Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Wobbly blogging, spam and yet more demographical questions

Due to the huge volume of Japanese porn bots that try to post comments on Well-Rendered, it's necessary for me to moderate the comments that come through. The ratio of porn links to actual comments is such that when I receive an actual comment, I get all flustered and don't know what to do with myself.

I've been told by Google Blogger for Dummies (yes, there is such a publication) that it's good to reply to all comments (because it makes people feel appreciated and more likely to continue reading yada yada), but I didn't used to reply because people who I'd never met (such as Ewoud and nowihs) said such nice things that I felt a bit embarrassed. 

Oh, and it's always good to hear from the stalwarts who always take the trouble to enter into discussion, raise a point or voice an opinion. Anyone who's ever put anything out to the public - to however small an audience - knows how valuable this kind of support is.

Anyways, Blogger threw a bit of a wobbly this morning, and a really interesting comment from "Hyde University" got lost. Luckily, I recovered it and took a screencap, even though I still can't publish it.
 


By the time you read this Blogger might have regained its composure and published it, but I'm not holding my breath. This may be the only record of the comment, which is a shame because it raises several interesting points, mainly about female gamers, demographics and why there aren't more games "aimed" at women.

One of the things that really struck a chord with me is where the poster (I can't work out whether it's a man or a woman) says the following:

"I'd argue that until female software writers and female story writers get together and actually start creating games, we aren't going to see much change on this."

This is an interesting one. The implication is that women in the industry should be trying to get together and creating something without men, or at least with their minimal involvement.

(Hyde University, if you're reading this and that's not what you meant, please do get in touch, I would love to discuss this further)

I'm in two minds about this. On one hand, I think it would be really interesting if more mainstream games were made by all-female or predominantly female development teams. I know that although there is an exciting increase in the number of female developers, there is still a depressing gender ratio.

On the other hand, I'm not sure that concentrating on the difference (or perceived difference, gender theory buffs) between the sexes is necessarily productive. Certainly gaming can seem like a bit of a boys' club every now and again, but is roping off a corner of gaming from male interference really the way to go? I'd argue that if women feel excluded from games and gaming it's as much (if not more) down to external marketing as it is to the content of the games themselves. Developers and writers who have talent, vision and an inclusive attitude should be encouraged regardless of whether or not they have a Y-chromosome.

An alternative perspective is put forward by esteemed games commentators Daniel Floyd and Leigh Alexander right here:


I am inclined to agree with much of this. However, both Hyde University (who is probably a person rather than a building, but I only have a username to go on) and the Floyd/Alexander behemouth draw links between the people who create the games and the people who play them.

You'd think that was a no-brainer. However, the majority of female gamers are actually playing flash and browser games such as Bejeweled rather than more in-depth games. These games are not renowned for being developed by women, and although they have their place, I'm not sure they can be considered becons of equality just because lots of women play them.

People who use games as a toy to unwind at the end of the day or during a tea break and people who devote hours to unravelling the plot threads in Heavy Rain aren't always (or even often) the same people. I'm not being a snob here, that really is the case. People who read magazines don't always read novels. It's not that one medium is better than another or that the magazine readers don't also read books, but it is the case (sorry) that someone who buys heat to read on the train isn't necessarily going to be someone who spends hours getting lost in something more substantial, be it fiction or non-fiction.

Bilious games reviewer and fount of wisdom Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw is less concerned with being nice to people than I am, and a good thing too because I think he makes a valid point about casual gamers in this video.

I really think the question of how female gamers are perceived is an interesting one, and it certainly has something to do with how many women decide to - or manage to - break into the industry.

What does everyone think?

Comments are especially welcome.

12 comments:

  1. A couple of quick thoughts:

    Women are often introduced to games such as Bejeweled etc as ads when they go to check their email, or to Farmville ad infinitum when they look at their Facebook accounts. They come to games accidentally, is my thought. They really have no reason to make the leap from there to another type of game.

    I started gaming years ago because my husband and son were playing Jill of the Jungle and Commander Keen and Duke Nukem. It looked like such fun, I wanted to learn to play as well.

    These were all free downloads, and we played casually. Somewhere along the line we decided we wanted to have the full version of some of the Apogee Games and there we became real gamers, as we started looking for new challenges.

    Big reader that I am, I started reading gaming magazines to find out about new games we might like and away we went. My son is the huge gaming beast, my husband plays a little, and I play lots of things and love games for the unique opportunity to have grand adventures and be the heroine of the day.

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  2. Hi Salaryn,

    Your comment was lost too in yesterday's Blogger wobbly. Thankfully everything is now fully functinoing and both comments have been published.

