the international journal of computer game research


volume 5, issue 1
october 2005

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Rika Nakamura
Hanna Wirman
University of Lapland

Girlish Counter-Playing Tactics


The primary aim of this paper is to examine how three selected computer games respond to the preferences of girl players. In short, the paper explores whether these example games are suitable for girl players. Research concerns with three computer games: Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura (2001), Warcraft III: The Reign of Chaos (2002), and The Sims (1998). This paper aims to show that there could be more entertaining and more interesting computer games for girl players than games presented in this article. While culture and attitudes affect girls’ interest in playing, games studied in this research also have their deficiencies. The paper concludes that the relationship between girls and computer games is not trouble-free, but adding girlish features into computer games or creating new games based on them could make them more appealing for girl players.


Girls, computer games, game playing


Nowadays virtually all computer games are designed by men (Haines, 2004a), and the majority of players are males (Suoninen, 2002; Subrahmanyam and Greenfield, 1999; Graner Ray, 2004). Games mostly include actions – fighting, reckless riding, conquering – and themes – sports, war – that are geared toward the preferences of a male audience. Many studies show that girls prefer different kinds of games than boys (Cassell and Jenkins, 1999a). We assume that game characteristics can be detected that interest female more than male players and vice versa. In order to play according to the girlish taste girls need to counter-play‘male-targeted’ games: use the given set of rules to match their preferences into the defined themes and actions.

In our research we were interested in finding a girlish approach to play and discovering the limitations games set for girl player. In order to give girl players the possibility to step in to the game culture, it is important to study how contemporary computer games correspond to their needs and demands. In this study we analyze three computer games from the turn of the millennium. We will consider for example, is a girl player free to act and set goals in games if her starting point is in carrying out girlish preferences and how the games limit the girlish ways of playing. We focus our study on the actual gaming event. Research of this kind can be used to design games for a wider audience, which take account the needs of girl players.


We have used two sources for our methodology: a theory of strategy and tactics by French sociologist Michel de Certeau and earlier game literature concerning girls’ playing preferences. According to de Certeau consumers, girl players in our study, are actively manipulating events to gain small victories over the larger system. For example, girl players may find ways to carry out some girlish preferences in a game. Earlier game research includes assumptions of girlish features in computer games. In these studies there are characteristics that are considered to appeal or not to appeal to girls, such as caring and violence. These characteristics were used as tactical approaches during the empirical study. We gathered the empirical material by playing three example games ourselves. We considered that only in this way were we able to have control of the choices that were made. Using ourselves as test group is not a trouble-free starting point, because a subjective element is notably important in the experience of playing. Subjective interpretations of features and gaming experiences all affect to the results of this research.


In the next section we will introduce the used methodology, which is based on Michel de Certeau’s (1988) theory of strategy and tactics, and earlier game research. The procedures and results of this research are reported in the third section, in which we discuss, on the basis of earlier game research, what kind of possibilities there are for girl players to be entertained by three example games. Finally, we discuss the results in relation to current game research.


Girlish Game Features as Tactical Approaches

As a tool of empirical testing we have used de Certeau’s theory of the ways that consumers, girl players in the study, move in different places. Consumers are traditionally considered as passive and guided by rules, but de Certeau sees them as active users of place. Similar thoughts have risen inside computer game research. The players of computer games are not passive, and they actively shape dominant messages of computer games in ways that are reasonable for them (Gailey, 1993). According to de Certeau, movements of an individual consumer should be studied more from the perspectives of what the consumer does and why. Consumer constantly moves in a space of power (ct. gameworld) that is technocratically built and functionalized (de Certeau, 1988). De Certeau’s theory concerns only physical spaces, but games are also considered as spaces and movement in games is described with the same adjectives as movement in real life (Jenkins and Fuller, 1995). As simulations of spaces, also gameworlds are built and functionalized. Like consumers are moving in spaces where the surrounding power comes from the capitalistic society, a girl player navigates in gameworlds that represent the male-dominated culture and preferences. The movement of an individual consumer he describes as ‘indeterminate trajectories’ that seem to be meaningless, because they do not dovetail with the surrounding space of the movement. Relating to our study, girl players’ actions in games are not in dovetail with the surrounding gameworld that is male-targeted. Since statistics can only classify and calculate the materials, de Certeau presents strategy and tactics to analyze this kind of unpredictable movement.

