Classic Computer Magazine Archive START VOL. 4 NO. 11 / JUNE 1990



Women Won't Spend Bucks Until
Game Makers End Sexism


"We are not amused," Queen Victoria said upon seeing an impression of herself performed by her groom-in-waiting, the Honourable Alexander Grantham Yorke. Millions of women echo that same sentiment when seeing themselves depicted in computer entertainment software. And without the royal recourse of banishment from court, these women are making their displeasure known by spending their money elsewhere.

While no one has any hard and fast demographic information about game players, it's generally accepted within the industry that the vast majority are men. But is this a case of the consumer defining the market or the market defining the consumer? Consider these examples from START's software library.

Brad Stallion, star of Planet of Lust, Bride of the Robot and Sex Vixens from Space. pilots the Big Thruster, a spaceship whose coincidental resemblance to male genitalia stretches the laws of probability. The women Brad meets during his adventures bear names like Princess Orgasma, Miss Galaxy and the High Priestess of Desire, names which do not suggest that their most outstanding feature lies between their ears.

Strip Poker makes no bones about what features you should be paying attention to; the only purpose of the game is to uncover those features by getting Melissa or Suzi to shed their clothes. Granted, Artworx sells supplemental game disks of male strippers, hut that only proves that gender is no barrier to exploitation.

In Technocop, women sprawl across chairs, bodices ripped, legs splayed. They add nothing to game-play or storyline; they serve the same purpose as the rest of the graphics -wallpaper.

Faced with these sexist characterizations, is it any wonder women avoid games aimed directly at the male market?

Some games - TV Sports: Football, Rambo III, Hostage Rescue Mission - do not include women for even visual titillation. The hero in Pirates is automatically male, even though Anne Bonny terrorized the West Indies in the 1710s.

Sometimes the main characters gender doesn't matter, like in Weird Dreams (a sleeper) and Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindhenders (a reporter), but game designers opt for men. When they do create female characters, they are likely to use a "Save me!" scenario, like those in Twilight's Ransom, Transylvania. and Sinbad and the Throne of the Falcon, in which the woman exists as the excuse for the hero's quest. Women do not play these games because they lack appealing role models -women who are active, intelligent and effective.

You find those role models in Sierra On-Line games like King's Quest IV: The Perils of Rosella and The Colonel's Bequest. Sierra cofounder Roberta Williams (yes, a woman) wrote the stories.

With a little forethought, it's not hard to overcome the male-hero stereotype. Infocom forces players to designate their sex before beginning the game. In Leather Goddesses of Phobos you walk through a bathroom door; in Bureaucracy you, what else!, fill out a form. START's previous programs editor, Heidi Brumbaugh, once required an author to provide a gender choice before she would publish his game. Many role-playing games include both male and female adventurers.

But simply changing Rambo to Rambette won't attract women to entertainment software. Manufacturers also need to design games that appeal to women. In a story in the June 1989 issue of Marketing Computers, Patricia Cignarella writes,

"According to a survey conducted at Northwestern University under the supervision of (Professor Ron) Kaatz, just under half the women surveyed had not played a video or computer game in the last two years. However, the vast majority said they would play if a game existed that interested them. When asked to comment on what kind of games would appeal to them, the most popular response was games involving simulations of social situations.

"The second most popular suggestion was sports games, such as volleyball and scuba diving, crew, bike racing and tennis. Third were games about fashion design and shopping. A close fourth was mystery/adventure games. The big losers: fighter pilot simulations, space battles and exercise games."

In 1989, total sales of Atari ST entertainment software plunged by 12.6 percent, according to the Software Publishers Association. Sierra On-Line's John Williams reports that 1989 revenues from Atari products rose 6 percent.. Williams also says 17 percent of Sierra's customers are female, 22 percent in the case of Rosella. Think about that.