Computer Games

     This Christmas, like millions of other parents, I bought my two children, a boy
and a girl, a popular home video game system. I thought they could share it and
when asked if this was OK with them, they replied, "Sure mom, that would be
great." So, we planned on installing the little goody onto the TV in the
family room, so that both kids would have an equal chance to play. So, "What
then?" you may be asking is the problem. The problem arose when we went to
shop for games for the system. They werenít hard to find. They were in all the
local toy stores and Walmart and Kmart too! But, there werenít any for girls!

I looked high and low and came up empty handed. Why was this happening? Surely,
girls must want to play video games as much as boys do! Why then, arenít game
manufacturers producing any video games that feature girls as the main
character? On a recent trip to our local Walmart store, I found over two hundred
video game titles, yes I counted, for our game system, but of these only two had
female main characters. One of them was, you guessed it, Barbie! The other one
was a female warrior dressed in a scantily clad leather outfit. Iím pretty
sure the latter was designed for young men, and not for young girls. Surely, a
big retailer, like Toys-R-Us would have more of a selection. So, off I went on
my merry way only to be once again disappointed. Toys-R-Us had over 300 titles
in stock for our game system and only the same two titles I found at Walmart
were available there with one new addition, which was the Spice Girls CD. Itís
price had been reduced, so I guessed it was left over from last year when the

Spice Girls used to be popular. I ended up purchasing 4 games for my kids to
play. I found a few with cartoon characters as lead characters, that I felt
would be appropriate for kids. I bought Rugrats, Loony Tunes, Grand Turismo
(race cars), and Tetras (puzzle). All, except the puzzle game, had male
characters in the lead, but at least these were rated as non-violent. After some
careful research, I found that video games are a 7 billion dollar a year
industry that out surpasses even the movie industry by 2 billion dollars each
year ( 2 ). Mostly, these games are being sold to boys and young men. Girls
currently represent only about 20 percent of the market, having been pretty much
written off by important manufacturers like, Hasbro, Sony, and Sega ( 3 ). Girls
have extensive buying power though, nearly 84 billion dollars annually, and over

6 million of them live in households with gaming systems ( 3 ). From ages, 6 to

10, girls play video games as much and as often as boys in that same age
bracket, and one survey reports that if there were more games out there that
they enjoyed, 85 percent of girls surveyed would use their gaming systems more (

1 ). Girls donít seem to like the same kinds of games boys do. Instead of the
violent, time-limited games boys go for, the girls like games that offer strong
narratives, interaction, and creativity. Itís not enough to simply convert or
replace existing software for girls; the basic structure should be changed. A

1995 survey in Childrenís Software Review found only 28 of the 344 games with
female characters in leading roles ( 3 ), proof that few producers have created
games exclusively for girls. I believe this is largely so, due to the male
dominance in the whole computer and technological industry. Males are turning
out a product for other males. Then why arenít women out there designing a
product girls will enjoy? Some are trying, but I have found it a catch-22
situation. Men are leading the technology industry because they are the ones
inviting other males to join their ranks by making only games geared towards
boys and young men. Girls are less likely to deem this area as fun and inviting
and thus, turn their attention to other areas of study once college bound. Some
companies are beginning to look for ways to encourage girls to get more involved
in information technology. Girl Tech is one such group, in hopes of reaching 3.4
million Girl Scouts, they are sponsoring a technology merit-badge program (3 ).

Efforts like this must continue, though more immediate measures need to be taken
in order for girls to become technologically proficient. If for no other reason
than for an increase in earning potential, girls must learn to use and keep up
with the technology around them. Not developing video games for girls, seems to
be a classic example of symbolic annihilation ( 4 ). That is, the media has
traditionally ignored women. In this case, even though girls have money to
spend, their needs still arenít being met. With the amount of time children
spend playing video games each week, one study says as much as 4 hours by boys
and at least 2 hours by girls, what kind of message are we giving our kids ( 2
)? I know it canít be positive. I really hadnít realized the bias towards
girls in the toy department. This has really opened my eyes as a consumer! I am
interested on my next trip to the toy store , to find out if other areas of the
store are as biased as the video game department. Itís already evident that
there is a division of boy isles and girl isles. My children have pointed this
out many of time with cries of, "I want to go to the girl isle!" from my
daughter and the opposite from my son. What is important here is that, I am at
least aware of the problem now. I wonder how many other mothers with daughters
are aware of what is available to their daughters as consumers. It really is
disturbing when you think about it.