in, but it's pretty awesome.
posted by figurant at 1:16 PM on December 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Also, more apropos to the thread as it stands, the thing is, I would absolutely have a console and become a hardcore gamer if there were more spendy high-profile console games that didn't revolve around wars and football.

Games I currently love (in addition to the Jane Austen MMO which I am definitely getting in on):

- The Civilization series (and similar turn-based World Domination games like Age Of Empires)

- "Tycoon" or manager style games where you run a thing. I spent a lot of my Thanksgiving weekend playing Armor Games' Frontier, which is a combination business/tycoon and adventure/RPG type thing. Record Store Tycoon is pretty fun, too, though only slightly more complex than Lemonade Stand.

- Fallen London

- Tower Defense games

- Anything sandboxy that doesn't require too much FPS style gameplay

- Adventure games along the lines of the old LucasArts stuff.

If the big game makers would get outside the box of shooters and sportsball, I would absolutely spend as much money on games as your average hardcore gamer dude. Hell, I have considered getting a console in order to play things like L.A. Noire, but haven't because there just aren't enough games like that out there.

The game companies are absolutely catering to a specific market (men 18-35) and don't appear interested in expanding their business model to design things for anyone else. I suppose it's easier and cheaper to keep churning out the same shit. If it ain't broke, and all. The problem starts when people like me -- and it's going to happen even more as younger tech native girls grow up -- would love to give these companies our money, but there's nothing for us to buy.

It's like if Hollywood was still convinced that women only wanted kinetoscopes and zoetropes, and all feature films should be marketed to sixteen year old boys.
posted by Sara C. at 1:19 PM on December 4, 2013 [12 favorites]


Why are people assuming that shooters mainly appeal to young men? The demographics don't support that; shooters appeal to men of all ages.
posted by Justinian at 1:21 PM on December 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


I remember gaming on PC in the 80's and early 90's, and gaming on the NES, and in arcades. It's always been bizarre to see games that twenty years ago would've just been "games" called "casual games"- many, many of the so-called "casual games" would've been hits back in the day. I still look at Peggle and can't figure out how it took so long for that to come out.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:24 PM on December 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


This study suggests that the massive gender imbalance in the marketing isn't actually reflected in who's playing. And this one illustrates that some games are more often played by males, but many are more played by women.

I'd love to see more data on this stuff. It's my impression that the imbalance is worst and weirdest among the youngest, since they're generally not buying their own games, and the people buying for them tend to ask "what's a good game for a boy?" or "what's a good game for a girl?" And that sort of thing genders the experience right from the start. (Some of these parents, grandparents, or other buyers-of-games-for-children actually get angry when you direct them to games that are awesome for, y'know, kids, rather than specific to one assigned gender or the other.) As in the FPP article, the toy aisle coloring bleeds over into the game market.
posted by asperity at 1:24 PM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


The game companies are absolutely catering to a specific market (men 18-35) and don't appear interested in expanding their business model to design things for anyone else

Well that's because that's where the most disposable income for games is. If they could be convinced otherwise, say by you throwing your money at indie games you liked, they'd go there. They're greedy rapacious scumbags, but that's all that they are.

The thing is, there are plenty of games along the lines that you describe, but none of them are killing it in any market. Telltale has made a splash with the (completely excellent) walking dead episodes, but not so much that AAA studios are quaking.

I mean, I can talk all day long about how the music I listen to is better than Miley Cyrus, but until I can convince 10 million people to pay money for it, the MTV Music Awards is under no obligation to listen to me.

And that's probably good. AAA studios would probably do to the games you love what MTV has done to many music genres I love.
posted by lumpenprole at 1:26 PM on December 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


zamboni - thanks, I was scanning down the front page looking for whether there was already an FPP up, hit this first, because squeee, ladies in videogames!
posted by Sara C. at 1:26 PM on December 4, 2013


In my 33 years "gamer" has morphed from "peeps who play RPG games with pen and paper" to "people who play first person shooters and soup up their PCs to max their FPS."

Interestingly, one of the main devs on CoD doesn't entirely agree.

“It’s kind of a weird, ironic thing to say. They aren’t hardcore gamers, or even gamers, but they play Call of Duty every night. And those guys are going to continue to play regardless of platform.”

He also says; “We have an enormous amount of players who are more in the casual game space, but they play a lot.”

posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 1:29 PM on December 4, 2013


I play MechWarrior Online (which is great, if janky in about 15 different ways at once) with my five year old daughter. She digs it:
DADDY ARE THE RED ROBOTS KINDIES OR MEANIES?
They are meanies.
SHOOT THEM THREE TIMES THEN RUN AWAY INTO THE WOODS AND NEVER COME BACK!!
Ok sweetheart.
posted by Sebmojo at 1:35 PM on December 4, 2013 [18 favorites]


The funny thing is a lot of people in the "games biz" sorta look down their noses at the Madden/CoD crowd too, and consider them "casuals" of a different sort.

You could make a AAA console release of Angry Birds

Rovio did, and they priced it ridiculously.
posted by kmz at 1:37 PM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well that's because that's where the most disposable income for games is.

Is that the case, though?

I think that, traditionally, over the last 20-30 years, that has been the case. But now? What is it about 18-35 year old dudes that makes it evident that they will buy video games where 18-35 year old women will not? We presumably have similar levels of disposable income, similar consumption habits, etc. We just (maybe?) aren't as interested in playing things like Call Of Duty.

The thing about video games is that it's not a legacy media in the way that films and TV are. We can't look to the last seventy years of demographic data as a predictor of who will buy what.

It used to be that you made and marketed all video games to boys because video games were deemed to be boy toys, probably because more boys went to video arcades or something. But now that in-home video games have been around for a generation or two, and they appeal to all kinds of people, you sort of have to re-evaluate 1985's market research. You know?
posted by Sara C. at 1:38 PM on December 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


Perhaps the problem is not the games, but the women? Why don't you like gun-things, women? Why don't you like shooting things with guns, and big boobs, and shooting at boobs and faces, and having guns and explosions and spaceships? Why don't you like pretending to be a man and shooting at spaceships and not having boobs? Like seriously what's your problem? Are you too good for shooting and lasers and exploding spaceships and swearing and talking about boobs? And this isn't directed at particular women, it is directed at all women everywhere forever.
posted by turbid dahlia at 1:44 PM on December 4, 2013 [12 favorites]


You cannot compare two slight variations of the same shampoo, with merely different packaging and fragrance, with two videos that are thoroughly different on every level.

