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A Voice in the Dark

In AD 2101 war was beginning. What happen? Someone set up us the bomb! We get signal. What? Main screen turn on. It's you. How are you gentlemen!! All your base are belong to us!! You are on the way to destruction. What you say? You have no chance to survive. Make your time. HA HA HA HA.... Take off every 'Zig' You know what you doing! Move 'Zig' For great justice.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Girl Games

The BBC News reports on women in gaming as though this is news.

I have been saying for years that most games do not appeal to a certain demographic which likes to play games, has money to spend on games, and frequently walks out of the game store without spending that money because there are no games worth buying. This demographic is not entirely composed of females, and does not include all females, but the majority of female gamers are within it and represent the majority of this demographic... so it is convenient to refer to this demographic as "girl gamers" and to games which appeal to them as "girl games".

Historically, I can't speak at much length about this subject before somebody comes stomping into the discussion to shut the whole thing down because the term "girl games" offends them on some basic level. I'm going to start pointing these people at the description above. (Blogs are useful that way.)

But to get back to my point, the industry is scratching their heads over this problem of the money being out there but they can't reliably get their hands on it. This is largely because the industry has had trouble understanding the types of goals that appeal to gamers like me.

There are essentially three kinds of critical-path goals in games: the chasm, the wall, and the bridge.

The chasm is something you have to jump. If you fail, you lose progress -- not only do you not move forward, the game forces you to move BACKWARD to some prior point. The game must then be replayed from that point up to the chasm, where you can try again.

The wall is something you have to climb. If you fail, you do not gain progress, but you do not lose it either; you simply stay on the same side of the wall, but you may try again immediately.

The bridge is something you need to cross. You cannot fail. You may move slowly, but you will move. You may choose to move backward, but you are not forced to do so. At any time that you elect to move forward, you will make some small amount of progress.

All of these come in multiple varieties. The wall often comes in the shape of a door or other item-required obstacle. And the interface matters; games with save functionality can change chasms into walls, and sometimes walls into bridges. Autosave functions can ensure that a challenge is a wall rather than a chasm. Rigidly positioned save points can force a challenge to be a chasm rather than a wall. Rapid save-anywhere functionality that really does save anywhere can turn most challenges into bridges.

The only people who like chasms and walls are people with lots of time on their hands. This includes primarily children and young adults, and RARELY includes females at all -- because they don't normally have the same personal investment in the "competition" of gamer versus game, which IMO is a childish investment in the first place. (Men are in the grip of a much higher testosterone level than women, and testosterone frequently makes us behave in childish ways, even when we know better. But that's a discussion for another post.)

What gamers like me prefer is the bridge. We don't have all day to play games anymore. We have jobs, we have families, we have responsibilities. When I can't make progress in a game, I stop playing it; I recently stopped trying to find the last lodestone I need to move to the next area in "Primal". It was bad enough that I had to spend three hours jumping through hoops to get there, and when I spent two hours searching for lodestones and still couldn't find the last one I needed -- forget it! I play games to produce fun, which relieves stress, which allows me to continue doing the vast number of things I do. When your game stops producing fun and starts producing stress, it becomes a liability, and I have to stop playing it.

So when I evaluate a game, I'm looking for three things. First, the game should be likely to produce fun; second, the game should be unlikely to produce stress; and third, the game should appear to present more bridges than it does chasms and walls.

I've written a lot here, so I'll close with an observation: the most common variety of chasm is an opponent whose goal is to actively destroy your progress. In the average RTS, building your base and producing your troops would be a bridge if nobody ever attacked it, but by destroying your troops and parts of your base the opponent removes progress you've already made.

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