We have used de Certeau’s theory to divide the game event into strategy and tactics. By strategy we mean the gameworld, all objects and items in it, and rules of the game. The strategy aims to control the player by isolating the space in which the player moves. The rules of the game are ways to control the player and isolate spaces. They also provide a basis for the player to act in the gameworld and interact with objects inside it. Most of the strategic choices are made during the developing of the game (e.g. characters can travel only on land, shops are closed after midnight). By tactic we mean the ways in which the player moves within the place defined by an outside power (male-dominated culture and preferences in this case) and features pointed out in earlier feminist game studies, which can be taken as starting points for gameplay. The purpose of tactics is, according to de Certeau, to manipulate events and turn them into ‘small victories’ over the strategy. For a girl player this kind of small victory could be, for example, a possibility to play with a girlish preference in a male-targeted game. This is not usually the way the game is designed to be proceeded. In short, tactics are ways to move and make choices in a game and ‘an art of the weak’, struggling within the dominated space. As such, implying a girlish tactic to a male-targeted game means counter-playing. De Certeau’s strategies and tactics aren’t fully separable in practice. In role-playing games, for example, the development of character can be called strategy since the evolving abilities limit the player’s actions. On the other hand the development of character can be called tactics, because the player has to give direction to the development of character in order to beat the game.

One of the main sources for earlier feminist game studies has been Cassell’s and Jenkins’s From Barbie to Mortal Kombat (1999), which gathers varied researches of girls’ playing habits. Another important publication is Gender Inclusive Game Design by Graner Ray, which provides practical means to design gender inclusive games. Additionally, we have gathered many articles that concern with girl preferences in games from various sources. From these sources we have collected features that the authors claim to appeal to girls. Found features were implied into the example games as tactics the player uses in order to proceed in a game and, for example, to have fun. We pointed out ten suitable features that can serve as tactics in this research: alternative pathways, caring, character development, co-operation, female characters, non-violence, peaceful pace, realistic settings, social relations, and story. In order to find out how suitable contemporary computer games are for girl players, it is important to discover if these tactics will limit opportunities to proceed in the game for girl players. There were also some features that could not be applied into a game as tactical approaches and thus are not handled in the empirical study. Features of this kind are humour, music, possibility to play in groups and to create player communities, and easy access to the game.


In this study we concentrated on testing empirically the example games on the basis of chosen assumptions, the girlish features. We started to play each of the three example games with the ten features as tactical starting points. The player has to manoeuvre within the game according to each feature. With different tactics different game situations develop in the gameworld and different styles of playing evolve. We both played all the three games. Because playing through the example games takes tens of hours, we did not play all the games through with ten tactical approaches. We played the games through couple of times and used many tactics during this. When the games become familiar to us it was also possible to imagine playing situations.


The example games were Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura (2001, later Arcanum), Warcraft III: The Reign of Chaos (2002, later Warcraft), and The Sims (1998). Each game represents different game type, but not all the game types are present in this research (eg. sports games and first person shooters). Our three example games, Arcanum, Warcraft, and The Sims, all represent different game types. Arcanum is an adventurous role-playing game that takes place in an alternative history where technology and magic co-exist. Warcraft is a popular single or multiplayer real-time strategy game that is situated in a fictional world. The classic idea of the game is to lead an army to victory by crushing the enemy while protecting one’s own base. The Sims, in turn, is a real life simulation where relationships and caring play a great part. Warcraft is generally considered to be a men’s game and The Sims a girls’ game. [1]


These games were selected because their success in game markets makes them good examples of game culture and male characteristics of games. Furthermore, we were both already familiar with them, and we felt that each of the games had some unique features in them that were pleasing for us. For example, we like to play with human characters rather than with fantasy race characters, which was possible in the selected games. We have noticed some games and game actions that are of more interest than others and we hypothesize that the reasons can be found from the basis of our sex. According to this also girlish features could be found.


Girlish Tactics

The ten features, this is tactics, can be divided into three groups: the ones concerning with character (female characters, character development), the ones that handle player action (social relations, non-violence, co-operation, caring), and the ones that can be seen as parts of the game system, for example logically or visually (realistic settings, peaceful pace, story, alternative pathways). However, categorization is not exhaustive and some of the features belong partly to two or three categories.


