Second Life

Posted by sjoodaki on Saturday Mar 31, 2012 Under The Social Life of Networked Play

Second life is a 3-D game in which the players are able to pick an avatar body to explore the virtual environment. It, as most of the 3-D games, “resembles theme parks in terms of both design and culture.”[1] Players immerse and engage to the space dynamically through the virtual body. They don’t have the limitation of the real world of being in a controlled environment. [1] Players as the citizens of the online community are able to navigate and interact with other players’ avatars. The theme of this online game is very similar to the BAL Masque where people hide their real identity to have more freedom to do whatever they like and experience things they are unable to experience in their own situation. All these are possible not through hiding their face behind the mask but by hiding behind a virtual character in an unreal environment. Players are given the opportunity to extend their imagination by choosing a figure, which is considered mostly to be a representation of suppressed aspects of themselves and play freely with no real world obligations. Throughout the whole experience the chosen avatar would be a consistent representation of the player. Players through their avatars navigate into a virtual world and interact with others in the game. They are actively involved in virtual environment to make their own fantasy world. The fantasy world of each individual player creates a single, contiguous virtual environment where everyone shares his or her dreams. Second life empowers the players to play with themselves in a virtual environment that has the flexibility for any kind of explorations and manipulations. So, the players of second life have the ability to engage in the productive activity in the game through the means offered within the game structure. [2] In second life, it is the players who take over their play experience completely not the game designer. The avatars in the game are able to walk, chat, fly, have sex, and buy and sell virtual stuff for real money. So, the whole experience of real life is transferred into a virtual world for those who are interested to experience different kind of being.

Although it seems as a very virtue and positive experience, the practice has showed that it is not the case all the time. The big promise of the game is allowing a diversity of people and experiences in order to attract a diversity of people to these environments. [8] LambdaMoo, is also another example of these kinds of open environments, where the participants make their own legal systems as well as their social structures. [3] In this game, the important problem has been handling the legal system as any other virtual environments. The reason for the necessity of the legal system is that frequently the players have confronted with issues such as sexual harassment, violence, and so on. As one of the participants of the second life says:

“I spent a week virtually living and breathing inside Second Life: the massively multiplayer online world that contains everything from lottery games to libraries, penthouses to pubs, skyscrapers to surrogacy clinics….Oh, and an awful lot of virtual sex.”[5]

It seems that it is an obvious and easily noticeable issue. I myself was not familiar with the concept of these virtual environments when I started to play in second life. As a new player and a novice with no mindset about the game, I came with the understanding that this game can be harsher than what I can imagine. Initially, I was asked to pick a character. The female characters that I was offered had strange make-ups with the exposed body parts and sexual appearance. It seemed they were the only choices I had. I picked one of them even though I felt no connection with it. With the chosen avatar, I entered to the space. It seemed so empty and dark. I liked the fact that I was able to navigate the space. However, I had the feeling that every corner of the space, I might see sex scene or violent act. It was when I got the message of entering my age in order to be able to go in some places that I felt I am not going to see undesired scenes. However, I felt uncomfortable yet by being in such a dark and empty environment sometimes. I think the feeling of the environment is a part of the intentional decision of the designers of this game. It provides a good condition for the players to feel that this is the place where they can also experience all those things that they were banned to do freely in the real life. I can imagine it would get even more joyful for those participants from a closer society. This space would provide them the freedom they are starving for in the real life.

Therefore, in order to protect the space from all undesirable outcomes, the necessity of creating a legal system that considers punishment is important here. The main challenge in creating legal system though is recognizing to what extend the law can be defined and enforced in a virtual world. Should be an appropriate relationship between the legal system within the virtual world and the legal systems that exist outside of it? It was predicted that Second Life has potential for serious issues on 2007 such as tax-free commerce, child-porn distribution and other unsavory activities. Another issue is that Second Life’s virtual assets have actual value that might also cause depute. [7] However, it seems “Disputes involving the issues of free speech and harassment are generally more emotionally charged than the disputes arising over property rights.” The controversy over Mr. Bungle’s ghostly sexual violence in LambdaMoo is an example of these kinds of issues. In fact “every set of facts in virtual reality is shadowed by the real life facts.” [4] Although, no one in the real life is hurt or touched, the victim players feel insulted by what has happened to them. So, the act of virtual sex has turned to a serious issue that brings up the necessity of creating a legitimate virtual community. The hard part is to recognize how to do the punishments in a virtual world. Does the system of punishment extend to the real world or not? [4]

At the end, I think understanding these growing virtual environments with all the fans who are spending increasing amount of time in them, is a very important task. It will help to know the potential and existing social and ethical issues of them better. [6]

References:
[1] Celia Pearce, Narrative Environments, From Disneyland to World of Warcraft
[2] Celia Pearce, Productive Play, Game Culture From the Bottom Up
[3] Mnookin, J., Virtual(ly) Law: The Emergence of Law in LambdaMOO
[4] Julian Dibbell, A Rape in Cyberspace
[5] http://www.pcpro.co.uk/features/354457/whatever-happened-to-second-life
[6] Curtis, P., Mudding: Social Phenomena in Text-Based Virtual Realities
[7] Kristina Dell Thursday, Second Life’s Real-World Problems http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1651500,00.html
[8] T. L. TAYLOR, Intentional Bodies: Virtual Environments and the Designers Who Shape Them

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Chess and the Cult of Courtly Love

Posted by mpostema on Tuesday Mar 27, 2012 Under Blogpost Assignments, The Culture of Chess

Chess originated as a wargame in India and travelled to Europe via Islam and the Moorish invasion of Spain. Once in Europe, the game was slowly adapted to conform to the cultural differences between the Islamic and the Christian worlds. The main change this brought to the game was the replacement of the vizier with the queen. The introduction of the chess queen coincided with the rise of the Cult of Courtly Love. The creation of the movement by troubadours beginning in Southern France helped propel the game of chess deeper into European culture by becoming an essential aspect of winning the favor of a noble lady (Yalom 104).

Chess was a required skill for troubadours. In addition to being “skilled as a poet, singer, [and] musician”, troubadours needed to develop talent at chess (Yalom 104). They used it to obtain time with the object of their affection. A troubadour could spend hours playing chess in the garden with a noble lady without attracting too much ire from her husband. These poets also began showing off their chess abilities by using the game in their poems. The repeated association of chess with lines of verse praising the beauty and virtue of members of the opposite gender served to turn chess into a metaphor for courting said target.

