Re-Gender Video Games

Ein Vater spielt mit seiner Tochter „Zelda – The Wind Waker“ und schreibt die Geschichte um. Damit sie sich besser in die Heldenrolle versetzen kann verändert er das Spiel und macht aus dem männlichen Helden Link eine Heldin.

Das Thema Gender und Games hat mich während meinem Soziologie Studium viel beschäftigt und einem Essay und diversen Blog Artikeln geführt.

Meine Diplomarbeit ging unter Anderem ebenfalls über das Thema. Insbesondere um das unterschiedliche Selbstbild von Vielspielern und inwieweit sie sich dann als Gamer bezeichnen oder nicht und ob sich das auf die Spiele auswirkt, die sie spielen wollen. Viele weibliche Computerspielerinnen haben ein Problem sich als Gamer zu bezeichnen oder Computerspielen als Hobby zu sehen, unter Anderem aufgrund der männlichen Konnotation des Begriffs. Dabei gibt es schon seit zehn Jahren einen ganzen Industriezweig der sich primär auf weibliche Spielerinnen, insbesondere ab 40 konzentriert.

Bei Interesse kann die Diplomarbeit bei mir angefordert werden.

Diploma thesis completed

I completed my diploma thesis and are waiting for my result. Right now I am preparing for my final exams. I will have completed my studies in March 2009. I will prepare a summary of my findings then.

In short: There were huge differences in demography and play style between the Hardcore Game Player and Casual Game Player audiences. There is not just ONE computer games culture. Gamers associate different functions and meanings with gaming. Generally restrictions (like income, time, experience with input devices and games) are less relevant when choosing which games to play than preferences (like attitude towards violence in games).

Edit: I was awarded the mark „very good“ on the thesis.

Do Casual Gamer become Hardcore Gamer over time?

End of last year I conducted a survey on a casual games website (the German part of Zylom.com) and two Hardcore Games websites (Gamestar.de, Ingame.de).
In this blog I call the players from the casual games website casual gamers and the gamers from the hardcore games websites hardcore gamers.

I was very busy selling my own casual games company since the survey was online. Therefore I was only able to take a very brief look in a not statistically significant part of the data yet.
But this brief look already changed my view on the „most Casual Gamer will slowly become Hardcore Gamer“ topic.
The typical argumentation line is the following:
Casual games are way easier to pick up than hardcore games and are therefore the natural starting point for most non gamers.
Through playing casual games these gamers will over time become more experienced with computer games (becoming computer game literate) and will then slowly migrate to the more sophisticated hardcore games.

But my data does not support this as the Casual Gamers are already playing since 16 years while the HC Gamers only play since 10.

Therefore if you only look at the years of experience with computer games, the Casual Games are ahead.
This speaks against a general trend of casual gamers migrating to become hardcore gamers the longer they play.

In my survey the hardcore gamers have an average age of roughly 20, while the average age of the casual gamers is a bit below 40.
Youngsters are considered to have much more time to play games than older people.
And you generally need more time to play hardcore games than casual games. So how about hardcore gamers becoming casual gamers when they get older?
I did not ask about it, so this one is pretty much open for speculation. But what do you think judging your friends and family?

To sum it up I don’t think the years of experience are very important, but the age someone did play computer for the first time.
I think older persons are not as playful with new things like computers as kids are and therefore more easily frustrated and turning to the simple to learn casual games.
I my survey the hardcore gamers started playing with 10, the casual gamers with 20.

794 hours and the next 7 months.

I conducted a qualitative online survey about computer playing habits for my diploma thesis in sociology. Several thousand gamers answered the survey on de.zylom.com, www.gamestar.de, www.ingame.de and couple of smaller sites.
I thank all the participating sites. But I especially want to thank all the people who took the time to answer the survey, 794 hours in sum to be exact. January I will be in India, first for business and then for some traveling. February 6-8th I will be in Amsterdam for the Casual Connect (my third time). Contact me if you want to chat there: u@ulrichtausend.com. The diploma thesis will be completed 1st of August 2008. I will keep you posted about what I find out.

