Computer Culture

Girls Tend to Avoid First Person Shooters and Circular Saws

halo3 In my experiences, many girls don’t seem eager to try new things if they cannot predict the consequences and are without someone to explain how the new thing is done.  This is especially true of things that they don’t see other girls doing.  In particular, I rarely see girls playing games such as first person shooters and real time strategy, nor do I see them using circular saws and nail guns.  Now, I’m sure that studies show many reasons for this, but I’d like to speak of my own experiences with how little effort it takes to break the stereotype when the opportunity presents itself.  I just have a hard time believing that most girls would really rather watch their guy friends play Halo, than trying it out for themselves (if given the right circumstances).

This morning, I was driving with a friend in Delaware.  She’s a few years younger than I, but hangs out with a group of  post-grad, guy friends of mine.  On the way from Home Depot, she mentioned that she’s tried playing multiplayer Halo at a friend’s bachelor pad and “couldn’t get what was going on.”  She said she kept getting killed before she could figure out what to do.  Now, most, if not all, people experience this when playing their first FPS, but why does my female friend sound so much more discouraged than my male friends would in similar situations?  It appears that often, the guys I know find motivation or determination in being sub-par inplace of discouragement.

It reminded me of my college service projects.  In mixed gender groups, students, mostly non-carpenter ones, would go to poor places in Kentucky and Louisiana to build or repair homes.  After being on the stage crew in high school and volunteer carpentry for a few years, I’ve had opportunities to paint, put up drywall and insulation, roof, spackle, etc.  Whenever opportunity presented itself, I’d ask the carpenters in charge, “can I use the power tools?”  In that sense, I was never shy.  After a number of these volunteer trips, I’d noticed that the girls tend to busy themselves with hammering and painting.  So, as I became familiar with the tools, I’d find myself inviting the other female volunteers to try something new.  I would ask them, “Hey, you wanna try out the circular saw and cut some 2x4s with me?”

I have a hard time believing that so many people would rather be painting all day when they could be experiencing and learning other forms of useful handiwork.  I’d never had to twist anyones arm to convince them to stop painting, so why does such a casual suggestion make such an impact?  Is it because females trust that other females over males?  Is it because they need to see someone like them doing it before they’d be willing to try?  I’ve never worked with a female carpenter on these projects before, so that might have something to do with it.  Really though, I believe it’s because males don’t think females want to use power tools, and females don’t think that males want females to use power tools.  It’s a preception of gender that is beyond mere variety of skill levels in individuals.  Otherwise, why wouldn’t the guys be inviting the girls to try it?  And why don’t girls express interest in trying those sort of things more?


My friend employed the “build one of everything” in her first StarCraft experience

On one of my visits, at my friend’s house,  her younger sister was sitting in the living room as a bunch of us were setting up to play StarCraft.  These guys seem to come over often to play games, and the girls will just watch them play (or do their own thing).  My Delaware guy friends are at all levels of StarCraft proficiency– even though they are all mostly Korean, I’m sure I can take a few of them.   In regards to my less aggressive female friends, this is, again, a perception of gender that is beyond mere variety of skill levels in individuals.  I’m not convinced that the sister, in her own house, wouldn’t enjoy being included.  She should be afforded to opportunity to make an informed decision as to whether or not she wants to play StarCraft.  I asked if she wanted to learn a little bit about it, and, effortlessly, she tried a game or two with all of us– something that wouldn’t ever happen unless I was there to encourage it.

An example of being out of my own comfort areas is my wanna-be basketball playing.  I’d play more if I was good, but I can’t get good because I never play.  I’d love to play pickup.  I even make an effort to express interest in playing, but the combination of not many girls playing basketball, I’m not very good, and I feel like I’m ruining the game when I join, makes it less likely.  The pressure of people relying on my proficiency to make or break their enjoyment can get overwhelming.

On the other hand, when I started training at a boxing gym, my determination : discouragement ratio was skewed the other way.  Since I was my own team, I’d get beat up, if I didn’t try harder (which is of little detriment to my opponent).  In that same way, I suggested that my friend try to play a little Portal to work on orienting herself.  It’s a single player game that isn’t fast paced, so the determination : discouragement ratio is likely a bit more favorable for Portal than Halo.  After playing Portal, Halo may just be that much less confusing, and therefore, less discouraging.

Conclusively, the idea that girls don’t do things, because they don’t enjoy them as much as guys do can become quite a self-fullfilling prophecy (on both sides of the interaction).  I don’t think I’ll be shattering any glass ceilings, but maybe I can help those, like me, in areas that I’m comfortable in to make informed decisions as to whether they’d like to play video games or use power tools.

12 thoughts on “Girls Tend to Avoid First Person Shooters and Circular Saws

  1. This summer, I was surprised to see so few girls in Camp Kodu, the summer camp I helped run. To my surprise, when I asked Paul, who is in charge of the camp and has a lot of experience in education, about it, he told me that there was a lot of competition from girls-only video game camps. I figured girls just had less interest in making video games, but it turns out that they have just as much interest as boys. Girls only camps are developed because adults believe that girls are more likely to thrive without boys around. I’ve heard that girls are less likely to even try at things that are stereotypically male dominated, like math and science, in the presence of boys. I haven’t had much experience observing these sorts of trends, but I hope that by the end of my program at Santa Cruz that I TA for a computer science class with at least one female student showing up for discussions.