With troubadours praising the virtue of women in song and comparing the game of love to a chess match, it is hardly surprising to find that these noble women played chess frequently. While its earlier incarnation as a war game precluded women from playing, the addition of the chess queen helped move the game towards a recreation of social hierarchy and interactions of nobles. Since women were already participating in the actual court intrigues, it is a rather small logical leap for them to play chess as part of normal society (Yalom 106). It helped that the game was had overcome its association with dice and focused more on skill or “cautious ceremony” (Yalom 106).

Knights and men of noble blood would likely have played chess for its warfare connections as was played in India. As the game proliferated, the shift towards a miniature class structure caused it to become a necessary skill in the education of young noblemen during the fifteenth century (Yalom 118). Without ability in the game, a noble of either gender would be lacking an essential tool in the complicated social system of the middle ages. Chess offered its players the opportunity to showcase their intelligence and character, and the intimate setting it provided gave ample opportunity to demonstrate their virtues while examining their opponent’s.

The intimate situations chess created did not remain chaste and virtuous affairs in the collective consciousness of the Middle Ages. The game had a mode of play involving dice for determining piece movements and the randomness this practice introduced was seen by the church as inherently evil (Yalom 39). Chess was also played for stakes in German courts as evidenced by the story of Ruodlieb (Yalom 38). This practice lead many men of the cloth to call for decrees banning chess for their fellows. These bans turned out to be mostly ineffective as the game’s popularity spread widely, and, perhaps the most frustrating for those clergy, is still quite popular today.

As chess became part of the culture of courtly love, the romantic sessions of gameplay began to signal more than a poet or noble attempting to win the single kiss of the more controlled court romance. A troubadour named Jaufre Rudel claimed to only pursue women who would not “refuse her reward” (Yalom 104). The honeyed words of poets began to twist chess to represent a dangerous temptation. The final surrender of one’s king after being checkmated started as an admission of defeat, but it gained the additional meaning of submitting to the advances of your opponent.

Chess was also represented as a kind of romantic snare in the literature of the Middle Ages. In both Islamic and Christian writings when a man and a woman of different religions play chess together “the woman is always the one expected to convert” regardless of whether she wins or loses (Yalom 111). The close emotional ties that formed during a chess match were believed strong enough to pull a woman into another religion and culture.

While chess served as a powerful tool for evangelism, or at least was represented as one, it was also seen as a dangerous moral trap. Its use as courtly tool and the association with desire for another etched ever clearer the trappings of temptation and lust on the game of chess. An especially startling danger of this cultural shift is the story “The Romance of the Count of Anjou” were a widowed noble plays chess with his daughter and is struck with carnal desire for her (Yalom 113). The sinful impulse is so strong that he begs and then commands that she satisfy him despite her virtuous protestations. That such a despicable mood came upon the father while playing chess does not cast the game in a respectable light. The story pushes chess beyond the clergy’s worries of gambling into deadly sin territory.

This concern with the power of chess to undermine the a player’s morals reinforces the connection to the cult of love. In the poem Vetula written by an Ovid impersonator, the chess queen is portrayed not as the chaste Virgin Mary, but as Venus the Roman goddess of love and desire (Yalom 108). Out of all the pieces on the board, most of which are also compared to members of  the notoriously promiscuous Roman pantheon, only the queen is erotically represented. This ties back to the role of the woman in courtly romances as being in control of the affair, for here the queen is the goddess of love, yet she is described like a slut. It seems the cultural tension over the increase in women’s control over matters of love and politics caused backlash in the form of insulting attacks rather than reasoned arguments. Not surprising given the path of more contemporary women’s rights issues. Not only do we still play a game that people in the middle ages did, we also perpetuate their prejudices.

Yalom, Marilyn. The Birth of the Chess Queen. New York: Harper Collins, 2004.

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Exploring Oblivion

Posted by jchoi on Wednesday Mar 14, 2012 Under Blogpost Assignments, Gender, Race & Representation
When I was required to redesign the interface of some digital product as part of a group assignment, my group enthusiastically elected to redesign the interface of Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. It was the kind of game that, with its dark, hyper-realistic graphics and familiarity with slaughter, I would generally shy away from. Nevertheless the people in my group, represented fairly by both genders and personalities, gushed over the game and on all the hours they’d sunk into it in the past. It was notable that each person revered different aspects of the game, whether it was the potions system, or the thief quest-line or the wide sprawl of optional dungeons that littered the fictional land. I found it amusing that none of them found the main storyline particularly memorable. Regardless I tried a game that I initially considered too ‘hardcore’ and ‘dark’ for a casual gamer like myself.
The initial tutorial-dungeon, with its dank atmosphere, ogres and zombie-rat-things, was a bit of a turn-off for me, and my initial belief that the game was just another violent, brown-and-black dungeon crawler seemed reinforced. Upon exiting the dungeon, though, I was greeted by vast plains swept with haunting scores and a variety of plantlife and animals (of either prey-or-predator variety).  The virtual land seemed to stretch on infinitely, filled with more hidden little huts and dungeons than I would ever be able to explore. I soon found myself whittling hours away on a game I initially had little interest in playing. Just shuffling around aimlessly and overloading the inventory with random mushrooms and plants was soothing and enjoyable. It was irritating whenever the grand score in the background would get cut off by some intruding bandit.
One of the things I always wished for as a kid, along with the chance to sit on a cloud and catch a leprechaun (I was not a very smart kid), was a desire for the virtual worlds on the limited array of educational CDs to be more expansive. I would click on the door of some fireman’s door, hoping it might lead to a look inside. I’d grow bored of clicking on Utah and landing in a recolored version of Idaho. Though I don’t recall Jenkin’s mentioned desire to frolick in some unlimited expanse as part of my childhood, a curiosity to explore and delve deeply into some presented world was certainly there. Oblivion was the first game to offer me that kind of immersion, that freedom to run around and trailblaze an entire environment. It led me to grow interested in trying the ‘hardcore’ fantasy and MMO games I had avoided for so long.
A particular aspect of the game that I was not able to appreciate before was the neutral treatment of both genders in all available species to the players in the character-creation screen. Back then I was put-off by the brown-ish graphics and strange designs, unaware of the skewed nature of representation of either gender in various MMOs and other fantasy games. When I tried my hand at some of these other similar games, in an attempt to try and explore some other sweeping locale, I found myself almost always choosing the more neutral male designs: sometimes both choices were too charged, and I felt uncomfortable proceeding further than the character creation screen. The emphasis became the avatar’s physical appearance: leveling up led you to more elaborate costumes, and a lower-level could be noted quickly by the common garbs they wore. Had Oblivion also held a sexualized array of humans, elves and lizards, it would probably have lost its transportive power for me.
This difference in representation bases itself in Oblivion’s heavier emphasis on exploration, whether that be exploration of the surrounding space, or exploration of the myriad of options for skill-building. This emphasis further influences the game’s mechanics themselves: the default view is first-person, with only the thrust-in of awkwardly-held-out arms and strange grunts and cries indicating the avatar’s presence. Even if the player chooses to play predominantly in third-person, they are forced to switch to first-person frequently, for basic mechanics such as harvesting and pick-pocketing are only effective in this mode. The game prefers you to see through the eyes of your avatar and immerse yourself. This emphasis on the player’s role as an explorer effectively neutralizes the game: genders hold no charge. More charge is placed on the race chosen by the player, and greater yet on the skills they choose to master. The incentive to level up does not arise from an expand in options for customization, but in the increased specialization that it affords. The ability to expand upon one’s character’s personal story and evolution in a rich, detailed environment full of atmosphere can certainly appeal to a large berth of people, whether they be male, female, or hard-core gamer. The appeal it holds with the varied personalities in my group exemplify this, and my response to it, once I looked past what seemed to be a generic dark, hard-core title, as well.
References:
Jenkins, Henry. “Complete Freedom of Movement.” (2005). The Game Design Reader: A Rules of Play Anthology. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press