Casual Games and Gender

The Casual Games Association has released their Casual Games Market Report 2007 . Would be interesting to get my hands on it as an article on it says that men play casual games as often as women which is different to the common believe that most casual gamers are women. Seems the men don’t like to admit they play these „little“ games.
I wonder how they got their data. Most classical casual games websites told me the huge majority of their visitors would be women. So where do the men sneak in?
One possible solution could be that men are more likely to play on www.newgrounds.com etc.. Most Games there can also be called „casual“ if you mean easy to pick up. But on the other hand many of the games on newgrounds have some gore which is something which does not fit other definitions of casual games. For example you won’t find any gore on pogo.com etc. Could turn of the women…

User generated content and casual games

I was mentioned in an article on by technology review:
http://www.technologyreview.com/Infotech/19137/?a=f

This was the question the author Erica Naone asked me:

„Do you think casual gamers will respond to these efforts to encourage them to form casual gaming communities? Considering the suggestion that they may be attracted to casual games because of less familiarity with computers, do you think they are likely to respond to offers to participate by creating user-generated content?“

This was my answer:

Generally your question is a tricky one. Especially because the term casual is used in so many different ways. I will first focus on „casual gamers“ as .

It takes time and effort and some kind of skill with computers to take part in an online community or generate content. This speaks against „casual“ online communities if you use the term casual as „not very interested“ or „not very involved“ or mean users who are not experienced with computers.

For making it interesting to take part in a community the level of freedom what you can do and how you can participate is an important part. On the other hand one characteristic casual games normally feature is that they are non-offensive. The designers try not to turn someone off with violence or sexist protagonists…
If you are pretty free what to generate in an community you can also generate offensive material. You can swear, or upload a picture which is explicit and so on. Therefore a community which would be targeted at older or more female audience would need tight controls to prevent the creation of unwanted material.
These tight controls would on the one hand be hard to implement and on the other hand limit the freedom of the possible content generators. (There are some community games for very young players under 10) which only let you communicate with other players using predefined text modules. This is one way to prevent paedophiles to try to contact the minors. But I don’t think it is not much fun to use these text modules).

On the other hand to at least being theoretically able to create user content as well as „feeling“ to be part of a lively social community is a strong incentive for many users. Especially users who have a negative feeling towards computers or technical devices.
One main goal of the casual game developers is to tell the non-typical potential computer players (especially women or seniors) that gaming is also something for them. That message is hard to spread if the women and Seniors who are already playing are mostly playing alone and at home. Community players are more visible. This makes a community especially interesting for casual game designers.
As only few of the potential casual gamers are actually playing till now and therefore there is a huge untapped potential, I am sure many companies will try to create casual community games in the near future.

Then there is the different way to use the term „casual“ as meaning „simple game“. I think www.newgrounds.com is the biggest casual game community and features lots of user generated content. But www.newgrounds.com does not fit the to the pogo.com, zylom.com or bigfishgames.com audience at all. The games are simple and quick to play but many of them can be considered offensive. You can take part by uploading your own flash games or films or your music. Or you can comment on the stuff uploaded by others.
While the flash games are pretty simple to make there is a great incentive for many non professional designers to create something and show it to the public.
The community is very free and you are very power full as a creator as well as a user. Therefore newgrounds is one of the best places to find creative people playing around and from time to time having great and innovative ideas.

The community itself is associated with www.newgrounds.com and not with specific games. So it is not a casual game community but more a casual gameS community.

To sum it up:

  • Everything depends how you use the term casual.
  • A casual (as seniors and women) game community must be very simple to use and non offensive.
  • A casual (meaning simple game) game community can also work if it is much more open and therefore give the users a real chance to create interesting content for the other users.
  • Out of thousands of players of a particular casual game (also as seniors and women) you will always find some who will want to invest a lot and be able to do so in a pretty professional way (ask Ion Hardie from Reflexive for their response to Big Kahuna Reef).

Juul goes casual

Good to see that Jesper Juul is taking on the casual games. He gave several speeches about the topic in the last days (The Sun Always Shines in Casual Games, How They Got Game).
There are some problems connected with the use of the term „casual“ in computer games.

There are these games which we are calling „Casual Games“ with properties like „small games, easily learned, and usually distributed over the internet“ and so on (Zuma, Beeweled and Diner Dash being examples).

But then there is also the way how you play. You can play any game in a casual manner. You can play a quick „casual“ Quake session. And you can try for hours „hardcore style“ to compete with a high score in Bejeweled.

On the Gamers in Society Seminar in Tampere last week Jussi Kuittinen, Annakaisa Kultima, Johannes Niemelä and Janne Paavilainen from the Game Research Lab presented a paper proposing a stricter use of the term Casual-in-Games. Probably Juul and the Gamelab should exchange ideas (and keep me in the loop ;). Their paper is not published yet. If Copenhagen an Tampere would come up with a casual games terminology together it would not only be industry interests forging the „casual“ terms.

Juul is using the term Gaming Literacy – sounds nice. I thought about Game Capital (like Social or Human Capital) which represents investment into learning how to play games.

