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The Column icon The Column: Issue 33

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The Column is a monthly feature that explores the world of creativity and aesthetics.

Girls, Software, and Gaming
Mike de Sousa, Director, AbleStable

Despite the efforts of the gaming industry and the desire from a large constituency who feel girls might play more software games if only more titles were targeted towards their interests, it seems that most girls simply aren't interested in playing with software. I ponder on the issues surrounding this perhaps contentious statement.

The Difference Between Boys and Girls

I have never subscribed to the idea that there are male and female attributes. That is, that there are some qualities that are masculine, and others that are feminine. My view is that gentleness, aggression, an eye for beauty, or a predisposition to competitiveness are non gender based. It seems to me as absurd to ascribe gender to these qualities as much as it does to assume the colour black *is* bad. I believe our human predisposition to use metaphor has been mistakenly used to model the differences between genders. In the West for example we often understand white as representing good, and black evil. However white is used to represent the negative in non Western cultures like China. Metaphor provides a way of understanding the world, but metaphor is a fluid mental representation.

For me there is one simple distinction between men and woman. Woman can have babies, men cannot. This difference informs our blatant and more subtle strategies and approaches to life.

Woman generally have an imperative to conceive and nurture babies although some do not. The actions of most woman reflect this need as they seek to establish secure social and personal contexts that increase the likelihood of their actual or potential offspring's survival.

Mechanisms laid down by our evolutionary development ensure our species survive, and survival is our shared imperative. For woman this manifests itself in the ability to have babies, for men it is to spread their seed. There is of course far more to life than babies and the pursuit of a mate, but my argument here is that these twin forces of survival are at the root of our differences.

The Point of Play

Play does not produce a product and there is often no purposeful goal, not even a social one, however play is crucial to the development of both girls and boys as it is a safe secure context to explore and develop our understanding and models of the world. As we grow older however a sharp difference develops between the way girls and boys play as a result of mechanisms that are hard wired into us at a primal level.

The difference between men and woman informs the methods of our play.

What Girls Like

There are many research papers that assert girls "like" certain kinds of software games as compared with boys. Here's a typical example:

Girls like software with strong characters
Girls like creating rather than destroying in games
Girls like to win, but in more cooperative ways than their male counterparts
Girls like problem solving, learning in depth, and working with rich-textured games.

These kinds of statements however are fundamentally flawed as they are generally based on observations of a group of girls and boys in a particular social and cultural context and at a particular time and place (the same goes for all research of this kind). The conclusions reached often tend to be blind to the inevitability of the researchers observations given their context.

I like strong characters, in games I like creating rather than destroying, I like to win in competitive and cooperative ways, I enjoy problem solving, learning in depth, and working with rich-textured games, and I am a heterosexual man with as much testosterone as the next - probably a little more. Although we may be predisposed to certain methods of play, we need not be blind to other ways of being. Again, I feel the qualities we exhibit are non-gender based. It would be far more honest to say "given our social, cultural, and political context, girls at present tend to adopt certain strategies when playing, but given a different context it is probable different strategies would come to the fore for each gender". The strategy itself, for example "cooperation", is neither male nor female.

Why Girls Don't Play

I believe the difference between the sexes I spoke about earlier is the major reason for our different need and interest in gaming and perhaps play in general. Woman are generally less interested than boys in spending time in front of a Playstation. Sure there might be some girls who enjoy "The Sims", but if they've the chance they will almost always opt for the real life social context where they can build actual relationships and secure their social status. Woman don't have time to play at being social, they will tend to "be" more social. For woman, computers are far more frequently used as tools to further that aim.

Spread and Multiply

The building of secure long lasting social structures is of less importance to a man. Indeed the prospect of a long term relationship with a woman seems more about the assertion of "ownership" over a particular woman which benefits the man as he can gain an evolutionary advantage over other competing males. While the man asserts his territory, other men may stay clear. This is not to say the man will not attempt to establish additional mating prospects as long as this does not undermine the security of his existing and potential lineage.

As the woman passes her window of child bearing age however, so the man often seeks new pastures. When a man is not able to easily maintain his sphere of influence over a woman he may adopt a strategy of spreading his seed far and wide rather than ensuring his seed is the more likely to bear fruit.

There are of course other factors that conflict with the assertions I've made above. The "person" which is far more than the body alone, also creates profound bonds between partners and encourages them to stay with one another, despite the more primal urge of the male to leave. Partners part for many reasons, but only if they judge their best interests are served. Their children or prospect of having children may or may not be considered as an interest to one or both parties. And then there is love which is far more in many ways than sex, although sex is the more powerful urge...

Sublimation

Forgive me as I reassert the point I made earlier but it seems to me of profound importance in the way we understand the difference between men and woman. The creation of a new human happens within the body of a woman. Their bodies are built for this. Woman make babies. Whatever a man makes, it is arguably of less significance.

I'm suggesting that while a woman can bear and nurture offspring, the urge and desire to create in other contexts is less. Men however have an urge to spread their seed. If, and here's a big "if", either a man or woman is unsuccessful in their efforts to reproduce or they are satisfied by their reproductive efforts, then perhaps the need to create in different areas is triggered. It serves the survival of our species that there are different creative activities as by designing and making we better master the challenges of our environment and improve our prospects and circumstance. Creativity is a crucial strategy of a physically weak species. It is the alternative to procreation. A sublimation of our primary function but one that can aspire to practical and noble ends.

The look of Men

Men use their sense of vision above all to judge the desirability of a mate. This is a useful protective strategy for all animals as it lessons the likelihood of injury due to a conflict with a male who may already be associated with a desirable female. Men therefore make judgments about the visual form, inner structure, and texture of a woman.

I am suggesting here that the primacy of the visual to men alludes to their innate emphasis on form and structure. Woman also make visual judgments about the physical attributes of a man, however, there are additional elements like the reliance and dependability of the man that more commonly come into play.

Conclusion

I am particularly interested in games that appeal to both males and females as I have a burning desire to create software games myself and hope to make games that are played by as broad a population as possible. Games will in the future be accepted as a distinct creative medium as movies are today. In common with movies the majority of software games will follow a tiresome formulaic style, however once in a while a game will arrive that transcends, enriches, and challenges the player in an interactive environment that not only appeals to both male and female instinct, but also inspires our hearts...


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Authors background
Mike de Sousa is the Director of AbleStable®. Mike has been commissioned as an artist, music composer, photographer, print and web site designer, and author. Mike is also a Director of 2BrightSparks, a software company producing award winning backup solutions.

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