Tactics are starting points for games and unchangeable as such; they cannot be changed during the game. For example, when we started to play using non-violence as a tactic we pointed out situations in which we encounter violence. If we faced such a situation we could state - according to our hypothesis - that since it was not possible proceed in the game using non-violent tactic the game is not, in this respect, very entertaining for girl players.


Female characters

Research of Yasmin Kafai (Subrahmanyam and Greenfield, 1999) has shown that girl players want to see female characters in computer games as protagonists. It is easier to identify with the game’s character if it represents one’s own sex. It is proposed that girl players need stronger female characters in computer games (Digital Women, 2003). Female characters are seen as a possible entry point for girls to computer games, which is considered to be a masculine medium (Grimes, 2003). Girls are also disturbed by representations of stereotypical females that follow masculine fantasies (Kerr, 2003a; Haines, 2004a). Playing with female characters as tactics means choosing only female characters to play with. [2]


Character development

As many contemporary computer games include character development, it is a pleasant surprise that Roberta Williams (quoted in Wright and Marold, 2000), Justine Cassell (2002), and Gareth Schott (2004) have all stated that females and girls find building or developing characters appealing. By using this game feature as tactic we evaluated how much the player could affect on the played characters during the possible character creation and tried to evolve the game character as much as possible during gameplay.


Social relations

Keeping up social relations is the feature that was encountered most often, for at least thirteen times, in our references. It is an important feminine feature that relates to story plot and connections between characters. Brenda Laurel (quoted in Cassell and Jenkins, 1999a) suggests that relationships are overwhelmingly important for girls. For example in MMORPGs (Massive Multiplayer Online Games) girls have their focus on relationships (Girl Online, 2003), and one of the reasons why they play those games is the possibility to have social relations (Laber, 2001). Games would be more interesting for female players if relationships were emphasized (Inkpen et al., 1993). [3]



It may seem quite obvious that female players do not like physical violence as much as male players, and this assumption is clearly stated also in many of our references. Girls show preference to games without aggressive themes (Goldstein, 1994) and non-violence in general (Nikken, 2000; Gailey, 1993; Provenzo, 1991). It is even stated that violence is a major factor in turning girls off from games (Subrahmanyam and Greenfield, 1999). However, violence can be represented and defined in many ways. For example, a study concerning with children as the actors of game cultures conducted by Laura Ermi, Satu Heliö and Frans Mäyrä (2003) among 10-12-year-old children points out that children are more frightened by games that present violence realistically. This leaves an open question whether girls are more comfortable with violence if it’s represented, for example, cartoon-like. Furthermore, not everyone agrees that females prefer to avoid violence. Concerning with women players at least T.L. Taylor has been “[...] struck by how often women remark on enjoying jumping into the fray of fights, taking on difficult monsters, and, as one user put it, ‘kicking ass and taking names’ [...]” (2003, 33). [4]


By co-operation we mean the possibility to work together with other players or NPC’s (Non-Player Characters) in order to achieve an aim. An aim of this kind can be, for example, beating a monster or solving a puzzle. Girls like to play co-operatively (Doug Glen, quoted in Meloan, 1996; Graner Ray, 2004) and are fond of it more than boys (Subrahmanyam and Greenfield, 1999). [5]


Girl players want to take care of characters in a game (Subrahmanyam and Greenfield, 1999). Suzanne de Castell and Mary Bryson (1999) have wrote, based on a study made by E-GEMS research group at the University of British Columbia directed by Maria Klawe on 1996, that girl gamers readily concentrate on ‘caring and sharing’ in games. Playing with caring tactics means care of other characters or player’s own character physically or mentally.

Realistic settings

Subrahmanyam and Greenfield (1999) argue through various studies that girl gamers like realistic game characters and settings. By realistic settings we mean that characters should be ordinary, such as teachers or waitresses, and familiar settings should involve places and activities that are based on real life. Also Glen (quoted in Meloan, 1996) proposes that young girls are attracted to playing adult women in their games and plays. Brenda Laurel (quoted in Beato, 1997) speculates that girls are interested in acting out others’ lives because they feel that their own lives are boring. [6]

Peaceful pace

Girl players have a preference to games in which they are able to play with comfortable speed that is not too high. Subrahmanyam and Greenfield (1999) suggest that turn-based games could appear like this. Competing against the clock or computer is not considered to be appealing for girl players (Suoninen, 1999). When we played with this tactic we explored if the game allowed us to play in a turn-based mode or if we had to compete against the clock or computer with speed that was uncomfortable. [7]