Laurel, Brenda. (2001). Utopian Entrepreneur. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001.
Fron, J., Fullerton, T., Morie, J. & Pearce, C. (aka Ludica) “The Hegemony of Play.” In Situated Play: Proceedings of Digital Games Research Association 2007 Conference. Tokyo, Japan, September 2007. http://lmc.gatech.edu/~cpearce3/PearcePubs/HegemonyOfPlayFINAL.pdf
Fullerton, T., Morie, J. & Pearce, C. (aka Ludica) (2007). “A Game Of Ones Own: Towards a New Gendered Poetics of Game Space.” In Proceedings, Digital Arts & Culture 2007, Perth, Australia, September 2007. http://lmc.gatech.edu/~cpearce3/PearcePubs/LudicaDAC07.pdf
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Blogpost 4: Wii Sports & Its Diverse Audience

-          Connie Chen

The first video game console I’ve purchased since the first Playstation console was the Nintendo Wii. The last time I had played a game was when I was twelve and utilizing the video game as an escapade to pass my after-school-induced pre-teen ennui.  Eight years later, I had matured and developed greater satisfaction in spending the time I had with my family. To me, the Wii was a way to connect my parents from the baby-boomer age to the modern age technology gaming had developed since.  As various technology trends explode in our era, companies began to realize the importance of appealing to the general population rather than focusing on a young demographic. The aging population is becoming a large percentage of the population and transitively, a larger population of potential consumers.  One major factor that attributes to Nintendo Wii’s success is the expansion and diversification of its gamer audience (Fron et.al, 9). In short, Wii games are targeted for everyone, not just the stereotypical “hardcore gamer” population which consists boys ages 12-34. In fact, it may even seem that Wii games are meant to deviate from that particular audience (Fron et.al, 8). The message is permeated through all facets of its marketing, from the brightly colored packaging to the TV commercials which displays various races and different family members engaging in play.   In particular, the one game that is packaged along with the console itself, is Wii Sports, a game which initializes the understanding that Nintendo plans to incorporate a larger audience. The game play mechanics, characters, and space all serve to transcend the boundaries of gender, race, and culture.

It is generally convention that videogames “both dictate and enforce rules automatically through software. They also determine which play styles shall be favored and which skill sets shall be valorized” (Fron, et.al). Along with this, character design plays a large factor into this. Because game companies largely cater to males, there is a consistency of sexualizing female characters. At the same time, it also subjects its players to paradigms of masculinity present in the bulging muscular bodies and aggressive displays (Fron, et.al). Wii Sports allows its players to customize their own characters, a direct representation of themselves. The customizing interface allows a variety of facial features and bodies to better allow the players to create a virtual double into the world of Wii Sports. The very act of construction speaks levels to its audience. Games such as Sims and Animal Crossing have had large successes with both genders due to its main mechanic of construction and creating a world (Fullerton et.al). Construction can take many forms and players are able to find an aspect of that which appeals to them, whether it be socializing or creating a new space and showing it off. Wii Sport’s mechanism of allowing the players to create their own character takes away the constraints game designers put on their audience. Essentially it is giving the player more freedom and a sense of comfort and familiarity in a virtual world which may double as the real world.

Wii Sports is modeled after the various sports we play in real life. There is bowling, golf, tennis, and the ever popular boxing. Instead of being confined to the traditional joystick, Wii created nunchucks to create a sense of physicality between the player and the players’ actions in the virtual world. It is interesting that the Wii has decided to model the game after culture in the real world to give the players a greater sense of familiarity. Sports, in general, is an ancient game where humans of all backgrounds can enjoy. In the game, women as well as men can compete on the same level, devoid of the physical, societal and biological constraints posed in the real world. In essence, this may be a large factor which attracts the diverse audience. For example, girl characters are able to participate in boxing round with large male characters. Usually in the real world, girls are not usually able to do this due to females being physically weaker and it is socially unacceptable for guys to use their full strength to beat down a girl. The Wii world takes down all of these barriers and creates an equal playing field for all.   According to Henry Jenkins, it is important for games to integrate girls into the adventuring –seeking-danger-filled world which defines “boys culture” in order to build one’s confidence, self-esteem, and strategy skills to overcome the same obstacles in the real world (Jenkins 358). By allowing girls to enter into a world where real –life dangers are not a problem, girls can obtain the same practice as boys for developing various skill sets needed in the world.