    It hadn't occured to me that: "women are often introduced to games such as Bejeweled etc as ads when they go to check their email, or to Farmville ad infinitum when they look at their Facebook accounts", that's an interesting point.

    It never occured to me to play Farmville because I spend about half an hour on facebook every day to catch up with friends and relatives. Why spend an extra hour playing Farmville when I could be playing (for example) Dreamfall?

    I wouldn't be surprised if you are correct in suggesting that there is very little overlap between these kinds of games and "mainstream" games.

    I'm not actually sure what the correct term is. I'm reluctant to say "hardcore" because people have really differing ideas of what that means. To some it means playing competatively (online perhaps), to some it means keeping up with the latest releases and to some it means digging out obscure gems.

    In my mind, I find it easy to use a book analogy. You wouldn't call someone who regularly reads novels and maybe the odd bit of pop-science a hardcore reader, but someone who regularly plays games such as Halo, Metal Gear Solid and maybe a bit of Flight Sim would probably be considered a hardcore gamer.

    Likewise, I feel that (and this is quite snobby) Farmville and Bejeweled correspond fairly well with more disposable coffee-break magazines. Elsewhere, I feel that more specialised magazines (comment, business, hobbyist, art perhaps) might correspond more with shorter but more intense arcade games such as Braid or Chime. I could go on making slightly fascist distinctions for hours.

    I suppose the way people come to games affects what kind of player they become. I used to play the old Apogee games too. Mainly though, I just used to make friends with children who had games consoles before I had saved up enough pocket money to buy one...

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  3. Hmmm, I'm not sure about what the lecture has to say on the whole 'objectifying women' thing...

    I can see that an exhibition stand draped skinny blondes is clearly set up for heterosexuals males, and therefore excludes the rest of the population, but game characters are a completely different kettle of fish! Lara Croft was my hero when I was a teenager and the fact she is so hot made me love her even more (purely as a role-model), not distance me from her.

    I know it's a crappy analogy, but you wouldn't cast all Bond girls as middle-aged housewives, just to appeal to a different demographic, would you?

    I say; keep them sexy! Perhaps the answer therefore is not less sexy female characters, but more (and more marketing based on) sexy male characters!

    No?

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  4. I agree Louise, perhaps for the reason that Lara has always been a hero of mine for that reason.

    It's hard to draw a line between sexiness as something empowering and sexiness as something that objectifies.

    I always felt that Lara was in control of her sexuality, mainly because people found her body sexy even though she used that same body as a tool to save the world.

    Games which arguably do objectify women (such as Dead or Alive: Extreme Beach Volleyball) I find more funny/silly than offensive. Thing is, no-one is ACTUALLY being exploited there. I can't help but feel that if someone wants to use the unlockable poledance sequence to, erm, you know... Well that's up to them isn't it?

    And you're quite right about sexier male characters. Where on earth are they? Have you ever found a male character attractive?

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  5. p.s. I have but I am too embarrassed to say which ones.

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  6. Might have to reserve that topic for the next drunken wedding...

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  7. Very kind of you to riff an entry on a response of mine...first a couple of random replies, before the main thing...and this is split in two because there's a 4k character limit.

    Part 1:

    [fwiw: my college degree is BSEE, with a mountain of self-taught additions]

    Hyde Univ *would* call someone who regularly reads novels a hardcore reader, depending, of course, on your definition of "regularly" :)

    I am a hardcore reader. My lifetime average is almost two books per week (I read damn fast, ballpark 600 words/minute, from special training long ago). I still have most of them, roughly 3200, which does NOT include all the textbooks. Because it's now feasible to do so, I am probably going to be permanently an e-book buyer, for new titles. Via a different flavor of portability, I may end up reading more...

    My wife got started playing the Facebook Zoo game because her facebook friends were doing it. She likes that; she might be playing another one, too. It's a game that can be played in small segments...I agree that occasionally that's good. Microsoft solitaire is a great game for wasting 5-10 minutes (I can win in 4, if the shuffle is winnable).

    But there's really no "story" to FB Zoo; there's a “collecting” aspect, get ever more animals. Ah: she's playing Mafia Wars, too, same starting reason, there's more in the way of story there, apparently, incl skill/experience level-ups, although still not so much. However, I can see this leading to something more complex, ultimately.

    If I were going to create a computer game, and I've thought about it over the past several years, I'd create a game I would enjoy playing. Well, I'd create a game I would enjoy creating, because I'd have some software technical things I wanted to accomplish in creating a game I'd enjoy playing. If you look at some older blog entries of mine, you can see where I've complained about game AI (http://hydeuniversity.blogspot.com/2009/01/artificial-stupidity.html and http://hydeuniversity.blogspot.com/2006/06/game-ai-advanced-degree.html)

    But as a creator of a commercial game, if I want to make it believable to one demographic or another, I need to understand that demographic (or at least how to pander to it) well enough to create the details the right way.