Girl players show much interest in stories in computer games (Roberta Williams quoted in Wright and Marold, 2000; Brenda Laurel quoted in Graner Ray, 2004). As Mary Flanagan noted during testings of games, “the girls would jump to narrative sections and linger there [...]” (quoted in Willdorf, 2000). As Brenda Laurel suggests, complex narratives are very attractive to girls but games are missing them. Even the characters are so thin that one cannot make up a story about them (Laurel quoted in Cassell and Jenkins, 1999a). When we played with this tactic we examined what kinds of narrative sections the game had and with what kinds of themes. We followed the story and examined to what kind of situations did it lead. [8]

Alternative pathways

It would seem that female players prefer to have multiple ways to act in games. This means that they want not only an alternative to violent action in games, but many ways to play (Nancy Deyo quoted in de Witt, 1997) and alternative pathways (Schott, 2004). This tactic has an opportunity to be appealing to all players because it makes the playing experience more personal. As Shannon Copur, associate producer at Maxis, states “[...] the open-endedness of the titles [Sims] is a great attraction for women, as it allows individuals to play the games the way they want to–without barriers.” (Copur quoted in Graner Ray, 2004).


The Best Game for Girlish Tactics Was…

In this section we will consider how tactics were present in the example games. We will proceed by first describing tactical approaches that were very limited by the games first. Second, we will describe those tactical approaches that were less limited but had some restrictions.


There are some tactics that are ambiguous. For example, if it is stated that girl players like to develop relationships in games and ‘relationship’ is not further defined, it can be understood in many ways. Mutual loathing is also a relationship. Sometimes a feature has been observed when girls play games that are from two or three genres and it is difficult to say whether girls feel the same in all games and genres. Besides interpretations we found it difficult to evaluate some of the tactics in the example games. A tactic can be applied in one sector of a game but the implications of this tactic vary in the game as a whole. Keeping up social relations may be possible, or even necessary, in some game levels, but not in every one of them. In terms of computer games also realistic settings and storytelling are tricky issues. We have had to make some interpretations in these cases and therefore results are subjective in nature. Any feature does not primarily exclude any other feature, but different features interact with each others. For example, co-operation and social relations often come hand in hand. Also game types have their affects, as role-playing games include usually turn-based (cf. peaceful pace) battles (cf. non-violence), and developing female characters.


Major Limitations

We were surprised by the fact that co-operation, where one or more people are working together in order to achieve an aim, was also very limited in all the example games. This kind of co-operation demands either another human player or an AI (Artificial Intelligence) that is significantly more sophisticated than those of the example games. In Arcanum the character can persuade other characters to join her team and help. The number of team members is limited according to how the character’s attributes so if the player wants to play with co-operative tactics she has to make a character with high diplomacy and persuasion. The consequences are that the player is limited from making a good fighter. Despite the fact that the games provided restricted co-operation, we did not find possibilities for creative and constructive co-operation in the example games. Instead, to use the limited possibilities for co-operation the player has to, in many cases, engage someone in a fight, which is contradictory action to co-operation.


One of the used tactics was realistic settings, which we found to be very limited by Arcanum and Warcraft. Not only the appearance of the gameworld but its inhabitants’ needs and behaviours affect how realistic a gameworld is. Arcanum, for one, is set in a realistic 19th century milieu (See Figure 1.). Nonetheless, Arcanum’s plot includes mystical and magical features. Also in Warcraft the settings are relatively similar to our own world but the situations and the plot are filled with fantasy. Both games included also non-realistic characters. Playing with a realistic character will limit the ways in which the player can create the character in Arcanum. For example, if the player would want to play with realistic characters she could not choose to play with a mage. In Warcraft the use of at least some magic and unusual characters is unavoidable. Overall, entirely inhuman characters were quite rare in the example games but using only realistic characters was limiting in both Arcanum and Warcraft.

Figure 1. Arcanum mixes realistic settings and fantasy plot.