Wii sports is a 3D game which incorporates a neutral color palette which appeals to all audiences. The colors of the characters are chosen based on the players’choice. All in the all, the environment is meant to mimic that of the sports setting in the real world which is familiar to both one’s grandparents and young siblings. There are no post-apocalyptic buildings swarming with zombies nor are there steam-punk inspired settings which would cause barriers of confusion beyond the age of 60 or below the age of 10. Beyond allowing this as a game for all ages, the graphics of Wii Sports do not cause any separation between genders either. Boy culture is defined by dingy, industrial backgrounds teeming with machinery and violence while girl games are defined by brightly colored fantasy spaces (Fullerton et.al).  A lesson to be learned is that generally, games which allow for a general audience tend to have longevity in the game industry.  Brenda Laurel was credited for creating “Purple Moon”, a game for young girls after realizing that there are few games for the female population.  Although the game surfed the top of the gaming charts for a while, it was discontinued in the end.  A factor that may have contributed to that is that the general graphics, bright pinks, purples, and pastels, may have deflected the male audience which may have been interested.

Wii Sports has been successful while remaining in the top of the charts with its ability to appeal to a wide range of audiences and surpass the barriers of gender, race, and cultural background.

Laurel, Brenda. (2001). Utopian Entrepreneur. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001.

Fron, J., Fullerton, T., Morie, J. & Pearce, C. (aka Ludica) “The Hegemony of Play.” In Situated Play: Proceedings of Digital Games Research Association 2007 Conference. Tokyo, Japan, September 2007.

Fullerton, T., Morie, J. & Pearce, C. (aka Ludica) (2007). “A Game Of Ones Own: Towards a New Gendered Poetics of Game Space.” In Proceedings, Digital Arts & Culture 2007, Perth, Australia, September 2007.

Salen, Katie and Eric Zimmerman. (2005). The Game Design Reader: A Rules of Play Anthology. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.: “Complete Freedom of Movement” (1998)/Henry Jenkins

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Throughout the short history of video games, there has been a persistent problem that has plagued the gaming industry: video games have mostly been “gendered” toward male players. This has resulted in the creation of games that are catered to a very specific audience, leaving a large portion of the population ignored and unsatisfied. As a result, not only are developers not putting out the best, most well-rounded products they can, but they are missing out on a huge, largely untapped market in the gaming population. It has been seen throughout recent times that games that do successfully appeal to both sexes have consistently become hugely popular, and remain some of the most popular and best-selling games to date. One game that fits this model beautifully according to the research put forth in the readings for the past two weeks is Minecraft, a smash-hit Indie sensation that has swept the world. This has become a recent realization for me, as I have spent a good portion of the recent weeks playing Minecraft with my sister (at her request).

According to Fullerton, Morie and Pearce, there is a major important difference between males in females that is very important is analyzing the gendering of games. “The basic feminine impulse is to gather, to put together, to construct; the  basic masculine impulse is to scatter, to disseminate, to destroy.” Minecraft is a game that, at its lowest level, is about creation and destruction, and the balance of the two. Procedurally generated levels are created and composed entirely of one meter square blocks, all of which can be destroyed and collected. Once picked up, that element can be re-placed on the ground or combined to create tools or other improved materials. Essentially, players destroy, by mining materials and elements from the world, in order to create, by using those materials. At this lowest level, Minecraft taps into this idea of the “androgynous mind” in that it appeals to both of these basic instincts of men and women.

According to the aforementioned researchers and industry luminaries, the games that have been most successful in the past cultivate the “androgynous space,” in that “women and girls are invited and welcomed, but . . . men and boys can also enjoy more diverse and nuanced forms of play than are typically available to them.” These types of games, which “draw from a number of cultural practices (and) library sources,” appeal to a much wider audience, but have been largely unexplored within the context of the history of gaming. Upon analyzing its mechanics and spatial representation, it becomes apparent that Minecraft fits most, if not all of the criteria put forth by these researchers who call for the degendering of games.

One of the main criteria of these games with androgynous appeal is that they do not appeal to the typical, dominant male sensibilities. For example, shooters, which are by and large played by males, have gendered game mechanics in that they focus on “mastery of quick reflexes and the ability to solve complex spatial problems.” Based on cognitive research, it has been proven that these skills mainly tend to favor males. Since these games center around these types of abilities, they do not largely appeal to female gamers. Other gendered mechanics are found in games with organizational structures. “Progressing through power acquisition, tactical mastery, secret knowledge or geographic domination” are “male fantasies.” These are elements that most modern games focus on, but are not characteristics of the kinds of games, like Myst, The Sims or even Minecraft, which have been so hugely successful in the past. They do not rely on organizational structures and in fact focus on creating a world that allows for the player to explore their own way, while still allowing for all kinds of play styles.

The other criteria for games with androgynous appeal derive from long-standing cultural traditions and popular literature from history. The first aspect is that they have an element of “hiding places.” In the Secret Garden, which has been a “perennial tome of girlhood for decades,” it is put forth that all woman need a place to hide. These places of “retreat, intimacy, enclosure and protection” are extremely important to women. They give them a sense of comfort and enjoyment simply because they cannot be “invaded by outside forces.” This sense of danger, on the other hand, also appeals to the male sensibility as well. It attracts their taste for adventure and excitement. The idea of “hiding places” is one that is prevalent in Minecraft. There is a day/night cycle in the game, and at night, players must retreat into a home or structure (which they have built) in order to hide from the zombies and monsters who come out at night. While inside of such a structure players cannot be harmed, which appeals to that female sensibility of the hiding place. However, males can get their fix by going out and taking care of the problem first hand with their sword if they want. I have seen this first hand while playing with my younger sister, who rushes inside to her hiding place when the sun goes down, while I tend to hand around and see what kinds of dangers come my way. I do have to admit, though, it is nice to get back to that cozy house when it gets crazy.

Another popular criteria of degendered games is that they involve enchanted worlds. These type of world “are a rich terrain for game space.” They can appeal to both genders by presenting a sense of “wonder and magic, as well as terror and danger.” Myst games have been extremely popular ever since they started being released, mainly do to the fact that it appealed equally to both genders through this element of enchanted worlds. A game like Myst: Uru with “no points, levels, combat or competition” has a strong draw to women. This same type of appeal to enchanted worlds can be found in the novels Alice in Wonderland and the Narnia series.