  2. I don’t know if the friends you’re talking about are already gamers, but I wouldn’t suggest StarCraft to anyone as a ‘starter’. It’s no Dwarf Fortress, but it’s not known as an easily-accessible game. Jumping into a Halo match with (probably) veteran players isn’t likely to be a fun experience for anyone either.

    There are some games (though probably not enough) that can bridge the casual/hardcore gap and provide a more reasonable learning curve for these common ‘hardcore’ game mechanics. I think Portal was a great recommendation for this, and maybe something like Little King’s Story could help give an introduction to real-time strategy style games.

  3. Anne’s own research into the gender divide seems to have settled on the idea that gender-inclusiveness is about supporting different styles of play, and that those girls that prefer to shoot things, and those guys that prefer social play, are all happy.

    Personally, I don’t find it as disturbing as some that sexes gravitate to different things. If I remember correctly, the reason we are worried about girls not in Science/Tech/Math is because they show interest in those subjects early on, but then lose interest when they perceive it to be male dominated.

    However, why should girls enjoy Starcraft? Is there some reason they should enjoy nailgunning people? Should they be playing Madden and pumping fists? I worry that sometimes we think of the ideal gender inclusion as “liking games we think are good” and not “liking games that they like”. I’m sure plenty of girls, just like guys, play PopCap’s stuff, and enjoy it quite a bit.

    I’m not sure I buy the idea that the male stereotype causes females to lose interest in the games we like. I’d say the problem is more that a large number of Western games produced are gender-exclusive, playing into male power fantasies, rather than a problem with girls themselves.

  4. Teale,

    That’s such a funny way to put it, but I can totally see, especially in something collaborative, like building a house, the roles that people are confident in taking depend on their sense of identity and past experiences. A boy may have seen his dad doing a lot of handiwork, done it himself, or associate them as masculine things. The boy may then be more eager or willing to take on more complicated tasks, whereas I see a girl needing to be encouraged to do these things. I suppose encouragement is one of those factors that makes the determination/discouragement ratio more favorable. In the absence of boys, girls would just step up out of necessity to complete a task.

    Similarly, I could see girls being perceptive of how much more liberty a guy would have when making or playing a video game. Wondering why people are able to excel in something, often seeks out explanations other than “they are working hard because they like it and they know they can do it.” Instead of feeling more liberated to work harder, people look for other explanations. Reasons such as: “it’s not for girls,” “I’m not as smart,” “this is too hard” create the attitude of: “I can’t be good at this, therefore I don’t like it” when it should be replaced with its converse, “If I like it, I could become good at this.”

    Now, I’m not saying girls have to like everything boys like, but that I’d feel better if I were sure that the girls are making an informed decision not dictated by circumstance.

  5. Martin,

    No, they weren’t gamers. It was just the case that 4 or 5 laptops showed up with StarCraft on them that evening. I sort of asked her, “Do you know what’s going on?” I remember learning how to play by being a dud in some multi-player game in high school. It was during AP Computer Science class and Mr. Seifert said, “Just build one of everything.” The other way to acquaint yourself with the RTS is to play the campaigns. I found them to be informative and interesting. Campaigns are more bottom up in giving someone the hang of things. I suppose one easier version of StarCraft is the original version, relative to the expansion. An even more manageable version could be the same game without the special buildings– the campaigns try to do this, more or less.

    I’ve played StarCraft on and off since high school, and I’m still quite novice at the game. I can’t imagine trying to play with no experience today, after the game has been out for over a decade. I see guys trying to pick it up though, especially when they see how involved their friends get. The girl, sitting in the room watching everyone else play, has had many opportunities to play, and I find it odd that both: she has never shown interest and the guys have never asked. I asked, and she willingly watched me explain it, before playing her own game. I agree, even for me, playing out of my league gets quite daunting, but it makes the guys (I know) want to play even more. I’ll be honest: it makes me want to play more too. Unfortunately, I can’t be a progamer and a programmer at the same time 🙂

    …but I think I’d go… Restaurant City, some tower defense game, then StarCraft.

  6. Chris,

    Anne is, for sure, the expert in our group. She’s actually done research and read a lot of studies on gender in games. I was hoping to come off a little less of the expert and purely anecdotal.

    Personally, it doesn’t bother me that girls are underrepresented in areas of game playing. It’s more about being uncomfortable with the products of “self-fulfilling prophecies.”

    In regards to my anecdotes, I’d like to add more cultural details to some of these past recollections. Many of my friends grew up in Asian churches, which, I’ve learned, have very profoundly defined gender roles. I remember going to Korean church and cringing at how often gender stereotypes are worked into the English sermons geared towards Asian American college students and young professionals.