Playing without violence is a tactic that has been widely written about in the literature that deals with girls and computer games. All of the games included violence in one form or the other, but the use of physical violence was necessary in Warcraft and Arcanum on many occasions. However, the graphical violence wasn’t very realistic in any of the example games. There was both offensive and defensive violence in Arcanum. From time to time the character had to defend herself in order to stay alive, and in most cases it was easier to proceed by using force than by using an alternative solution. One of the limitations that resulted from non-violent tactic was the fact that the character could not travel by foot because in the forests the character was up against many kinds of aggressive beasts and thieves. Therefore, she had to travel by train or by ship, which was very expensive. Overall, Arcanum can be played with a non-violent tactic on many occasions but the play experience was better in Arcanum if the player chose to act violently since the character could, for example, meet many interesting NPCs.

It is impossible to play Warcraft without violence. The player has to beat the opponents and kill them. In the whole game there are only two quests in which it is possible to succeed with a non-violent tactic. Warcraft was very limiting to quite many of the other tactics as well. The number of important female characters was significantly lower in Warcaft than the number of important male characters as only one out of twelve ‘Hero units’ was female. Also the main character of the story, Prince Arthas, was male (See Figure 2.). Most of the female characters we encountered and played in the game belonged to the night elf race. The single player game of Warcraft required playing with characters of both sexes. In the multiplayer mode it is possible, but not very effective, to play with only female characters. Overall, we found playing with female characters very restricted in Warcraft.


Figure 2. Main character in Warcraft is male, although he has long, blond hair.


In Warcraft ready-made characters provided some limited character development as ‘Hero units’ could gain levels and new spells through experience in battle. Regular characters were able to gain new spells or get more stamina when the player invested resources specifically to that purpose. Investing a lot of resources to development prevented from getting enough resources to build enough troops to win the game. Constant balancing between resources, development, building, and unit creation caused the pace of the game to be very fast. Thus, playing with a peaceful pace was also very limited. Different levels of difficulty for Warcraft were provided to match the speed of a slower player. Regardless of this, slow speed, exploration, or unnecessary developing often led to losing the game.


In conclusion, co-operation was the only tactic that was very limited by all the example games and the only tactic that caused major limitations in The Sims. Besides co-operation, both non-violence and realistic settings were very limited in Arcanum. In turn, Warcraft was very limiting regarding to non-violence, co-operation, female characters, character development, and peaceful pace as tactical approaches.


Slight Limitations

Non-violent tactic was fairly successful in The Sims as the use of violence is not required from the player in any occasion and it was possible to keep the character more happy than discontent at all times. However, keeping the character happy made it hard to make a career, because satisfying basic needs required time that could have otherwise been spent on learning skills or making friends. Besides non-violence, also realistic settings was most rewarding tactic in The Sims, although some situations were non-realistic. For example, when a female character had a baby it fell from the ceiling instead of the character giving birth to it. Again, defining ‘realistic’ in terms of a computer game is a matter of interpretation but in this case we counted the settings of The Sims as realistic.


Following the story in a game as a tactical approach depends on the player’s imagination in The Sims. This is because The Sims does not offer any ready-made narratives. Taking story as a tactic does not lead anywhere if the player is not ready to create her own narratives. In Arcanum and Warcraft following the story means that the player cannot explore the game world in any order she wants, but is forced to move in the game world according to the narrative. For example in Arcanum the player does not meet many interesting characters if she acts only according to the storyline. In Arcanum narrative is clear and directly related to the player’s actions in a game. In Warcraft the narrative does not explicitly describe what to do, but progresses every time the player accomplishes a level.

Both The Sims and Arcanum provided as many female characters as male characters to play with. Female characters were as powerful and capable as male characters. In both games it was possible also to play and manage using only female characters. However, there were two places in Arcanum where the sex of the character had an affect. First of them was a gentlemen’s club where a portiere blocked access to female character. To gain entrance the character had to have sex with the owner. Second place was a brothel where male characters could buy sex, but female characters could also get a quest that involved having sex with a male NPC.

Caring was a tactic that was not very limited in any of the example games. It is related to situations in which the player has to take care of characters physically or mentally. While The Sims provided tools also for mental caring, caring in Warcraft and Arcanum was mainly limited to physically taking care of the characters so that they took as little damage as possible in fights and resurrecting them from death. Physical caring in all example games was an important part of succession and proceeding. Therefore in most occasions caring as a tactic was more supported than limited. However, Warcraft is impossible to play through without losing a single character under the player’s control. If the tactic was interpreted very strictly, it could be concluded that caring in Warcraft is limited because some characters will die regardless of caring.