One last criteria of these degendered games is the presence of the idea of the domestic space. The domestic space is all over the place in literature, but has been “largely absent from gaming.” The Sims is one game that has drawn on this element, and was immensely popular, once again, because it appealed to both genders. It can be approached by the organizational, more male-minded player who likes to try to balance a variety of tasks, or by the more female-minded player who likes to focus on building or modifying the home. Related to this idea, it has been seen that females are also drawn more toward games that construct a community space, where “players actually contribute to building the world.” Both of these sentiments shrine through in the game mechanics and representation of game space in Minecraft.

Works Cited
Fron, J., Fullerton, T., Morie, J. & Pearce, C. (aka Ludica) “The Hegemony of Play.” In Situated Play: Proceedings of Digital Games Research Association 2007 Conference. Tokyo, Japan, September 2007.
Fullerton, T., Morie, J. & Pearce, C. (aka Ludica) (2007). “A Game Of One’s Own: Towards a New Gendered Poetics of Game Space.” In Proceedings, Digital Arts & Culture 2007, Perth, Australia, September 2007.
Jenkins, Henry. “Complete Freedom of Movement: Video Games as Gender Play Spaces.” The Game Design Reader: A Rules of Play Anthology. Salen, Katie and Eric Zimmerman.Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2005. Print.
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Multiplayer Storytelling in “Journey”

Posted by jabelman on Tuesday Mar 13, 2012 Under Gender, Race & Representation

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Journey is a game that was recently released for the Playstation 3 system, created by thatgamecompany. It begins with a robed creature devoid of any abilities besides the ability to navigate the three dimensional space as well as perform a shout command which is the only affordance given for interaction and communication with other players, game objects, and NPCs. The game begins with the appearance of the creature in a vast and what appears to be a somewhat barren desert. Once the player learns the basics of camera control and navigation, the game implies that the player ascend the sand dune in front of them which then leads to a flash of the game’s title “Journey” and a very large mountain in the distance. The next step in the journey pushes the player towards gaining the ability to jump and glide in the air. From this point the game implies the need and benefits of exploring the world even though it seems so empty. The progression of the story is linear in terms of its stages; however, each stage is a large and explorable sandbox. There is also an implication that there is always something more to the world that the player has left behind in order to advance.

The story of Journey is one that is devoid of any text, dialogue, or any clues outside of the actual game space on how to move forward. This is interesting because it gives the player the chance to make discoveries, interpretations, and understandings about the world entirely on their own. The game also randomly pairs two players together for each level over the network while keeping the whole interaction completely anonymous. It also gives the players the ability to continue progressing with the same person or an entirely different one at each stage. It also does not require that the players work together, but the exploratory aspect of the game does require cooperation. Pearce’s study, “The Truth About Baby Boomer Gamers”, refutes many of the commonly held beliefs towards the relationship between people of the baby boomer age group and video gaming. It mostly proves that baby boomers are actually equally interested in digital entertainment compared to the industry’s target demographic; however, they have different values and interests than the more traditionally understood demographic. It also shows that these gamers are not just casual gamers. They are also interested in building encouraging relationships. Journey clearly takes into account the values of this often neglected demographic by allowing the players’ in-game relationships to become highly focused on a single relationship and eventually become very encouraging. The game could also appeal to this demographic as it could lead players to focus in on the current relationship and draw correlations to the types of relationships they have experienced in the real world. The game’s story is also something that baby boomers could consider refreshing as it uses highly symbolic metaphors for the progression of life in the real world that could be interpreted in a variety of ways.

Jenova Chen, the game’s designer, has stated in interviews that he wanted players to feel as though they are small fish, alone in a big pond. When you come across another player it is supposed to be a stark contrast to the feeling of loneliness. The vast space, however, is not to be ignored. It is intended to be navigated cooperatively. In “A Game of One’s Own” by Fullerton et al, it states, “Although they represent only a handful of examples, these experiments in alternative space all possess a quality decidedly lacking in many video games: a sense of wonder, a sense of the sublime, a sense of awe. Players seek to experience a sense of wonder within a magical world, a key pleasure of the literary forms described above.” This is referring to the need for more androgynous qualities to be found in game spaces rather than male dominated qualities. This means spaces that are more open and accessible rather than limited by reflexive and tactical skill. With art that is nothing short of stunning, “Journey” asserts itself as the literal embodiment of what the author intended to arise from a spark that could very well be this study.

The game mechanic found here is almost as simple as a three dimensional platforming adventure game could possibly be. “Hegemony of Play” by Fron et al states, “We are all gamers, and by looking back at earlier models of games and play, as well as critiquing both exclusionary production processes and cultural stereotypes of “gamers” and “non-gamers” we can create a non-hegemonic game industry that provides playful products which appeal to both men and women, children and adults, and players of all races, ages and personal play styles.” This game revisits the platformer and the adventure game, but it takes the genres to a state that can be enjoyed by both hardcore and non-hardcore gamers. Utopian Entrepreneur by Brenda Laurel is also largely about shattering the current paradigm that it is too risky to make games that aren’t built around the assumed interests of younger males. This game’s level of awe and beauty are bound to attract all walks of life including those that are interested in its technical achievement, artistic achievement, and what it has achieved in terms of lending towards developing meaningful cooperation through discovery and even those that don’t necessarily appreciate these things individually through its sense of uniqueness. In very general terms, this game absolutely has the potential to cause a total shift in game culture in both the areas of multiplayer and storytelling.

References

Fron, J., Fullerton, T., Morie, J. & Pearce, C. (aka Ludica) (2007b). “The Hegemony of Play.” In Situated Play: Proceedings of Digital Games Research Association 2007 Conference,Tokyo, Japan.

Fullerton, Tracy, Jacquelyn Morie, and Celia Pearce. 2007. A Game of One’s Own: Towards a New Gendered Poetics of Digital Space” . In Proceedings of perthDAC 2007: The 7th International Digital Arts and Culture Conference: The Future of Digital Media Culture, ed. Andrew Hutchison, 136-146. Perth, Australia.

Laurel, Brenda. Utopian Entrepreneur. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2001. Print.