I think it's pretty apparent that video games are much more like movies or TV shows, and much less like shampoo. I don't know that I'd trust any marketing person to market video games who didn't get that.
posted by Sara C. at 1:46 PM on December 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


I think that, traditionally, over the last 20-30 years, that has been the case. But now? What is it about 18-35 year old dudes that makes it evident that they will buy video games where 18-35 year old women will not? We presumably have similar levels of disposable income, similar consumption habits, etc. We just (maybe?) aren't as interested in playing things like Call Of Duty.

I think it's a tortuous, vicious cycle between what makes sense for the business, and also the complicated guessing game where people not only have biases about what men and women want, but they are also trying to predict and affect the biases one can produce in men and women.

And this all goes back to design. Women like games. They just don't necessarily like the "gamer culture" and suchlike that centers around many of the AAA titles. And they never have to like that culture.

Instead, the companies should listen to what girls and women want. They might be pleasantly surprised at what happens when you let everybody have fun.
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:52 PM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Bouncing off of turbid dahlia's comment, why should more women like COD/GTA/etc.? Why aren't we asking why don't more men like The Sims or Farmville?
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:54 PM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm really glad that the indie game scene is really surging on the PC, granting lots of options for play that operates outside the standard sweaty-machismo-and-clenched-teeth framework that most AAA titles seem to work in. There are precious few big-budget games where you can just ride a pony around all day, picking flowers and watching the sunset, but I guess not everything can be Magic Pony Flower Party (or as others know it, Red Dead Redemption).
posted by FatherDagon at 1:55 PM on December 4, 2013 [12 favorites]


Why aren't we asking why don't more men like The Sims or Farmville?

Because The Sims and Farmville blow. I'd rather stick a pencil in my eye.
posted by Justinian at 1:57 PM on December 4, 2013


I had a lot of fun with the first The Sims, but haven't played any of the iterations since, because the torrents are like, seriously, 40GB+.
posted by turbid dahlia at 1:59 PM on December 4, 2013


Why can't we have a Sim Ant MMO?
posted by Drinky Die at 2:04 PM on December 4, 2013 [11 favorites]


FatherDagon: There are precious few big-budget games where you can just ride a pony around all day, picking flowers and watching the sunset, but I guess not everything can be Magic Pony Flower Party (or as others know it, Red Dead Redemption).

That kind of gameplay is surprisingly common. Right off the top of my head, you also have Skyrim and Minecraft.
posted by Mitrovarr at 2:04 PM on December 4, 2013


Why can't we have a Sim Ant MMO?

I would play that SO HARD

(Actually, is there a good modern descendant of that one? Networked play not required. Vague nods in the direction of entomological correctness required, so no tie-ins to the various awful bug movies for kids, please.)
posted by asperity at 2:06 PM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I used to say Nintendo could make big bucks on a Pokemon MMO, and then Blizzard just went and built one into WoW.
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:09 PM on December 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


asperity, looks like somebody was doing something, at least up until May. Here.
posted by turbid dahlia at 2:12 PM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think we're on to something here. The problem isn't actually whether or not women play games. The problem might be whether we talk about it.

The Sims 3 became one of the top-selling videogames of all time and had one of the largest female audience of any game. But it's not covered like GTA. I mean where's the articles clamoring for Sims 4?
posted by lumpenprole at 2:15 PM on December 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


More than anything I tend to play either RPGs (in which you can generally choose a gender for your avatar, like Skyrim) or turn-based strategy games (which tend to not have avatars, or the avatar is basically irrelevant, like the Commander in XCOM.) I have less and less desire to play anything that's primarily multiplayer, because I find twitch gaming uncompelling as a mechanic, and secondarily... there's a lot of problematic voicechat and culture there that I'd just rather skip. I have difficulty envisioning a marketing push that would make COD attractive to me, especially when there are AAA titles that appeal to me outside of the shooter mold.

(See also my general boredom with movies clearly aimed at the "more explosions = better" demographic.)
posted by tautological at 2:17 PM on December 4, 2013


To give an idea of the size of various markets, The Sims 3 sold around 10 million copies in 4 years. Grand Theft Auto V sold 10 million copies in less than one day.
posted by Justinian at 2:19 PM on December 4, 2013


asperity I'll relate a conversation I had last week in a local game store, one of the independently-owned ones where the employees can apparently play games on break or whatever. I noticed one of the male employees was playing one of the Mass Effect games, and furthermore, playing as Male!Shep, which is just ridiculous. Because I am annoying and poorly socialized, I asked why anyone would play as anything other than Fem!Shep.

I don't understand. Why was this a bad thing for him to do?
posted by spaltavian at 2:21 PM on December 4, 2013


There is a subset of people who believe that FemShep is the OnlyShep. Jennifer Hale's performance is definitely superb but, unfortunately, Bioware didn't include a high resolution texture for FemShep so I was always forced to play MaleShep so it didn't look like shit.
posted by Justinian at 2:23 PM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


But it's not covered like GTA. I mean where's the articles clamoring for Sims 4?

The Sims 3 sold around 10 million copies in 4 years. Grand Theft Auto V sold 10 million copies in less than one day.


These facts might be related.
posted by tofu_crouton at 2:25 PM on December 4, 2013


It is almost certainly related. The question is in which direction the arrow of causality points.
posted by Justinian at 2:27 PM on December 4, 2013


To give an idea of the size of various markets, The Sims 3 sold around 10 million copies in 4 years. Grand Theft Auto V sold 10 million copies in less than one day.

Grand Theft Auto V is also probably a much better game. It has loads of content - at least as much as previous GTA games. On the other hand, The Sims 3 is a stripped-down, EA-ified vehicle for DLC that has less content than The Sims 2 (which had less content than The Sims 1).

The Sims 3 wouldn't have sold much at all if it wasn't the sole representative of its genre.
posted by Mitrovarr at 2:30 PM on December 4, 2013


turn-based strategy games (which tend to not have avatars, or the avatar is basically irrelevant

This is kind of embarrassing to admit, but I have been known to play Britain in Civ because you can play as Queen Elizabeth.