    You can read my fairly old comments comparing Morrowind and Oblivion regarding believability in NPC behavior (link above).

    What makes for the best/biggest/longest/popular games? I will argue that it is having a good story. Humans are creatures that like stories. Good stories are popular, bad ones not so much. Books, movies, tv...much the same.

    So: for some examples: would you play the computer game of Pride and Prejudice? Austen's books were a reasonably accurate reflection of life for some folks at that time. I found PnP amusing when I read it (1977?), and the movie is pretty good too (well, the original, haven't seen the recent one). What would a game of PnP be like? (perhaps the PnPnZ game would be better :))

    How about the Stephanie Plum game? (ok, *I* would play that one, if it was done right, the books are hilarious)

    Would you read the book of Bejeweled? That wouldn't even work...would it?

    Maybe the intersection of games and "real life" isn't going to work as well as books/movies&real-life... I might argue that it can't and shouldn't.

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  8. Part 2:

    I just got back from Best Buy store nearby where they had copies of Startcraft 2--yay! One of the best things about Starcraft 1 was that there WAS a story, not just the combat. Installer recaps it all.

    SC 2 is going to be considerably longer, looks about 5X longer, all total, according to what I've read. Which will be great...the quick-start guide does NOT give the creator-team credits, I'm expecting that to be on the installer CD [later: well, the quick-start is on the CD, but no names]. But I'm willing to bet (without having run the installer yet, or even put the CD in the compy) that the vast majority of the dev team is male (probably as much for historical reasons as anything else). I'd love to be wrong...[also later: the EULA is annoying here: Blizzard owns any additional content you create--guess I won't]

    [oh, golly, it's worse than I thought...I think I only saw one obviously female name in the creative staff...plenty in the music department playing instruments...a few in support staff. sigh]

    I've been writing software for 2/3 my life, and getting paid to do so for 1/2. If you went to my employers over that time-frame, and looked at who else did s/w dev and counted male vs female, it's been a heavily male-dominated profession, along with pretty much all engineering disciplines...regardless of what the reasons are, that's the fact. Go to my current company office, there is ONE female software developer, and 15 males. I think that at our other couple of offices, that ratio is less skewed, but I haven't been to them in a while.

    So I'd still argue that games are skewed towards a male audience because the creators are male, and know how to create a game for that audience, since they ARE that audience. As more women decide they can do this, and follow through, there will be games with a different flavor. And I'd argue that this happens fastest if they deliberately try.

    How to start: there are a number of tools one can use to create a game, without having to start from absolute nothing. These tools have some limits, then, because they are designed for certain flavors of game, but that doesn't prevent one from making something good.

    Google (or wikipedia) for "game engines"...the result is interesting. I've read about some, and test-driven a couple. I've created my own sim tools in the past, I've done other related work..but let's not pretend it's easy to make a good game with a good story. It's not. It's easier to make a game with no story.

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  9. Wow, thanks for such a detailed response!

    Where to begin?

    Firstly, I do quite like the term "hardcore reader", though I'm not really in your league as regards speed. It's interesting that the term "hardcore" has had to evolve for games even though it never has for books. Perhaps because most people in our society can read (although I grant that illiteracy is a big problem, it's too complex to discuss in this comment box) and thus have to process the written word in some sense every day, whereas gaming really is a thing that people make a conscious decision to do. Consequently, "grades" of involvement with gaming seem (and arguably are) more important that "grades" of involvement with reading.

    Solitaire! Oh dear. I am very keen on Solitaire. Of all the MS desktop games, I get bored of every one except Solitaire. I play with Vegas Cumilative scoring (draw 3). I used to use it to unwind and uni, and it somehow aids my concentration when listening to a programme on the radio or a new album I want to concentrate on. I have no idea why that is. I don't see it as "gaming" although it is because the way I use it is so different from the ways I use more indepth games.

    I read your posts on AI. I've been playing Morrowind actually, so may write a full post at a later date. Watch this space.

    And right, stories. Gosh, where to begin? You will perhaps have noticed that I write primarily about games with some kind of plot or story. Although many of my favourite games don't have stories, my fascination with games comes primarily from the ways they open up narrative and present new ways of approaching it. I wouldn't say that narrative makes the "best" games, but they certainly make my personal favourites.