Pearce, Celia (2008): “The Truth About Baby Boomer Gamers. A Study of Over‐Forty Computer Game Players”. In: Games and Culture. Vol 3, No 2

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The Soul Calibur series and I have a love hate relationship, from a mechanics standpoint I love the Soul Calibur games. They are some of the only fighting games that truly take place in the third dimension, although “hardcore” fighting fans criticize it for allowing you to button mash and do well. I find that this makes the game accessible to people who don’t want to memorize 10 page long combos but the games still have plenty of depth that you can take advantage of if you want to take the time to master it. I do however have one large problem with Soul Calibur…

Technically two very large problems

Yep, that’s the official advertisement for Soul Calibur 5 *sigh* On paper the Soul Calibur series has so much potential to do a good job representing women. While many games delegate the female characters as either sidekicks who are weaker than the male protagonist or as a helpless object to be rescued, the women of Soul Calibur are strong, independent, and can hold their own against male fighters. As noted in Henry Jenkins’ paper, most toys that are geared towards girls are “designed to foster female-specific skills and competencies and prepare girls for their future domestic responsibilities as wives and mothers”, hence the “pink games” genre of games about dress up and cooking. I’ve always been more of a “run with the wolves” as opposed to a “chase the butterflies” type of person so when I picked up Soul Calibur 2 as a kid and saw that a good 1/3 of the characters were female I thought I had finally found a game that lets “barbie kick some butt”. Then I saw that one of the main characters is a woman running around with no pants, heavily exposed cleavage, scant skin tight clothing, and her weapon is a whip.

Soul Calibur like many fighting games is a perfect example of the hegemony of play and the outdated and ridiculous notion that the only people who play video games are teenage boys. At least with a game like the ever classy Dead or Alive Beach Volleyball, even though it is a sad and pathetic objectification of women that is clearly pandering towards a male audience, it’s not trying to be anything other than a fantasy breast simulator. Soul Calibur on the other hand tries to be taken seriously as a legitimate fighting game, it even has character progression throughout the games and some semblance of a story (no matter how poorly written). But for me as a female gamer any sense of credibility is lost the second the game tries to say that in a world where the most lethal fighters are facing off against each other, all of the women decided the best way to outfit themselves was to show as much skin and wear as little armor has physically possible.

What I find rather strange about the treatment of women in this series is that as the casual games market exploded and the Wii became a huge success and we began to slowly chip away at the “gamer” stereotype the Soul Calibur games have gotten worse. When Soul Edge came out the technology was simple enough that “jiggle physics” didn’t exist yet and while the character designs were a little revealing they weren’t too bad all things considered. Now looking at the character art for Soul Calibur 5 they have moved beyond the ridiculous, conjuring up the idea that the design team is full of a bunch of guys who have been locked away in a room and haven’t seen a real human female in 5 years (which judging by the IGDA statistics saying that 88.5% of industry workers are male, might not be that inaccurate).

Progression of the Sophitia character

Interestingly the series itself has inadvertently come up with a way to bypass this terrible character design, customization. Once they started letting players create custom characters from scratch they also introduced making custom outfits for the main characters. The first thing I did when I started Soul Calibur 4 was to create a new outfit for Ivy that I wasn’t embarrassed to be playing in. But this is only a temporary fix and doesn’t address the inherent problem of why I had to go to such lengths to make the game, by my standards, playable. Another mechanic introduced that took one step forward and two steps back is the ability to destroy armor in Soul Calibur 4. From a game play perspective it’s a great feature that allows you to have more strategy in targeting vulnerable areas on your opponent. It works fine on male characters because it destroys part of their outer layer of armor and usually reveals a layer of chain mail or other full body coverings underneath. With the females however, it destroys what little they are wearing and leaves them with less than combat lingerie. Once in a match I had destroyed almost all of my female opponent’s armor and she was basically down to just panties, my mom walked in the room and I was absolutely mortified by what was on the screen.

Perhaps one of the most frustrating things about Soul Calibur’s attempts to pander to a male audience is that it doesn’t need to. It’s a game about beating the snot out of your opponents until you are the last one standing and can claim the legendary sword for yourself. This plays straight into the idea that “the  basic masculine impulse  is to scatter, to disseminate, to destroy. It seems to give pleasure to a man tobang something and drive it from him; the harder he hits it and the farther it goes the better pleased he is”. By choosing to represent women in such an untasteful manner they serve only to alienate players rather than attract more.

Kelly Snyder

References:

Fron, J., Fullerton, T., Morie, J. & Pearce, C. (aka Ludica) “The Hegemony of Play.” In Situated Play: Proceedings of Digital Games Research Association 2007 Conference. Tokyo, Japan, September 2007. http://lmc.gatech.edu/~cpearce3/PearcePubs/HegemonyOfPlayFINAL.pdf

Fullerton, T., Morie, J. & Pearce, C. (aka Ludica) (2007). “A Game Of Ones Own: Towards a New Gendered Poetics of Game Space.” In Proceedings, Digital Arts & Culture 2007, Perth, Australia, September 2007. http://lmc.gatech.edu/~cpearce3/PearcePubs/LudicaDAC07.pdf

Jenkins, Henry “Complete Freedom of Movement” (1998) from Salen, Katie and Eric Zimmerman. (2005). The Game Design Reader: A Rules of Play Anthology. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

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Gender in Gaming

Posted by sstamand on Tuesday Mar 13, 2012 Under Gender, Race & Representation, Uncategorized