I mean, there are other advantages, and I don't only ever play as her. But hey, fun!
posted by Sara C. at 2:36 PM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I like to play as Byzantium. Theodora is sexy.
posted by Justinian at 2:39 PM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't want to suggest this is universal, but I'm pretty sure it's not unique. The primary reason I stopped gaming in my 20s was that I had a job and a child and a house to take care of, so I really didn't have the option of playing games that required more than, say, fifteen or twenty minute chunks of time. Anything I couldn't pause or quit at a moment's notice was out of the question.

I was always a little bit shocked at how much time some of my male friends and coworkers with families had for hobbies like video games until I realized it was because their wives were doing all the cooking, cleaning, and childcare.
posted by ernielundquist at 2:41 PM on December 4, 2013 [7 favorites]


Heh, I usually went for Hatshepsut in Civ 4 because I liked the bonuses, but being a lady who was awesome in actual history didn't hurt either.
posted by tautological at 2:44 PM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Seriously, what's up with games you can't stop playing at any point? Do game developers not realize that people have lives outside of games?
posted by zorrine at 2:45 PM on December 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


The primary reason I stopped gaming in my 20s was that I had a job and a child and a house to take care of

This may be the primary reason I don't want a child or a house that requires much upkeep. Priorities!
posted by asperity at 2:48 PM on December 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


I like to play as Byzantium. Theodora is sexy.
posted by Justinian at 2:39 PM on December 4 [+] [!]


Eponysterical, and why don't I ever play as Byzantium?!
posted by Sara C. at 2:48 PM on December 4, 2013


Get your own empire.
posted by Justinian at 2:49 PM on December 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


ernielundquist, as a single woman, my preferred video game timesuck is to kill a Sunday afternoon.

It doesn't lend itself very well to WoW type gaming where you have a guild and raids and such (and I'll need to think carefully about the balls I'm sure I'll be required to attend in the Jane Austen MMO), but it's fine for something like Civ, GTA, LA Noire, etc.
posted by Sara C. at 2:50 PM on December 4, 2013


Oh, I should mention that if you want console games that you can stop playing at any time, the handhelds are the place to go. They're all designed to pause, sleep, and stow gracefully, and often have more interesting and varied games available than the ones you need to monopolize the TV to use, anyway.
posted by asperity at 2:51 PM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't understand. Why was this a bad thing for him to do?

Not for gender parity reasons, just 'cause the actor doing the voice for FemShep is like two million times better than the HeShep actor. I played the first two as HeShep, then when I heard some scenes with the FemShep actor, I created a FemShep character for ME3, willlfully losing my hard-earned XP just so I could hear the better performer.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 2:53 PM on December 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


If the big game makers would get outside the box of shooters and sportsball, I would absolutely spend as much money on games as your average hardcore gamer dude.

I think it's because shooters and sports games justify the $500 consoles that just were released (and the equivalent gaming rigs). Strategy games, adventure games, puzzle games don't require such expensive hardware.

To make a similar point on cost and not exactly nice graphics, adventure games had a period where they just died, because the high budgets put into games like The Last Express just wasn't paying off. It wasn't until years later, when big companies abandoned the genre that small, mostly indie devs with smaller budgets could make the genre profitable again. This is compared with Japan, where I don't think the visual novels or dating sims ever really had a slump, and the only multimedia they have are still pictures and spoken dialogue.
posted by FJT at 3:09 PM on December 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


They're all designed to pause, sleep,

The new XBox (and Sony has promised it for the PS4) have that as a feature, though how well it works is somewhat spotty from reports.
posted by kmz at 3:11 PM on December 4, 2013


I think it's because shooters and sports games justify the $500 consoles that just were released (and the equivalent gaming rigs). Strategy games, adventure games, puzzle games don't require such expensive hardware.


Sure, but what about games like GTA? I'd be happy to pony up for an Xbox or whatever if there was a robust genre of sandbox world games where you had to do a bunch of missions and side quests and such.

When I say think outside the box on AAA titles, I don't so much mean "no really I just want to play candy crush", but, like, surely there is SOMETHING you could do with all that powerful hardware besides blood spatter.

My issues are far more to do with storytelling and far less to do with how advanced I want the graphics to be.
posted by Sara C. at 3:16 PM on December 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


kmz: The new XBox (and Sony has promised it for the PS4) have that as a feature, though how well it works is somewhat spotty from reports.

The real problem is that nearly every new game that is released is designed to be real-time multiplayer. You can't pause a multiplayer game, nor can you quickly enter or leave one and still have a satisfactory experience.
posted by Mitrovarr at 3:23 PM on December 4, 2013


The real problem is that nearly every new game that is released is designed to be real-time multiplayer.

This.
This is the primary reason I gave up on anything other than casual gaming a long time ago. I just have no interest in multiplayer gaming.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:29 PM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'd be happy to pony up for an Xbox or whatever if there was a robust genre of sandbox world games where you had to do a bunch of missions and side quests and such.

I don't know, the XBox is the All-American virtual shooting range. Yes, GTA is a sandbox game, but it's evolved to be just as much about driving as shooting. There's more hope for interesting games that go beyond violence and shooting on a Nintendo system, mobile/tablet platforms, or even PC/Mac.

In many ways, self selection for game genres and the types of mechanics within games begins because the hardware manufacturers have long ago positioned these systems in certain demographics (not only male/female, but certain game types), and have been building up this sort of reputation for years.
posted by FJT at 3:30 PM on December 4, 2013


MMOs fulfill a lot of my desire for sandboxy games with lots of missions, and they always have the biggest worlds for obvious reasons. They are getting very flexible with being able to set your own level of commitment to playing time too. Better on PC than console though.
posted by Drinky Die at 3:34 PM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


SOMEONE IS MAKING A JANE AUSTEN MMO

BUT WILL I BE ABLE TO PLAY AS MR. BRAINLY?
posted by sparkletone at 3:50 PM on December 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


the high budgets put into games like The Last Express just wasn't paying off

I never finished that game, even though I really liked a lot of things about it. I think it was just released at a time when my willingness to take pages and pages of notes to get through a game was declining. I loved the concept, but the gameplay was just such a pain in the ass. I should give it another try now that my computer, sad and old as it is, is sufficient to run it better. I remember the load times being absolutely awful.

