Video games for women

In the video game store the other day, rothko was ranting about the “girl games”. With the success of the Nintendo DS, there are dozens of the things. “Catz”, “Dogz”, “Horsez”, “Pony Friends”, “Horse Life”, half a dozen Barbie games, and “Baby Pals”, all with pink and purple cover art.

The games that induced the rant, however, were the ones in the “Imagine” series from Ubisoft. The boundaries of what a young girl is supposed to be imagining are starkly delineated by Ubisoft: “Animal Doctor”, “Fashion Designer”, “Figure Skater”, “Master Chef”… and of course, “Babyz”.

Nintendo themselves seem to understand how to produce games that appeal to women (and girls) without actually being incredibly patronizing, and without limiting the appeal only to females. “Nintendogs” was a system-seller, and managed it without pink ribbon and purple butterflies. “Animal Crossing” topped the charts, “Wario Ware” was big too. “Super Princess Peach” is dressed in pink, but the game has her fighting monsters to save poor helpless Mario.

But there’s a new brain imaging study that suggests that it may be a mistake to think that it’s possible to make video games that appeal to women as much as some games appeal to men:

After analyzing the imaging data for the entire group, the researchers found that the participants showed activation in the brain’s mesocorticolimbic center, the region typically associated with reward and addiction. Male brains, however, showed much greater activation, and the amount of activation was correlated with how much territory they gained. (This wasn’t the case with women.)

It makes a certain amount of evolutionary sense that male brains might be wired to get a bigger reward from gaining territory. However, this doesn’t account for games which don’t involve territory gain at all. I don’t think anyone was particularly hard pressed to explain why guys like FPSs and Sid Meier’s Civilization more than women do; but what about 3D platformers? Fighting games? For that matter, what about the first video game to become popular with women, Pac-man?