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The stereotypical gamer is male, in his teens or early twenties, devotedly gaming from his parents’ basement. The actual make-up of the gaming population, however, is strikingly different. The average gamer is 34. And 40% of all players are women over the age of 18 – the industry’s fastest growing demographic.
Whatever the actual composition of the gaming population, there’s still very much the sense that gaming is a man’s world – both in terms of audience and in terms of developers. This isn’t to say, of course that there aren’t women playing and building all sorts of games. Oh the tales I could tell of raiding in Everquest! Oh the chainmail bikinies! Oh the princesses I have rescued! Oh, I do wonder sometimes, what would video games for women, by women look like? Would they be different? If so, how?
That’s something that the new Vancouver-based gaming studio Silicon Sisters is tackling. The first female-owned and run video game studio in Canada, Silicon Sisters is committed to building games for women and girls – and building these games by women and girls. Formed by former Radical Entertainment executive producer Kristen Forbes and former Deep Fried Entertainment COO Brenda Bailey Gershkovitch, the studio releases their very first game today, School 26, available for iOS.
Games for Girls: Emphasis on the Social
The game is geared for tweens and teens and its storyline is built around the complicated social hierarchy of high school. You play the game as a young girl who’s a newcomer to school. She comes from a nomadic family, something that has made it difficult for her to maintain long-term relations. As she enrolls in this, her 26th school, she strikes a bargain with her parents: if she can make friends, they’ll stay put.
So the player of School 26 must help the character do just that: build friendships and navigate the sticky, awkward and sometimes awful moral dilemmas of school. These range from power struggles to peer pressure, romance, betrayal, alienation, acceptance – all real and relevant situations that girls face every day.
The gameplay involves the player selecting the appropriate emotional responses to certain scenarios and answering quizzes that provide insights into players’ personalities. The emphasis here is on emphathy and networking.
What Message Does a Girl-Focused Game Give?
That’s a very different set of goals and behaviors than most video games. There isn’t swordplay here. No princesses to rescue. No alien invaders to vanquish. There isn’t “action.” There’s “talk.” The rewards aren’t cash or weaponry. The skills honed in School 26 aren’t the ability to time your jumps or dodge bullets or land killing blows.
As a long-time gamer, I have to say that this isn’t the sort of gameplay that interests me. I like killing things. In games, of course.
But not everyone does — girls and boys alike. There are plenty of casual games aimed at tweens that aren’t action-oriented, and there are lots aimed at girls. But unlike many that target this market, there is no emphasis on shopping, fashion, or beauty.
Silicon Sisters plans to release more broadly-focused games soon, but says that all their games will all emphasize this sort of “social engineering” — an emphasis on relationships and communication. These are legitimate skills for girls and women to develop, the studio argues, and something that will give them a competitive advantage in life.