I'm playing through Virtue's Last Reward right now, and it's got the best mechanic I've seen for dealing with the tedious parts of otherwise awesome games with branching storylines -- you can backtrack to previous forks in a nifty story flowchart at any time, no need to redo the entire game in fast-forward (as with its predecessor, 999) to try new paths, and no need to juggle a bunch of identical-looking saved games (as with the vast majority of current PC visual novels/life sims).
posted by asperity at 3:56 PM on December 4, 2013


I meant to add: the innovations that make adventure games (and the other non-shooty-sports genre games) more awesome don't necessarily have anything to do with powerful graphics hardware.

It's kinda great when they do, though, like with the Uncharted games, basically the platonic ideal of "interactive action movie," except with a much higher death count due to the whole "it's still a game where you shoot things" factor.
posted by asperity at 4:07 PM on December 4, 2013


FemShep is the best of all possible Sheps.
posted by turbid dahlia at 4:08 PM on December 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


I played a lot of games as a kid when I had a relatively souped-up PC and a Game Boy and a N64. I played Pokemon, I played GoldenEye, I played the Sims, I played Age of Empires (II). I played TFC online with strangers in junior high. I played Harvest Moon. I obsessed over Legend of Zelda for NES onward. I even played car racing games, which, could I possibly care less.

Now every big-budget game that comes out promises some kind of immersive open-ended world-building experience, and that sounds great, but they're so encrusted with macho crap (and btw so fucking expensive) that there's no way I'll ever be a serious gamer again. There could be a Call of Duty or a GTA that was more targeted toward women, easily. Not that it would be an easy conversion now, but if these companies had set out from the get go to create an immersive experience that appealed to both men and women, they could have pulled it off. Easily. With their resources. I mean, c'mon. It doesn't even have to be one game to rule them all, just a variety of games that span a variety of experiences and interests. If people can create great books and art and movies that appeal to men and women, they can create great games that appeal to men and women. I enjoy playing military-oriented games quite a lot (or I did, when they were less obviously gendered in tone), but they become very boring to me when they're all about bland gruff American soldiers and naked female artificial intelligence avatars and whatever bogus bro-y nonsense. (I used to role play military scenarios with my sisters as a kid, and stopped when I started hanging out with male friends more, which sometimes leads me to believe that girls losing interest in "boy" stuff often happens when the gender divide becomes enforced and girls are kind of confused or shamed or told they're not doing it right or aren't supposed to be doing it, in one way or another. There's only one "right" way to play with GI Joe, &c. Military honor is a fairly universal theme, imo; it may draw interest differently from men and women, but it's not off-limits to one gender or another.)

There is always this persistent believe that "women can't be into that" when something isn't marketed toward them-- I remember arguing with a guy gamer on the internet when I was about 13, because he said that girls wouldn't even masturbate if magazines and movies didn't tell them to, there was no way they would care or enjoy it enough to do it on their own. It's actually one of the most frustrating attitudes about women, to me. That because there's no market/commodification of something for women, it can't be real-- it would have been reified in the market by now if it were possible.
posted by stoneandstar at 6:02 PM on December 4, 2013 [7 favorites]


I'm still gunning for a sandbox world type game that takes place in Paris during the French Revolution. It would be sooooooo easy to turn that into a multiple playable characters appealing to practically every gaming demographic type of smash hit.
posted by Sara C. at 6:17 PM on December 4, 2013


I agree entirely with your assessment of classic games and what's wrong with current AAA titles stoneandstar. It's not just women they're driving away with that crap.
posted by JHarris at 6:31 PM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I do, too. And--I'm heartened to see more and more people (women, mostly, it seems) popping into gaming threads and saying things that, in most gaming-discussions, I feel like will be left only to me to say (or, more likely, to not say and spare myself the agony of the ensuing conversational direction). It's like: I'm almost free. I can almost shut up, now, and just go enjoy other things and let gaming culture die the grisly death it deserves.
posted by byanyothername at 7:16 PM on December 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Seconding stoneandstar.

I'm still gunning for a sandbox world type game that takes place in Paris during the French Revolution. It would be sooooooo easy to turn that into a multiple playable characters appealing to practically every gaming demographic type of smash hit.

I would love a similar game based on 1) the build-up to WWI or 2) the French Resistance in WWII.

Also, it would be bad-to-the-ass if you could, in the first game, avert WWI, and then the sequel could take place in an alternate history where that potential conflict had been defused through other means.

Both of these games would require much, much more than pew-pew gunmanship.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:19 PM on December 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Sticherbeast: I would love a similar game based on 1) the build-up to WWI or 2) the French Resistance in WWII.

Also, it would be bad-to-the-ass if you could, in the first game, avert WWI, and then the sequel could take place in an alternate history where that potential conflict had been defused through other means.

Both of these games would require much, much more than pew-pew gunmanship.


The problem is, that kind of thing is incredibly tricky. You could do it through dialog trees, but that sort of thing has to be really well written or it's awful, and it doesn't appeal to everyone anyway. Plus you end up with the Assassin's Creed 3 problem where a character spends the entire game doing a walking tour of every important historical figure of the day, and the whole thing becomes so improbable it's laughable, and feels like a history lesson.

Also, it's hard to cut out the pew-pew gunmanship. At the end of the day, that's your core gameplay mechanic and the rest is window dressing. It has to be fun and there has to be enough of it or that would make it a bad game. It's extremely rare for a game that is story-heavy and doesn't put much effort or time into the core mechanics to be good. You could try another core gameplay mechanic - probably the best would be turn-based strategy, similar to Panzer General, but those aren't very popular now.
posted by Mitrovarr at 8:36 PM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I hear you.

And it's unfortunate for me, because turn-based strategy is my favorite.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:44 PM on December 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Also, because I am a lunatic, I would love a game which featured a lot of person-to-person negotiation, where each negotiation was actually played out as a separate, thematically related, but non-diegetic mini-game.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:45 PM on December 4, 2013


Ah well, I'm sure the indy market will come by to scratch your turn-based strategy itch sooner or later. Reviving dead genres is kind of their thing.