All the example games included character development, but only in Arcanum and The Sims it could be used as a tactic without many limitations. A major limit for the player of Arcanum is the fact that the acquirable levels are limited to fifty, and the character developing system is so complex that not every skill can be developed or maximized within fifty levels. In The Sims the characters can develop various everyday skills, but the available skills are very few and the player cannot, for example, learn any supernatural skills. Maximizing all skills helps the character get promotions at work and cook more filling meals but otherwise it has little to none effect.

Relationships were present in all the example games, but it could be applied as a tactic only in The Sims and Arcanum because the player cannot affect the social relations in Warcraft. Relationships can be friendly or hostile and the characters in The Sims and Arcanum have a level of relationship for every other character in the game. For example, if a character in The Sims has not met a character the level for relationship is ‘0’ and for a friend this level is ‘50’ or higher. Social relations were more diverse in The Sims because all other characters were possible friends, lovers, husbands, or wives and the game provided more complex ways to interact, create, and manage social relations than Arcanum.


One of the tactics is playing with an unhurried tempo, peaceful pace. All the example games included a few situations in which the game set some time limits for the player that forced the player to hurry, but it was possible to play through Arcanum without completing any of the quests in which the right timing mattered. In addition, it was possible to hurry the time at will or define whether the battles were in real time or turn-based. The Sims has more of those compulsory commitments that the player has to complete in a short period of time. For example, in The Sims the character had to eat and sleep once in a while. However, the characters can manage to handle some of these tasks by themselves so the player can occasionally just sit back and watch the characters in their mundane tasks. Occasionally the characters died if there wasn’t enough time to take care of all their basic needs. This happened most often when they had an infant to take care of.

Clearly The Sims provided more pathways to choose from than Arcanum or Warcraft as the player is not bound to any pre-destined plot or goal. The player cannot, however, go beyond their home’s front yard and the interaction types the game provides are restricting. Warcraft provides alternative pathways in multiplayer mode (e.g. ‘tower rush’) but in single player mode most mission can be completed in only one way. In Arcanum the player can occasionally choose which course of action suits her best. For example, when the character needs an item from another character the player can steal, persuade, or even kill to get the needed thing. There are also quests that are not related to the plot and which the player can choose to do or ignore.


In conclusion, all of the tactics were limited in some way except female characters in The Sims. In general, The Sims seems to be the most suitable of the example games for girl players, because only co-operation as tactical approach caused restrictions by the game. Arcanum seemed to rate almost as suitable. Tactics that were only slightly limited in all the example games were story, caring, and alternative pathways.



In this section we will discuss how tactics applied to the example games and whether the features found from earlier feminist game studies are valid or not in our opinion. We will also present a few ideas for further study.


Some Girls Want to Shoot, Too

Features we found enjoyable are mostly in line with the used references. For us, female characters as protagonists are important parts of games, and we believe that also males are willing to play with characters that represent their own sex. Nevertheless, all the computer games are not about identifying oneself with the main character. We also think that character development during the gameplay is a notable advantage in the game. In addition, social content, possibility to co-operate and care, interesting story and many alternative pathways to choose from make games better according to us. However, these features cannot be implied into all game types. Puzzle games can be entertaining without any of these. Playing with peaceful pace divided our opinions, and either of us does not especially like realistic settings in games. We are not against violence in games, either. The reason why we did not like to play with all of the features might be the fact that we are not girls but women. There are very few studies about what women find enjoyable in games, and therefore it would be fruitful to study to what degree presented features are applicable to women players.

The example games included both female and male characters. This underlines the fact that some of the sources refer to relatively old computer games when they accuse that games lack female characters. Most main characters and most of the characters in general in video games were males in 1991 (Provenzo, 1991). All the example games included characters of both sex, and all playable characters act with equal skills. We do not support games that show people in submissive roles, but games that include gender-based differences may be a good idea to include in game situations. We hypothesize that when the sex of game character has impact on potential gaming tactics and situations, the gaming experience becomes more diversified and personal.


We speculate that some of the introduced features need further specification. Even if many feminine features are present in a game, it does not necessarily mean the game is fun to play for a girl player. Either the absence of all the features does not make the game definitely not-fun to play. For her, many of the features set other conditions that must be met in order to get the desired result. For example, a game that takes place in the realistic settings of the Second World War does not necessarily please a girl player. Themes that are translated into games from other media can help to adjust into a new game. We noticed that Indiana Jones is available as a game but there are no games that take the place in, for example, the Sex In The City TV-series. For girl players the settings of a game should evoke more familiar surroundings. It also may be that if the surroundings are repellent for a girl player the settings should on the contrary be unrealistic in order for a girl player to enjoy the game. In addition, a specific genre, narrative, or game logic may make girls to want certain features, but those are not necessary needed in every game.