Some people find it hard to believe that at one time in America, women were actually sold as wives to the highest bidder by their fathers. Most today would consider that entirely inhumane, but back in the day they didn’t really see anything wrong with it. While not exactly condoning this kind of objectionable behavior, it does take noting that this was at a different time. It was also a time when, for the majority of the world, women had different general roles; roles which didn’t generally include having fun or competing on the same level as men.  Women were not considered as primary decision makers, nor were they generally as able or willing to work the labor-intensive farming work their male counterparts did. This general attitude changed as the country became more generally accepting of equal gender rights. Without needing to be equipped with anything more than a computer and some knowledge, anybody can create any kind of game. This is a great step ahead in general for society, and a great opportunity for women to break the disparity in gender income. However, outdated trends have seemingly continued in the modern gaming industry. As pointed out by Marriott, “The few women who do manage to break into the conventional male-dominated game–creation clubhouse must struggle with the prevailing culture.” (Hegemony of Play, 3)  Women do not make up a proportionate amount of game developers, and most that do work in the industry still have more stereotyped jobs, such as secretaries. At the beginning of the video game era, this wasn’t seen as much of an issue. Women were not generally involved in playing video games; it was pretty much male dominated. But with a growing number of gamers being female, up to 40% by a recent poll, more and more women are going to need to be a part of the creation of new games. We may not see a new gigantic gaming movement take place, but it would seem that games are starting to catch on with every demographic, so greater  representation must be achieved in the industry to continue to satisfy the growing, less gender specific audience. Games have always had interesting ways of portraying women, and maybe it is due to the skewed perspective of the average game developer, or perhaps the audience they were going for. In almost every fighting game, women are portrayed as what I would “porn star perfect.” They are always insanely skinny, have giant boobs, curves that border on physically impossible, and are always in skin tight clothing or next to no clothing. Maybe the people that made Mortal Kombat figured out that it would boost sales, or maybe the developers just wanted to stare at skin and tits while they virtually pummel each other. Either way, that kind of representation of women in general probably does not increase the amount of women that would want to play games in general. It makes sense for women not to entirely appreciate this kind of representation, partially because it seems like regressing to a time when they were considered to be more of objects than equals. The other dominating perspective most games have taken with women in characters is the “damsel in distress.” This perspective keeps women the object of desire, displays them as always completely helpless, and usually centers the game on the male protagonist catching up with the damsel’s captor and saving the girl. With an increasing number of women wanting to play games and becoming interested in what was once only for the nerdy, the industry can’t sustain its position as generally treating women in games as second-rate characters, porn-stars, or helpless victims. This can already be seen in titles like the newer Pokemon series, where the player has the option of choosing a female or male lead character. The rest of game functions exactly the same, except the player and rival’s roles are switched to be the opposite gender to what the player chose. This kind of solution allows both female and male players to feel equally welcome to play without the alienation of being another gender. Mass Effect 2 also offered this solution, and further in the story allowed more and more romantic options as dialogue between the main character and his/her romantic counterpart. The women in Mass Effect are still generally more well endowed than in reality, and it becomes apparent playing that the women characters are still to some extent eye candy for the male audience. To me including women alongside men in the lead protagonist role, like in Mass Effect and Pokemon, is a sign of the game industry turning away from a generally more misogynistic perspective of women, and attempting to reach out to a broader, less gender specific audience. Mass Effect 2 also included missions where you find or save the people in your growing crew of characters, and the female lead role didn’t differ at all from the male lead role. This shows that the game industry (at least Bioware) wants to take back the notion that it has to be the women that’s in distress, or that every women is helpless to save herself. These kinds of adaptations allow for a more realistic impression of women from games, and in the end will without a doubt help the game industry continue to thrive by appealing to as large an audience as possible.

Works Cited

  1. Fron, J., Fullerton, T., Morie, J. & Pearce, C. (aka Ludica) “The Hegemony of Play.” In Situated Play: Proceedings of Digital Games Research Association 2007 Conference. Tokyo, Japan, September 2007. http://lmc.gatech.edu/~cpearce3/PearcePubs/HegemonyOfPlayFINAL.pdf
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Being a young, white, privileged American male gamer, I find myself conflicted when gathering insights from the feminine and cultural side of gaming. On one hand, the industry is so rigid in its propensity for slaughter specifically because of guys that look sort of like me. On the other hand, I have to fervently disagree that “the basic male impulse is to scatter, to disseminate, to destroy” [2]. Despite my personal conflict, I found the opinions and the accounts to be incredibly enlightening, and there was much for me to agree with.

I find myself somewhere in a middle ground when analyzing gameplay preferences in relation to gender. I enjoy exploration rather than missions, but I generally prefer strategy to understanding. Stories and spatial atmospheres motivate me, but I also dig customizable weapons and gadgets. I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy a gritty first-person shooter from time to time, but even the classic Goldeneye 007 can’t satisfy my true gaming taste.

In the articles, I appreciated the frequent mention of Nintendo: appraisal of the company’s adoption of the ‘Blue Ocean Strategy’ from Ludica, as well as Brenda Laurel’s commendation for its innovation after the Atari crash. Despite the many games I play now, from casual indie flash to Call of Duty, Nintendo has always and continues to produce my favorite games. Although I could just as easily write at lengths about how Mario, Zelda, Pokemon, or Kirby have androgynous gameplay elements and styles, I want to focus on one particular franchise: Metroid.

To understand Metroid, you have to know Samus Aran, the series’ female protagonist. The character’s creator, Hiroji Kiyotaki decided halfway through the development of Metroid to make the character female. Before the Internet destroyed widespread surprise in videogame narratives, the debut of Samus as a woman at the end of the game shocked gamers of all kinds. Some critics have even hailed the discovery as the greatest moment in Nintendo history [5]. Samus is an interstellar bounty hunter. The job title is incredibly masculine by nature, combining science fiction with a decision against referring to her as the feminine ‘huntress’ in later game appearances.

It’s important to note that rather than wearing revealing clothes, Samus appears in her games in a full metal exoskeleton and is described as a 6 foot, 3 inch tall blonde. Surely an intimidating person, Samus seems to play the role of “Barbie [getting] to kick some butt” [3]. At the same time, with respect to Brenda Laurel’s personal distain for Barbie, Samus is in some ways Barbie’s antithesis. Rather than a well-intentioned, but ultimately helpless fashionista, Samus is a well respected soldier and investigator.

The best example of the game that I find to most successfully blend the tapped and untapped markets in terms of gameplay is Metroid Prime. Released in 2002, it was the first three dimensional entry into the series. The extra dimension and technically impressive graphics added a sense of immersion that the Super Nintendo (and likely the N64) simply could not provide. Though Metroid Prime is played in first-person perspective and contains shooting, the importance given to exploration and the intelligently designed puzzles have led both critics and fans to label the game as an Action/Adventure.

The many environments in Metroid Prime further establish it as having androgynous qualities. In the game you’ll find beautiful lush jungles, vast atmospheric tundra, places that could be appealing to girls. The guys may prefer the ancient crumbled ruins and the “bleak, militaristic, post apocalyptic [and] futuristic” Phazon Mines [2]. These landscapes are all populated with easily excitable wildlife as well as hostile hordes of bug-like aliens. Many times, the player can take the ‘boy’s way’ and take the enemies head on, shooting and strafing. At other times, it behooves the player to take the ‘girl’s way’ by navigating through hidden alcoves and bypassing the enemies altogether. In addition, the ‘girl’s way’ is the only true approach to upgrade health and missile capacity.