I'm just waiting for a good indy Descent-type game.
posted by Mitrovarr at 8:45 PM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh yeah! Descent. I wonder why that sorta-genre went out of fashion.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:46 PM on December 4, 2013


Well, there were never a lot of them, just Descent 1, 2, and 3 (and Forsaken but it wasn't very good). It made a lot of people motion sick, even people who could play FPS games without problems. Still, with the upcoming release of the Oculus rift, I can't imagine someone isn't going to come by to occupy this niche. I've always thought it would be fun to hook up a good VR set to a powered gyroscope (with a seat inside) and a FF joystick and play some Descent. Better buy the airsickness bags in bulk.

The world needs a good mech game, too (free-to-play games don't count).
posted by Mitrovarr at 8:52 PM on December 4, 2013


Regarding a French Resistance style game: I'm basing this off of having read about but never having played Saboteur, but I would love it if there was a similar game in which there were missions pertaining not only to combat and sabotage, but also to smuggling, and also bigger-picture planning when it comes to sabotage schemes. And if you constantly switched characters as you switched between missions.

Like, there could be a character who's a spry Basque granny who's been shipped to Paris for unfair reasons. She's a crack shot, because she's lived off the land basically all her life. She blends in easily, because who suspects a little old lady of anything? But, she can't read French, and she can hardly speak French, so all the signs are blurred to her and she can only make out a few basic words when people speak to her. She can't run too fast, either. But, once she has her rifle out, she can drop 'em with the best. So, her missions could revolve around the many puzzles of getting her into position, but after you've sorted that all out, then you're rewarded with the unholy pleasures of dropping Nazis like turkeys from a helicopter.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:54 PM on December 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Eh, I can think of a few ways games like these could go.

Sticherbeast's WWI scenario could be an "avert WWI" game where the assumption is that by saving Archduke Franz Ferdinand, you avert the war. It could be a sandbox version of Sarajevo, and you could have the choice of playing a few different characters: another member of Gavrilo Princep's revolutionary cell, one of the Archduke's body guards, a minor Habsburg cousin, etc. Some missions will involve shoot-em-ups, some will involve riding around in various modes of transportation (not unlike the GTA game mechanic), some will involve diplomacy, interrogation, spying, etc (not unlike LA Noire).

The main weakness here is that not that many people know enough about the Austro-Hungarian empire in the nineteen teens, it's not a time and place many Americans romanticize, and the marketing campaign is going to have a huge uphill battle to convince buyers that this is a cool game. Also, I dunno, is there an angle where it appeals to women? I guess the minor Habsburg relation could be female and there could be lots of Downton style aesthetics and intrigue? Still a hard sell, though.

Sticherbeast's WWII scenario could be basically GTA in France, 1943. You're in a resistance cell, charged with various resistance-ish missions. Prominently featuring gun battles, chases through the forest, tank hijacking, etc. This has a central obvious hook for the American video game market (everyone knows what the French Resistance was, WW2 related games sell well), but it's not really that distinctive compared to other games. I don't know if "GTA in [blah scenario]" is that interesting. Also, again, no real appeal to the female market and a strong chance that it would end up just another misogynist blood and guts fest. I'm also not sure how sandboxy it could really be, since if you're in the French Resistance you can't just wander around the village tasting the local cheeses and flirting with girls. Also, ugh, do we let people play as Nazis? That could be bad. I think this game would end up being more like Assassin's Creed or Left For Dead. Still maybe a cool game, though?

I'm not sure what the primary game engine of my French Revolution thing would be. I envision it as being a mashup between something like Fallen London, tower defense, and LA Noire. The problem is, yeah, you need a thing to DO. In the GTA games and LA Noire, you drive around. No interesting vehicles in 18th century France. It can't really be a shootout because guns don't really exist in a meaningful way. So what are you doing? I can think of a lot of cool missions, but most of them are about convincing people of things, stealing stuff, controlling the mob, but those aren't really things to build a game around. Even Assassin's creed is about kicking bad guy ass on a certain level. That said, the romance of the French Revolution would be big demographic draws for both men and women, and there'd be a costume drama angle and social/political element that would be designed to appeal to women in a more specific way than "not strictly objectionable to the ladies".
posted by Sara C. at 8:57 PM on December 4, 2013


WWI is a tough sell in general. Note how Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows was sort of a riff on the idea of preventing WWI, although the marketing material never touched that. I think it's a shame from a design perspective, because IMHO the build-up to WWI could be fascinating. The story behind the actual assassination is grimly hilarious and bizarre. Sarajevo is a colorful and magical setting. It could also be interesting to have a two-level game, where you can play as world leaders trying to get things done, but there are also missions as people with their proverbial boots on the ground. BUT, I don't think a game like this could really be made, because you can't explain it in a sentence, and the average person doesn't give a shit about WWI, and I can't say that I blame them.

There already was a sandbox game set in the French Resistance. It was called Saboteur. Apparently it was good but not great, and the word is that it was basically a better version of what you feared. Personally, I still think there's a ton of stuff you could do in that universe. Unlike GTA, you wouldn't just be causing havoc - the risk of getting caught would be way too high, and there would be an endgame in place. There would be many different ways to aid the Resistance. And no, you should not be able to play Nazis, although playing a Nazi mole could be pretty awesome. (I'm picturing a mission where you're like the main character from the great movie Black Book.)

A French Revolution game could totally work. It just wouldn't be like GTA. Horses are fun to ride. Guns would be of limited use, but swordsmanship is pretty sweet. Politicking is fun. Rallying support is fun. There could be really interesting missions where you have to switch viewpoints - force players to understand that the Revolution was a complicated, violent, and scary place, but not in a totally grimdark way. I'm not familiar enough with the time period to say what a good backbone for the actual story would be, but I don't see how that couldn't work out.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:12 PM on December 4, 2013


Tomorrow's drone pilots are mostly going to be men. That's why.
posted by Renoroc at 9:13 PM on December 4, 2013


No interesting vehicles in 18th century France.

My Little Pony: French Revolution
posted by asperity at 9:13 PM on December 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


And it's unfortunate for me, because turn-based strategy is my favorite.

