Video game design and gender

This week for my Gender and Computing class, we’re continuing the discussion about video games and virtual environments. The focus of the articles we read this week is the design of the games.

One of the articles was published in 1999, and the author did a study of the video game designers themselves. The descriptions that the author gave of the designers he studied was: “They tend to come from middle class (or higher) backgrounds and ten to be relatively educated. They are almost entirely white and more likely to be male than female.” [1]

While these designers didn’t have any demographic data on their users, they believed that the people who played the games they designed were “more likely to be male than female, somewhat more likely to be from the United States than other countries, and tends to be middle or upper class.” [1]

So, in other words, the designers believed the users were just like them and designed games for themselves.

I am graduating in May with a Masters in Human Computer Interaction Design, and the above example is the exact opposite of how I’ve learned to design. The focus of HCI/d is user-centered design.

Granted that article is 10 years old. And, the number of women who play video games has increased since then. “Forty-three percent of all game players are women. In fact, women over the age of 18 represent a greater portion of the game-playing population (28 percent) than boys from ages 6 to 17 (21 percent).”

So, one would think that since the design programs of today focus on user-centered design, and users of video games are increasingly female, then perhaps the way things are done in video game design has changed over the past 10 years. But, that doesn’t appear to be the case.

The people designing the games are still mostly male. Just a couple of weeks ago, Sony Online Entertainment announced a scholarship program aimed at getting more girls into video game design because there still aren’t very many women game designers.

And, the content of many video games are still male-oriented. I did an observation at a local arcade last week, and the subject of all the games I observed were either shooting or fighting, which are masculine topics. The list of best-selling video games are all mostly masculine themes.

So, it appears that the video game design industry hasn’t really changed that much at all over the past 10 years, even though their users have.

[1] McDonough, J. P. (1999). Designer selves: Construction of technologically mediated identity within graphical, multiuser virtual environments. Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 50(10), 855-869.


One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Colin on April 13, 2011 at 8:56 am

    I won’t pretend to be as qualified as you. And I know that I am visiting this page a long time after first posted. But maybe the reason why most games tend to be shooting, fighting, racing, ect, is that they are easier to design in the first place? I’m guessing that dev’s also have a strong foundation to work from, in terms of things gone before.
    compared to other genres which girls and women might find more entertaining.

    Having said that, as a white middle class male, my experiance of gaming is somewhat biased.


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