Games may have a need for more developed but optional social interaction. Also, for example dialogues with other game characters, as options for combat can be suitable features for a girl player in a game. Possibilities for interaction and developing complex relationships with NPC-characters are important and worth developing as feminine features in our opinion. Thus we agree with Nancie S. Martin (1999):

It has to foster some sense of relationship-and the difficulty of doing this is one of the limitations of technology-but the more emotional content a product can have, the more successful I believe it's going to be with anybody, but particularly with girls, because they have a stake in it. (148)

Like many of the features, also violence is a troublesome concept to define. We would prefer to exclude from this concept self-inflicted injuries that are done for the purpose of gaining something. For example, a character might injure her leg after a jump but then manage to grab a magic scroll after the jump. It must also be noted that new technology brings more realistically simulated violence with every new generation of graphics’ card, and this may be a problem for girl players. Furthermore, a big difference exists between offensive and defensive violence. We hypothesize that girl players tend to keep away especially from offensive violence, both committed by and against the character. But a game without violence should not mean a game without any action (Kinder, 1999). And there are a lot of girls who like playing violent games. So, there might be something over violence, something extra-appealing, in the violent games they play or is it only about the fact that all the girls are not equal, but some generalizations can be found? Finally, it is a lot about the culture.

Taking Features to the Present Day

Some of the features discussed in the references may not be valid any more in contemporary computer games or they have changed their shape. For example, the need for strong female characters has been met in the new games quite well, although their appeal is geared towards the male audience. Also the games have become more realistic through new technology, and the Internet has brought social and co-operative aspects into the games. As some of these features are already well established in game design we have noticed new potential feminine features. At the same time, some of the found features, such as ‘bringing things from gameworld to the real world’, which we chose not to use since it was mentioned only once, are being reshaped. In the 21st century this feature can be found in immersive games that penetrate the player’s everyday life, such games as AI (2001) and Majestic (2001) that break the conventional boundaries between games and the real world. In such games the occasion for gaming can be found anywhere and anytime; for example, a hint for a difficult puzzle can come as a phone call in the middle of the night.

Warcraft can be seen as the least suitable for girl players. Nonetheless, we feel that Warcraft is very engaging and entertaining game. These results raise the question of whether the features we extracted from earlier feminist game studies coincide with reality or not. Kerr (2003a) suggests that at least two types of players exists: occasional and committed players. She also writes that ”[t]here are strong differences in terms of game preferences and patterns of play between females” (Kerr, 2003a, 5). Girl players are not a homogenous group, but similarities can be found. Personally, we both like most of the features included in computer games, but lack of one of them does not directly make the game unappealing. Either cannot we say, which of the features are compulsory or most important ones.

Features that we could not find in the references, but which we think are significant for a girl player are girlish aesthetics and the possibility of customizing the gameworld. By girlish aesthetics we mean the kinds of graphics and colours that appeal to girl players. For example, Arcanum has colours and a style that we think is grey, dull, and unapproachable. Meanwhile The Sims and Warcraft have multiple colours and good-looking pictures. Worth noting also are the artful movies in Warcraft that are prizes as themselves for carrying out objectives and quests. The Sims on the other hand is a good example of a game in which the player can modify the decor. Furniture and objects can be downloaded from the Internet in order to decorate the house in a way that pleases the player. Modification of spaces is not possible in Warcraft or Arcanum without a considerable amount of time and knowledge.