God we need a new Advance Wars.
posted by JHarris at 9:17 PM on December 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


Also:

but it's not really that distinctive compared to other games

Ah! But it doesn't have to be like other games, is what I'm saying. Take it out of the "realistic means brown" cliche. Pretend that GTA never existed. Make it a visually stylized game where you rely on low-tech ingenuity in order to constantly find news ways to fuck up the Nazi occupation. Smuggling goods, protecting undesirables, stealth missions, sneaking bombs into places, sabotage missions, assassinations, feeding false info to key Nazis, code decryption...basically, what Saboteur should have been. There would be firefights as well, but fleeting ones. Only give the characters big time firepower in contexts where it's sort of ridiculous, e.g. you hijack a tank and use it to save a fellow Resistance fighter, so the mission is to get it from Point A to Point B, with the goal to do it both safely and with minimal damage to friendly people and architecture.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:20 PM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


God we need a new Advance Wars.

THIS GUY, THIS GUY GETS IT
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:21 PM on December 4, 2013


Tomorrow's drone pilots are mostly going to be men. That's why.

Tomorrow's surgeons are going to be about half women, and it's at least as well documented that video games can serve as preparation for that one.
posted by asperity at 9:32 PM on December 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


Are the military or defense contractors major vectors of funding for the games industry?

I don't really get how the drone pilot thing is connected in a direct way to how the sausage gets made, in video game land. It's not like EA is run by some retired general as the propaganda arm of the US military. Video games are products.
posted by Sara C. at 9:37 PM on December 4, 2013


Well, except for that one America's Army game, I guess.
posted by asperity at 9:38 PM on December 4, 2013


Tomorrow's surgeons are going to be about half women

I am now picturing a surgeon who is about half of a woman, sliced longitudinally. She makes a sound like a singing saw when she walks and wobbles.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:39 PM on December 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


God we need a new Advance Wars.

Besides XCOM?
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 10:01 PM on December 4, 2013


Tomorrow's surgeons are going to be about half women

So, free copies of Surgeon Simulator 2013 for all students?
posted by FJT at 10:06 PM on December 4, 2013


Besides XCOM?

For me, at least, XCOM doesn't scratch the same itch as Advance Wars, because Advance Wars is more about logistics than any other easy-to-learn strategy game I can think of.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 10:10 PM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, I dunno, is there an angle where it appeals to women? I guess the minor Habsburg relation could be female and there could be lots of Downton style aesthetics and intrigue? Still a hard sell, though.

If there were somehow, imporbably, a game as awesome as what most people are describing, I don't really know if a "female angle" (hmm) would be necessary.
posted by stoneandstar at 10:10 PM on December 4, 2013


All this is reminding me though of when Shenmue came out, and my little 10-year-old heart skipped a beat. I was so fucking psyched-- and then I never got a Dreamcast, because I was 10 and my family was content with the gaming equipment we already had, and then, you know, the Dreamcast was cast down. Ah, a broken heart.

But seriously, this was a game that appealed to me as a 10-year-old girl-- not just because it was touted as revolutionary, but because I wanted to do all (most) of the stuff that was reported to be in the game! Even though it was "boy" stuff (didn't really think of it that way at the time), all it required was to not be prohibitively macho and appear to hate women and I was in.

(I never actually played this game, I'm just saying, it didn't require any girly stuff to draw me in. It looked cool and Japanese, I guess, and all the hype about the interactive open-ended world had me hooked, before that became mostly subsumed by a particular type of gaming culture. I never heard about any sex-related minigames that involved slapping strippers' asses, so that cleared the radar at the time.)
posted by stoneandstar at 10:17 PM on December 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


I guess?

I don't think anyone is arguing that women don't play video games marketed to dudes, or that, if a video game is really amazing, women wouldn't play it.

I do think that, if the video game industry is going to mature, it is going to have to start marketing things specifically to women, and in a more intelligent way than "i don't know make it pink probably".

Not that I think that everything has to be like Jane Austen to appeal to women. I would fucking LOVE IT if we lived in a world where it was assumed that a badass shoot-em-up game set in the French Resistance appealed to both men and women equally.

But I think that starting at ways that mature media forms market to women is at least better than assuming women don't play video games, or that if we do, it's only candy crush or, like, BRUNCH: THE GAME
posted by Sara C. at 10:18 PM on December 4, 2013


BRUNCH: THE GAME

some bad ideas are better than most good ideas
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:21 PM on December 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


(I am now picturing a video game based on The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, or The Exterminating Angel)
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:22 PM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Your saga of the Dreamcast and Shenmue reminds me so much of my own version of the same tale.

When I was in 4th or 5th grade, my younger brother, who is the Srs Gamr of the family, got a Sega GameGear. Which was sort of Sega's answer to the Gameboy, and a bit of a missing link between the Gameboy and the Nintendo DS. One of the two or three games he had for it was this game.

It was... an adventure game? An RPG? Having been about 11 at the time I didn't have the video game vocabulary to describe it intelligently in 2013. It was set in some kind of 1001 Nights Orientalist universe. You were a prince who'd been unjustly usurped in a palace coup, and you had to do a bunch of stuff in order to seize your rightful throne. It was basically Assassin's Creed, circa 1992. It was the best game EVARRRRRRRRR. That was the first video game I ever loved. After Tetris, of course.

And my brother would never let me play, because it was his toy, and Gameboy type things aren't really conducive to sharing. Eventually the game cartridge got lost, we got a PC, and my brother discovered Duke Nukem. The rest is history. But man, I would love to track down that game.
posted by Sara C. at 10:36 PM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


AAAAAAAAA IT WAS DEFENDERS OF OASIS

It turns out I was kind of wrong about the palace intrigue/usurped true king story, but this game ruled so hard.
posted by Sara C. at 10:41 PM on December 4, 2013


Sticherbeast's WWII scenario could be basically GTA in France, 1943.

It doesn't need to be.


Rockstar Presents: Simone de Beauvoir's The Blood of Others.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 1:16 AM on December 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Great article. I particularly appreciated Bogost's highlighting of these mega-hit games that really do appeal to women: Candy Crush, Farmville, etc. My frustration with those games is they're not very good, as measured by the standards of the art: graphics, gameplay mechanics, etc. But obviously I'm missing something important. He also highlights The Sims 3 which I think really is a great game in pretty much all ways. One wonders why the industry doesn't make more like that.