Perhaps the greatest accommodation to both the female and Baby Boomers’ desire for mystery, adventure, escape, and narrative exploration is the inclusion of the Scan Visor. Once in this mode, beacons are scattered throughout the environment. Scanning them reveals collectable information (via Samus’s Log Book menu) about flora and fauna, enemy computer information, and most importantly, narrative details on why the planet was deserted as well as Samus’s own origins. Plot lines are generally collected throughout the game in a discontinuous fashion, so the only way to completely uncover the mystery is to be vigilant in your environmental analysis.

Every so often, while navigating through the dense environments of Metroid Prime, Samus’s visor will fog up and will mirror her eyes back to the player. I believe it was one of Nintendo and Retro Studio’s goals to seldomly, subtlety remind the player that Samus is a girl. It’s an important detail that keeps Samus from being Master Chief. With its tactful transition between action and exploration, combination of quick reflexes and logical puzzle solving, and inclusion of a strong, dynamic female protagonist, Metroid Prime is an exceptional example of an androgynous videogame.

1. Fron, J., Fullerton, T., Morie, J. & Pearce, C. (aka Ludica) “The Hegemony of Play.” In Situated Play:              Proceedings of Digital Games Research Association 2007 Conference. Tokyo, Japan, September 2007. http://lmc.gatech.edu/~cpearce3/PearcePubs/HegemonyOfPlayFINAL.pdf

2. Fullerton, T., Morie, J. & Pearce, C. (aka Ludica) (2007). “A Game Of Ones Own: Towards a New Gendered Poetics of Game Space.” In Proceedings, Digital Arts & Culture 2007, Perth, Australia, September 2007. http://lmc.gatech.edu/~cpearce3/PearcePubs/LudicaDAC07.pdf

3. Jenkins, Henry “Complete Freedom of Movement” (1998) from Salen, Katie and Eric Zimmerman. (2005). The Game Design Reader: A Rules of Play Anthology. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

4. Laurel, Brenda. (2001). Utopian Entrepreneur. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001.

5. Workman, Robert (2008-12-12). “Top 25 Nintendo Moments”. GameDaily. Retrieved 2009-12-28.

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Gender representation in video games has always favored the male perspective.  This is obviously clear when looking at the demographics of the creator of games, which is 88.5% male (Fron, et al, 2007). This is nowhere near the representation of the population, so it is no wonder that many stereotypes present in video games are focused on the male perspective.  The gaming industry surrounds itself by finding qualified people to produce games, and part of the qualification is to fit a male gamer stereotype (Fron, et al, 2007).   Even when there is promising hope that a game can begin to change the gaming industry’s standard, it often falls short.

Final Fantasy X-2 (FFX2) was a sequel of the original series, Final Fantasy X, and had the potential to be a game changer in many ways.  FFX2 was the first in the series to have an all-female cast of playable characters and also deviated from the linear game play style by opening up the whole world early on in the game.  When looking at this game from a representation of gender perspective, it does not quite hit the mark. On the contrary, it falls into a lot of problems described in “The Hegemony of Play” (Fron, et al, 2007).  The Final Fantasy series has been predominately played by males, and although this particular game has the potential to recruit females, it may have had the opposite effect and turned many females away from the game.

The most engaging aspects of the series thus far has centered on strong story lines and interesting game play styles.  FFX2 uses the all-female cast to further propagate stereotypes of females.   One of the most obvious displays of stereotypes in this game centers on the “leveling” mechanism, which are called “dresspheres” and “garment grids.”  This mechanic is present in all Final Fantasy games and is usually some kind of “license” or “sphere grid.”  However, in FFX2, since the game consists of only female playable characters, the leveling system connects the character’s powers to their costumes.   The game designers are exacerbating this idea that relates females very strongly to the clothes that they wear.  The game requires many costume changes within each battle in order to be able to a character’s special costume.  Each costume change is accompanied by a short cinematic and most of the costumes are what Pearce would call “kombat lingerie.”  The game artists distinctly portrayed that they felt the male players would be more interested in scantily clad warriors.

Additionally, this is the only game in the series that focuses on a love story.  The main character is searching for the memories of her lost love, while also relating the happenings in the game to his memory.  It is hard to say if the design of this game was to intentionally draw in female players or to just perpetuate the idea of what female players would want from a male perspective.  Fullerton, et al (2007), mentions that placing girls in boyland, do not necessarily empower women, but sometimes do more harm than good by relating less and less to real women.  Many other games in the series include a love interest for the main character, but it is never the main objective for moving the game forward.  In FFX2, there almost seems to be two dual storylines happening, one focusing on the main characters love, and the second, the political uprising that is happening, which occasionally requires the main character to go back to reality and stop searching for her loved one.

FFX2 is still based on a male-centric in space, where battles and mastery play a role in progressing through the game (Fullerton, et al, 2007).  Despite the fact that the world is more open ended and a player is allowed to access the whole world from early on, the story still focuses on a few key battles to move forward.

In a series that probably already attracts a lot of female players, FFX2 may have alienated some of the players who were already enjoying the game instead of gaining more players.  It is difficult to approach the design of such a game with the intention of attracting female players.  By definition from gamers and game creators, a gamer is only considered one when HE is a hardcore gamer (Fron, et al, 2007).  Although the creator’s intentions may not have been to attract female players, they could have given the idea more thought and created a more well-rounded game that could have become a paradigm shift for gamers.  It is unfortunate that creating a game that is appealing to females are always considered a “pink” game, instead of focusing on creating an androgynous game that would appeal to both male and females (Fron, et al, 2007).  There is this conception that girls should not act a particular way like when Laurel explains that Purple Moon explores friendships, betrayals and appearances (2001).  However, when designing games for boys, it is obvious, that the designs are based on play styles of boys, mastery of skills, combat, and exploration.   A question that game designers may need to ask themselves, is why is it ok to design games that fit a play style for boys but not games that fit a play style for girls?

References

Laurel, Brenda. (2001). Utopian Entrepreneur. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001.

Fullerton, T., Morie, J. & Pearce, C. (aka Ludica) (2007). “A Game Of One’s Own: Towards a New Gendered Poetics of Game Space.” In Proceedings, Digital Arts & Culture 2007, Perth, Australia, September 2007.

Fron, J., Fullerton, T., Morie, J. & Pearce, C. (aka Ludica) “The Hegemony of Play.” In Situated Play: Proceedings of Digital Games Research Association 2007 Conference. Tokyo, Japan, September 2007.

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