    My first church was a Chinese church, where girls and guys formed Chinese-American communities, heavily influenced by their Chinese immigrant parents. Now, I’ve lived in Taiwan before, and the gender divide is very distinct. I remember classmates seeing me at an arcade and reprimanding me the next day. They told me girls don’t go to arcades and play games. Girls are allowed to like Sailor Moon, but not Dragon Ball Z and that was how their culture worked. Asian Americans are inevitably more pronounced in their gender distinctions as a result of eastern influences.

    This issue has always been a thorn in my side, because I’m confronted with it so much as an Asian American. I have a hard time with being constrained to a prescribed identity, especially in America, where I am free to be me. The compromise of Eastern and Western culture has been a huge struggle for me and, most likely, many Asian Americans today.

    Here’s a metaphor I call, “Jimmy and the Pink Cupcake.”

    Jimmy happens to be the only boy in a group of girls, when suddenly Sarah present a big box of cupcakes. All the girls claim their own cupcake, except for Esther, who isn’t hungry, Mary, who is vegan, Ruth, who doesn’t like cupcakes.

    Assuming Jimmy is hungry, with no dietary restrictions, and likes cupcakes, he should soon be eating his own cupcake with the rest. Unfortunately, all the cupcakes are pink. Sarah assumes that Jimmy isn’t taking a cupcake because boys don’t like the color pink, so she doesn’t offer him one; in fact, none of the other girls do. She does, however, ask Esther, Mary, and Ruth if they’d had their cupcake yet. Jimmy thinks he’d probably like a cupcake, but doesn’t think that he’s supposed to be eating a pink cupcake, so he waits to be offered one from Sarah. He sees that she invited everyone, except him to a cupcake, so he just sits and watches everyone eat cupcake. Maybe if he was *really* hungry he would have asked.

    Should Sarah have made a non-pink cupcake for Jimmy? That’s not what I find disturbing. I find it odd that no one offers Jimmy a cupcake, and Jimmy does not ask for a cupcake. It isn’t that Jimmy should be eating pink cupcakes more, but that there’s no reason he shouldn’t be eating a cupcake in the given situation.

    Jimmy’s never eaten a pink cupcake before, because he’s never had the opportunity. He gets used to not eating pink cupcakes that when he’s given the chance, he hesitates, which defines his perception of what he should be eating based off of past circumstances. Sarah understands Jimmy’s hesitation as disinterest and therefore encourages the self-propagation of “boys don’t like pink” by not offerring Jimmy a cupcake.

    The next story is called, “Billy and the Pink Cupcake.”

    In this next scenario, the story is the same, except Billy is also there, making Jimmy no longer the only boy among girls. Billy loves cupcakes, even pink ones. Billy notices Jimmy hasn’t eaten yet and EFFORTLESSLY says, “Yo, have you tried one yet, they’re good.” Jimmy eagerly eats a pink cupcake….

    and it was the best cupcake he ever had 🙂

    Next Stories, “Jenny and the Jazz Cats,” “Charlie and the Christians,” “Betty and the Basketball.”

  7. Yesterday, I went to the local Santa Cruz Bike Church. It was for a girls workshop they host every other Sunday.

    It was quite awesome. I felt completely comfortable, even though I’d never maintained a bike before. This is in contrast to the ‘regular hours’ when the shop was full of mostly guys moving about from one station to another. My first time there, I must have stood around for hours trying to get someone’s attention. Everyone seemed impatient and occupied, reasonably so.

    Yesterday, while working on my bikes, I mentioned to one of the female mechanics that during the normal hours, I had such a hard time getting helped. She said that during the week, even the women mechanics are abrupt and on the move. The design of the church is such that you have to demand attention….

    … which means that *certain* communities of people are at a disadvantage. That’s why they created the workshops– the women’s workshop, in particular.

    As a community, women don’t seem motivated to demand attention which puts them at a disadvantage. To my detriment, demanding things, in these situations, seems even less ascribed to the community of _Asian_ women.

    This was yet another great example of determination vs. discouragement.

  8. I think there are many exceptions to this rule. Although i would agree that the vast majority of gamers are male, I think that many female gamers exist. They may be closet gamers 🙂 but I think they are out there.

  9. I’m not sure your point about girls playing first person shooters and real time strategy is necessarily related to trying new things, predicting the consequences or having someone to explain how the new thing is done. In my experience it’s more about not finding first person shooters an entertaining or engaging activity.

    I worked in a cabinet making shop where the owner’s teenage kids (2 boys and a girl) would hang out after school. The sons were always making games out of shooting things with the air-powered nail guns. The daughter could have cared less about shooting things with the nail guns.

    My nephew was given a tool set for his 5th birthday. One of the tools was a folding ruler/yard stick. Within a couple of minutes he had folded it into a shape and was using it like a gun. My sister commented that boys can turn anything into a gun. I think this is more to the point of why boys favor shooter games and girls don’t.

  10. Well, in past Christmases, I’ve given my wife a circular saw and a nail gun …and was thanked profusely!

  11. I do see more and more girls getting into games around me. But that might have to do with more games coming out that cater to girls (i.e. The Sims franchise). Violent games or fps games however are still considered to be played by men mostly. I believe this tradition will always stand for reasons mentioned above among others.

  12. Pingback: Game Review: Hardcore for Hearthstone? | ThoughtfulPlay ^_^

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