I'm looking forward to when the first female combat soldier appears in Call of Duty / Battlefield, hopefully as a multiplayer character choice. Both games depict near-future infantry combat so it's plausible. My hope is they do it right and make her obviously female, a little pretty, but in a proper combat uniform that doesn't emphasize boobies and butts over her rocket launcher and submachine gun. I think the game community would kind of freak out if they did that, but it'd create an interesting space for people playing the game tired of the all-male war fantasy they project. There's a couple of female voiceovers in Battlefield 4 multiplayer, like your commander giving you orders is a woman, and that seems to have gone over entirely without remark.
posted by Nelson at 8:07 AM on December 5, 2013


My frustration with those games is they're not very good, as measured by the standards of the art: graphics, gameplay mechanics, etc. But obviously I'm missing something important.

Not necessarily. In games, as in any art form, being good is not necessarily the same as being successful. These games are "page-turners", which is to say they create interaction loops that make the player want to keep going, the same way a Dan Brown novel has a plot that makes readers want to keep going. And in both cases, being "good" is kind of irrelevant.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 8:19 AM on December 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


I have a FemShep preference because Jenifer Hale's heroic voice acting is sometimes like adding three spoonfuls of sugar to a cup of coffee to mask the bitterness because the barrista of the day has more displayed ink than skill. And you already paid too much for it and you're there for the fresh-baked onion bagels anyway.

It's not even a sex appeal thing, it's that she routinely manages to make tolerable interpretations of dialogue that should taken out back and shot as a mission of mercy.

The problem might be whether we talk about it.

Yes. There's an interesting series of articles happening at Tor.com about how science fiction is reviewed. It started with Bourke noting that female authors and editors are producing more books in the genre than she has time to professionally review (or read for pleasure), but men get more buzz both in pre-release and top-of-the-year lists. She brings two other reviewers into the discussion.

But that's science fiction criticism. My sense of game reviews is that, until recently, they were payola published through lifestyle magazines that were vehicles for high-impact advertising involving sexy female models incongruously posed with things like RAM modules with hot-rod stripes. Their target market seemed to be people who not only care about the difference between 30 and 32 FPS at maximum graphics settings, but whether styling of components barely visible behind a plate of dusty plexiglas and cabling made a statement.

To quote the the immortal bard: "Whatever you can do to have a good time, lets get on with it, So long as it doesnt't cause a murder." But that's not a terribly broad demographic.

On another anecdote, my partner is in and out and in and out of WoW, and two things she noticed about the big reveal of their timey wimey wibbly wobbly parallel universe blame it on Garosh and the Bronze Dragonflight expansion was:

* Yet another expansion that's all about the Orcs.
* None of the shadowed bosses appear to be women.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 8:46 AM on December 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


My frustration with those games is they're not very good, as measured by the standards of the art: graphics, gameplay mechanics, etc. But obviously I'm missing something important.

My take on this is that it's video games for people who don't play video games. So the bar is waaaaay low. It's like the cartoons we grew up on in the 80s vs. what Pixar is doing now.

Cartoons didn't suck then because it wasn't possible to make good ones (I mean compare He-Man to Looney Tunes), they sucked because the people making them realized there was a captive market for their stuff with no experience of what cartoons could be.
posted by Sara C. at 9:14 AM on December 5, 2013


I wonder if that crude aesthetic isn't the point. "Casual" gamers don't (want to) see themselves as game devotees, so if they play simple, cartooish games, then it's no big thing, right? It's not a big deal like one of those massive, expensive fps games. It's just a little thing on facebook, their phone, or on the web.

Is the "casualness" studied? No one makes high-production value casual games, even for monster hits like Farmville and Angry Birds. Is that a marker of these sorts of games?
posted by bonehead at 11:25 AM on December 5, 2013 [1 favorite]



I wonder if that crude aesthetic isn't the point. "Casual" gamers don't (want to) see themselves as game devotees, so if they play simple, cartooish games, then it's no big thing, right?


Hunh---that's a really interesting point. The lack of "immersiveness" may be a feature, not a bug.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 11:40 AM on December 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


No one makes high-production value casual games, even for monster hits like Farmville and Angry Birds. Is that a marker of these sorts of games?

But there are higher if not high production games with cartoony graphics. Like Wind Waker and Scribblenauts. I do think buying a $200 to $500 piece of hardware does function as a self-selection mechanism.
posted by FJT at 11:48 AM on December 5, 2013


I know that I tend to look askance at games that want to "immerse" me, and I'm about as far from a Bejeweled player as you can get. Maybe if the world they wanted to immerse me in didn't look like it was dreamed up by a high school student working closely in concert with one of your lesser ren festers and Boris Vallejo's Mexican Equivalent. If I was submerged in one of those worlds, I'd forget about trying to save the gods-forsaken thing and look unceasingly for ways out.
posted by JHarris at 12:08 PM on December 5, 2013


I do think buying a $200 to $500 piece of hardware does function as a self-selection mechanism.

Definitely. There are plenty of simple puzzlers and card/board game collections and so forth available for consoles and handhelds, but most people don't consider spending the money on a device just to play them a reasonable idea when you can get similar games for free. Even if they're not as well designed, or make you wait to play more, or try to get you to pay as you play, or make you look at advertisements.

If I were going to define "casual games," I'd say: games that you don't need any other equipment for beyond the computer or phone you've already got, and don't have to spend anything up front to start playing. I'm not sure technical merit or lack of it has anything to do with it.
posted by asperity at 12:13 PM on December 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


bonehead: I wonder if that crude aesthetic isn't the point. "Casual" gamers don't (want to) see themselves as game devotees, so if they play simple, cartooish games, then it's no big thing, right? It's not a big deal like one of those massive, expensive fps games. It's just a little thing on facebook, their phone, or on the web.

The graphics are one thing, but a lot of those casual games are really bad games for other reasons. A lot of them are free-to-play with really abusive models (aka pay-to-win) and are designed to be addictive, not fun. That's why it's so irritating to see people playing these things; in their desperate struggle to not have to think of themselves as gamers or pay for anything upfront, they're locking themselves into the worst games that gaming has to offer.