Compatibility Between Computer Games and Girl Players

It seems that today’s public game discussion is sceptical about games that would be targeted girls or women and presumes that quality games would be appealing to both sexes (Gansmo, Nordli and Sørensen, 2003; Cassell and Jenkins, 1999b; Davis, 2002). Among many others (Greenfield, 1999. Kafai, 1999; Laurel, 1999. Subrahmanyam and Greenfield, 1999), we feel that certain game features appeal to girl players more than the others. Even if there exists a danger to generalize girls’ habits, ”[...] the ability to determine what girls want may seem necessary at a time when we are trying to open up a space for girls to participate within this medium at all” (Cassell and Jenkins, 1999a, 25). According to Subrahmanyam and Greenfield “[…] games targeted specifically toward girls may be necessary to reach a mass audience of girls” (1999, 66). Games created according to the presented features may strenghten stereotypes on genders and sexes, and according to Bryce and Rutter (2002) at least large publishers are basing their attempts to have more female customers on reproducing these stereotypes. An option to creating ’girl games’ is to embed features that girls like into games that are primarily designed for males. [9] However, some female-preferred and male-preferred features can potentially be mutually incompatible. There is also a possibility that the game would repel its original target group if the game has characters or ways of playing for both girl and male players. Many of the contemporary games have features that are suitable for girls but their degree of depth is low in many cases, as we discovered from the example games. One of the possible reasons for this might be found in the technology that does not yet provide vivid AI. Reason for not having games that are suitable for girls could be that the game producers are still not ready to take big economic risks to produce games that are out of line (Kangas, 2002). Additional suggestion to make girl-friendly games is to apply more women in the design process of games (ELSPA, 2004).

It might be wise to again highlight the discussion of game contents from a girl player’s point of view. Features that were brought to discussion in the middle of the 1990’s could be updated by rethinking them through contemporary games, and today’s culture in which active players do not consist of school aged boys anymore but also adult men. Instead, most of the female gamers are pre-school or elementary school children. As girls grow up the amount of time they devote to playing computer games decreases rapidly (Suoninen, 2003; Schott, 2004), and it is worth wondering whether this is related to the game contents themselves or to the features in games not suitable for grown up females. Women who are left out of gaming may not understand why their husbands play computer games. Some of these women consider themselves as widows of the games. [10] Also, the cultural attitudes towards what is appropriate for a girl may have changed.


In summary, we have presented that using Michel de Certeau’s theory of consumers’ movements offers a tool to study the counter playing tactics for girl players in computer games. In our research we were interested to find out how contemporary computer games limit the girlish ways of playing. Criticism can be directed at many of the features we found in earlier feminist game studies and also at present day computer games. Though computer games have developed in many ways since the features we used were found, it is clear that the used example games do not make full use of feminine features. Co-operation is a tactic that could not be applied to any of the games. In addition, Warcraft gave us no chances to have any effect on the social relations. Violence and realistic settings were also troublesome tactics and the most limiting game was Warcraft. In contrast, The Sims limited the player least as playing with female characters did not have any limitations. Some of the features found have become obsolete, and are being reshaped; and others need updating. Finally, research on features that not only girl, but also adult female players find attractive in games should be studied more carefully: in part of all kinds of games, in many different situations, and with varying test groups.



[1] According to web magazine Game Zone Online over 50 percent of new The Sims players are women. (See <>

for “The Sims Becomes The Best Selling PC Game of All Time”. Viewed 2 May 2004.)

[2] See also Graner Ray, 2004, 95, 100, 105.

[3] See also Brunner, Bennet and Honey, 1999, 85-86; Martin, 1999, 148, 163; Graner Ray, 2004, 73, 119-120, 173; Subrahmanyam and Greenfield, 1999, 53-54; Marold and Wright, 2000, 3-4; Laurel, quoted in Beato, 1997, 2; Dangelmaier, quoted in Beato, 1997, 3; Gansmo, Nordli and Sørensen, 2003, 15, 23; and about women players: Taylor, 2003, 25.

[4] See also Graner Ray, 2004, 43, 48-49; Cassell and Jenkins, 1999b, 11; Subrahmanyam and Greenfield, 1999, 48, 50-52, 54, 62; de Witt, 1997; Haines, 2004a, 7; Haines 2004b, 5; Suoninen, 1999, 152: and about women players Noble, Ruiz, Destefano, and Mintz, 2003.

[5] See also Kerr, 2003b, 282; and about women players: Taylor, 2003, 25, 32.

[6] See also Subrahmanyam and Greenfield, 1999, 56-58, 60, 102; Brunner, Bennet and Honey, 1999, 82-83.

[7] See also Brenda Laurel quoted in Cassell and Jenkins, 1999a, 122; Inkpen et al., 1993, 16.

[8] See Kerr, 2003b about story and women players.

[9] See for example Graner Ray, 2004, chapter 10.

[10] See Widows of Wolfenstein at <>. Viewed 18 February 2004.


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