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THE MAN ON THE STREET #10 - April 2003

Girls: Go away. This isn't for you. Go and powder your pretty noses, or put the dinner on or something.

Consumer games mag Edge, the closest thing the industry currently has to a source of intellectual analysis of our particular field of culture (and certainly the only games mag where you’re likely to encounter the word "Baudrillardian"), recently devoted an entire issue to the time-honoured question "Why aren’t there more girls in gaming?" The issue was the latest in the industry’s regular-as-clockwork bouts of soul-searching about why gaming is still such an overwhelmingly male pastime, to which no-one has yet come up with a satisfactory or convincing answer. The reason for that is that they keep doggedly overlooking Occam’s Razor - "The simplest answer is usually the right one". And the simplest reason why more girls don’t buy videogames, or write videogames, or buy videogames magazines is this: They don’t like them.

It’s around about this point that the usual nonsense is trotted out, of course. Ridiculous statistics from the industry’s trade bodies claiming that "46% of gamers are female", or the usual mini-parade of women connected to the industry protesting how much THEY like games, so it must be possible to extrapolate that to all females. But the truth is, ladies – and I mean this in the nicest possible way – you’re freaks. You’re weirdos. You’re abnormal. (Note: ABnormal, not SUBnormal.) Girls, statistically and genetically speaking, DON’T like games. Not just videogames, any kind of games. Disagree? Open your eyes and look around.

From a very young age, girls don’t play "games" in the same way boys do. Almost as soon as they can walk and talk, boys - quite independently of any instruction - start playing games with rules, structures and – here’s the thing – goals. Girls, on the other hand, play in ways that involve neither the achieving of goals nor the defeat of opponents. They play in ways emphasising empathy, co-operation, social interaction and open-ended "objectives". Exactly the sorts of qualities, of course, that are almost never found in videogames. (Traditionally, RPGs are brought up around this point, but everyone ignores the fact that the structure of almost all RPGs – conquest, progress, specific goals, and most especially the quantifying of experience in absolute arithmetical terms – is utterly male.)

Girls basically want to interact positively with other people, whereas boys want to fight with them. (This is why most nurses are female and most doctors are male. Nursing is a nurturing, empathising sort of job, whereas being a doctor is essentially combative – you against the illness, immediate objectives, male problem-solving rather than female empathy.) The only exceptions to this rule to be found in the world of videogaming are things like The Sims, and some online RPGs, and what do those games have in common? Two things – they’re essentially social communities (simulated and real respectively), not games in any meaningful sense of the word at all, and they have significant female audiences. Coincidence or magic? You decide.

So girls – As. A. Generalisation. - like one type of game and one type of game only, and it’s a type that we don’t recognise as a "game" at all. But even then, research shows that they’re rarely prepared to cough up and buy it for themselves, because on the most basic level – nothing to do with the media, or public perception, simply the Way Things Are – games are something they have no inherent affinity with. (And unlike boys, girls have no shortage of other things to spend their disposable income on.) So for crying out loud let’s stop beating ourselves up about it. Boys and girls are, on the most fundamental levels possible, different to each other. This is a good thing. We should be happy about it. If we suddenly took an interest in going on shoe-shopping trips with them, or snuggling up on the sofa together watching The Bridges Of Madison County with a big box of Kleenex, they’d be at first horrified, then suspicious, and then finally they’d dump us for some convicted rapist on Death Row with tattoos on his forehead.

So why are we so desperate to have them validate our weakness for the joypad? Go out with girls on Sunday. Play games on Monday. More girls on Tuesday. (Wednesday is football, obviously.) And so on. Stop trying to be New Man. (EVERYBODY hates New Man.) Split things up into manageable sections (or, if you will, levels). Compartmentalise. It’s what we’re good at. It’s why we like videogames. It’s why girls don’t, and never will.

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