* Not that all casual games are bad (see everything Popcap that predates free-to-play) but a lot of the games that 'non-gamers who game' play are the worst of the genre.
posted by Mitrovarr at 12:35 PM on December 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


Even without quasi-predatory motives on the part of the developers, the lack of payment up front means there aren't a lot of resources for high production values. An indie developer producing a casual game purely for the love of it may not be trying to min-max players' dopamine hits or whatever, but she probably hasn't got a budget for anything too fancy. And with the abusive ones, well, there's no reason to put any more resources into the game than absolutely required to get more money coming in.
posted by asperity at 12:53 PM on December 5, 2013


in their desperate struggle to not have to think of themselves as gamers or pay for anything upfront

I think that's a bit much -- I doubt there's nearly as much thought going into it as that. The marketing for this kind of game means it comes straight to you, generally via social media or phone ads or something like that. Or it's pre-installed, like the first blockbuster casual games, Windows Solitaire and Minesweeper.
posted by asperity at 1:00 PM on December 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


No one makes high-production value casual games, even for monster hits like Farmville and Angry Birds. Is that a marker of these sorts of games?

There are some gorgeous casual games out there, though.

I don't know about the whole "immersive experience" argument, but in terms of graphic design, smart use of visuals, elegance, etc. I will take something like Dots over Candy Crush any day.
posted by Sara C. at 1:13 PM on December 5, 2013


If I were going to define "casual games,"

I like the thrust of your definition though I think there are probably quite a few casual gamers who own a console of one type or another. Particularly a Wii. So it could use some refinement...
posted by Justinian at 2:42 PM on December 5, 2013


I dunno, I think if you're spending the money on a console and games for it, that's out of the realm of casual, regardless of game content/style/genre. Maybe if you're playing on the Wii that's "really for the kids"? This isn't to say that people in that category have any connection to "gaming culture," or would even necessarily visit a store that only sold games. I don't think a dichotomy between hardcore and casual gamers is useful, so I'd prefer more of a continuum there.
posted by asperity at 3:49 PM on December 5, 2013


I don't know why Angry Birds is getting the hate. At least the version I played seemed to be reasonably well-designed considering the constraints of legacy flash, phone and tablet hardware, potential data caps, and a shareware model. The puzzle designs had a good progression of challenge. Maybe it feels cheap compared to Skyrim, but for something to just load up to kill a few minutes while food is in the oven, it does what it needs to.

The independent game renaissance is largely built on hitting an impulse-purchase price point and possibly cross-platform delivery onto mobile. You don't get mocap cut scenes with celebrity voice talent, but you often get better games. Bastion had one art designer, one voice director/composer, and three actors (one the composer.) It said everything at $15 that Bioware tried to say and failed at $180 dollars. I'm a bit spoiled by the abundance of leaner games with a higher degree of artistic consistency and greater diversity in genres. Bioware and Bethesda can deliver the "wow" but it takes something like Dungeons of Dredmor to make me giggle insanely on a bad night when I created and killed five hardcore characters in under an hour. (Monster Zoo! Random teleport into hell! Metaphor for the bomb! Offerings for the lutefisk god! It's not fair, and that's the point!)

I don't think that price is really a distinguishing feature of "casual games" anymore in the current market.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 4:10 PM on December 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


CBrachyrhynchos: I don't know why Angry Birds is getting the hate. At least the version I played seemed to be reasonably well-designed considering the constraints of legacy flash, phone and tablet hardware, potential data caps, and a shareware model. The puzzle designs had a good progression of challenge. Maybe it feels cheap compared to Skyrim, but for something to just load up to kill a few minutes while food is in the oven, it does what it needs to.

Actually I regard Angry Birds as a good casual game, for what it's worth. Games I regard as 'bad':

Social disease games that operate by having you annoy the hell out of your friends: Everything Zynga has ever made, stuff like Farmville or Mafia Wars, most games on Facebook.
Pay-to-win games that only exist to extract money by micropayments: Tank wars, Candy Crush, that stupid Smurf game, etc.
Games that would be good but are ruined by bad DLC or micropayments: The Sims (any but the first), a lot of the things produced by EA, most free-to-play games, etc.
Addictive but not fun games - mostly includes grindy MMOS that don't engage at any level aside from making the little lab rat at the back of your brain keep hitting the button in the hopes of a food pellet. Mostly defunct due to WoW, which is grindy but puts a lot of effort into at least trying to be fun.
posted by Mitrovarr at 4:29 PM on December 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


Re Angry Birds, I was going to chime in to make those exact two points -- pretty well designed, from a graphic standpoint, and it's definitely better than a lot of casual games I've played in terms of actual fun-ness.
posted by Sara C. at 4:34 PM on December 5, 2013


I don't mind DLC or micropayments, but I'm cheap. As long as it's not pay-to-win, I really don't care if someone else pays for my server time by buying cosmetic items.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 4:46 PM on December 5, 2013


I think it's because shooters and sports games justify the $500 consoles that just were released (and the equivalent gaming rigs). Strategy games, adventure games, puzzle games don't require such expensive hardware.

The average gamepad is also a terrible way to play at least the two former genres. Back in the late 90s, the biggest RTS hits like Command & Conquer of Starcraft would get adapted for consoles, but they didn't cause the same excitement as the PC versions did. Touchscreens and Wiimote-style pointers (or, supposedly, the Steam controller) would be way better for strategy and adventure games, but this kind of games is considerably more niche nowadays.

More than anything I tend to play either RPGs (in which you can generally choose a gender for your avatar, like Skyrim) or turn-based strategy games (which tend to not have avatars, or the avatar is basically irrelevant, like the Commander in XCOM.) I have less and less desire to play anything that's primarily multiplayer, because I find twitch gaming uncompelling as a mechanic, and secondarily... there's a lot of problematic voicechat and culture there that I'd just rather skip. I have difficulty envisioning a marketing push that would make COD attractive to me, especially when there are AAA titles that appeal to me outside of the shooter mold.


I sincerely agree. For all the excitement about the new generation of consoles, the games themselves seem underwhelming.

Games I currently love (in addition to the Jane Austen MMO which I am definitely getting in on):

- The Civilization series (and similar turn-based World Domination games like Age Of Empires)

Ever tried any Paradox games like Europa Universalis 3-4/Crusader Kings II?

posted by ersatz at 5:44 PM on December 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


No, but I'm always looking for new stuff, so thanks!
posted by Sara C. at 5:55 PM on December 5, 2013


Coincidentally, CKII is 75% off for the weekend and there was an older, rather entertaining thread on MeFi about it.
posted by ersatz at 10:28 AM on December 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


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