    That said, narrative is a different beast in games, films and books. I'm not utterly convinced that a P&P novel would work. It would certainly have to subvert the story and make it fit game conventions. The trouble with most "cross over" film/videos game and (sometimes) tie-in books is that they are primarily made to be cash cows. If someone buys a game they might spend a few pounds of a film and vice-versa. Rarely are developers daring enough to make something more conceptual. I would say that Bioshock is perhaps a successful adaptation of Atlas Shrugged, for example. I would have thought a P&P game would have to be very clever in the way it presented itself. I'm not sure a straight narrative adaptation would work, though I'd love to see someone try.

    That said, perhaps a Bejewelled book would work quite well. Likewise, I have said (flippantly) before that plot-lite games like Doom and Tetris do/might make better movies than films with "fixed" protagonists such as Tomb Raider. This is because writers/artists are free to use a concept loosely and come up with something interesting rather than simply animate an empty story.

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  10. And secondly... making your own games. The concept of this is daunting for anyone not already well-versed in code. It's true that many professional develoeprs (not just gamers) were amateur coders as children or teenagers because the technical jargon can seem hugely daunting to someone who hasn't had a lot of experience.

    I hope this is something that is changing as the internet ages. Without a decent internet connection from a fairly young age and/or access to computers, many potential developers (male and female) find it harder to find time as adults to "play around" and teach themselves the basic skills necessary to write any kind of code. For (circular) reasons that have been touched on before, it's more often that boys/males/men are the ones devoting amateur unpaid hours to playing with these tools and consequently they have a head start both in academic and professional circles.

    The key (I think) and the challenge is getting more girls fiddling about with code from an early age.

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  11. Gad. I wrote a longish response, then I clicked wrong, and it vanished.

    Hm. Bioshock = Atlas Shrugged. Interesting idea, not one I'd thought of...been a long time since I read that one.

    My first touch on game source code was in 1976, with Mike Mansfield's original Star Trek game on a remote time-shared computer. That really had a primitive UI :) but because it was source, I could modify as I wished (and understood, it was certainly possible to overdo it and make it unwinnable). But it was an excellent learning tool, that was enjoyable to play with. Is such a thing even available now?

    There are a number of available game engines that you can use to create more, without having to learn programming from scratch:

    http://www.devmaster.net/engines/

    is one list, here's another:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Game_engine

    and one more with better detail:

    http://gpwiki.org/index.php/Game_Engines

    to borrow a phrase, does it take an "Advanced Degree" (tm) to create a game? you'd like one of those engines to take a bunch of the hard work out of the design.

    I think computer availability is no longer an issue, but it's still some serious work. Thus big teams are needed for multiple years...and it's a stretch whether your new game IP will "click" in the market, whereas with an existing story (IP), you have a handle on that already.

    It's still possible to do it wrong, over and over (witness all the feeble Star Trek/Wars games relative to the few that were good).

    I say that the combo of games with other forms could work if they complemented each other, rather than duplicated each other. There are several Starcraft novels that cover parts of a story not covered in the game. There are sure a lot of Star Trek/Wars books to go with the movies/tv-shows, same characters, other events.

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  12. I'm fairly sure Bioshock's developers were riffing on Atlas Shrugged, even if the game is (obviously) not a straight adaptation. I've written about it before here...

    http://well-rendered.blogspot.com/2010/03/i-came-to-this-place-to-build.html

    ...although I'm sure some patient googling will reward you with a more thorough explanation. Basically my piece talks about what I think makes adaptations work.

    As you say:

    "I say that the combo of games with other forms could work if they complemented each other, rather than duplicated each other."

    I couldn't agree more.

    * * *

    Thanks for taking the trouble to list those engines, I'll give them a more thorough look later.

    I think there's an equal part for both advanced education/dialogue with teachers/proessionals and personal exploration/playing around.

    Access to computers is (as you say) less of a problem now than it was even for me (living in the UK) 10/15 years ago. However I do think that access to technology/internet needs serious worldwide attention in the future.

    The sharing of tools, engines and open source software is really important for all sorts of reasons, not least of which is your original point - enticing people into development who might otherwise not give it a second thought.

    Although I'm not a huge fan of such games (for purely arbitrary reasons that have nothing to do with their quality), games with WYSIWYG editors attached like "Little Big Planet", "Spore" and "Mod Nation Racers" may very well entice more people into development from a young age who might otherwise have thought it outside the realms of their capabilities.

    Create/Play/Share (or whatever it is) might be in its infancy, but I think we're yet to see its impact on the career choices of young people. I know games have allowed mods and patches for years, but the new generation is the first that has been so widely publicised outside "hardcore" gamer circles.

    We shall see. Thanks so much for contributing to the discussion.

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