(Thanks to Daniel Pergman to giving me the „Juul is casual“ hint)

Problems using the term "Casual" Games

Using the term casual for people who play casual games for long hours and pretty excessively is kind of strange. This shows us that there are at least two aspects of the term casual which are often confused.

On the Gamers in Society Seminar in Tampere Jussi Kuittinen, Annakaisa Kultima, Johannes Niemelä and Janne Paavilainen from the Game Research Lab presented a paper proposing a stricter use of the term Casual-in-Games.

Find a blog entry on the presentation here and updated slides here.

Casual concerning the design characteristics of certain games which are typically called casual games (meaning games on popcap.com, pogo.com and so forth). These often feature general appeal, simple controls, fast rewards, possibility to play in short time bursts.

We could refer to this aspect by calling the games Casual Games, and the people playing them Casual Game Player.

Casual concerning the way someone is playing a game. This means playing any game (casual or hardcore) while not being focused on the activity and/or playing only for a short while. Is someone playing a certain game session just for fun without being afraid of loosing or with a more competitive attitude (example in an tourney including price money).

We could refer to this aspect by calling the activity casual playing.

A Casual Gamer would be someone who is playing in an casual manner (casual playing) or who has a generally casual approach to playing computer games as a hobby .

The casual/hardcore playing dimension stated here is compatible with my definition of casual/hardcore playing in this earlier post.

Problem is that it is still pretty hard not confuse the terms.

Could we come up with more sticky words for the different concepts. Any suggestions?

The game research lab will most likely hand out the paper to anyone requesting it (it is not published yet).

Searching a ‚rational‘ approach to playing computer games

I want to try to find theoretical based hypothesises which I can test in an quantitative study. Seems I am pretty alone with this approach. Almost all game researchers I know base their work much more on issues like systematic, rules, narration and use ethnographical and very qualitative ways to research the topic computer games. Why are harder theoretical theories which generate testable hypothesises like rational choice not being used? Is it because it so hard to measure game playing or game playing experience? Is it because the topic of gaming is so complex that if you use “strict” (and more compact ) theories that you can not approach them in an “as if” modelled approach.

I hope this is not the case. I was thinking about a framework which would integrate enough (but not to many) aspects gaming to be actually usable.

All of this is totally sketchy. But I had to get it on paper and out of my head.

The central point for the framework I came up with is “investment”.

To actually play a game a player has to do a certain investment. He will only pay this investment if he thinks it will pay off. Meaning that it would not be rational for him to do a similar investment into another activity (People familiar with rational choice will read the term marginal utility between the lines).

I broke down the investment into four different fields:

Time

Money

Game Capital

Social investment

Time: Time you are investing in a game session?

Money: Money your investing in a game session? Some would argue that time and money are actually interchangeable (meaning “time is money”). I will have to give that idea more thought.

Game Capital: Similar to Human Capital theory you are acquiring Game Capital which is your individual experience with (computer) games. A player will have to master using a mouse and the keyboard in a pretty decent way before he can play an FPS in any reasonable manner (my grandma can’t do that). When you are playing a game session you are automatically bringing your game capital with you. So you already have made this investment into your game capital long before you start the gaming session in question.

Social investment: There are many stereotypes surrounding playing computer games. Many people don’t want to be associated with these stereotypes. Imagine your grandma playing a violent game like Quake. For example most elder people and especially females seem to dislike violent games. Playing these games is not what they are supposed to do. It would not feel right for them to engage in an activity they (partly wrongly) associate with young males. Bridging this gap between the social norm of what you should do on one hand and what you actually do on the other is what is meant with social capital.

You can see the different investments as restrictions in an rational choice way. This is most obvious with the monetary restriction. If you do not have enough money to get your hands on a game you can not play it. If your game capital is not strong enough you will not play a certain game just for fun. But why would people then actually play games not just for fun.

This brings us to the aspect of user motivation. Somebody who just wants to relax a bit with playing a game will actually only enter a game session if he considers it rewarding – meaning having a positive ration of utility to investment. If somebody has the motive to compete he will take more risks concerning the ratio of utility and investments than someone just interested in relaxation. If your motive to play a game is to keep your mind sharp (many older people answer this in questionnaires) your utility will not be fun (at least not primarily) but the knowledge to do something which keeps you mentally fit. This could even explain why you would enter a game session which is actually not fun for you to play.

Some user motives:

  • Competition (typical used concerning playing “hardcore”)
  • Relaxation (typical used concerning playing “casual”)
  • Kill time (casual)
  • Keep yourself mentally fit (casual)

You an break down Competition into

Competing against someone else.

Competing against the game rules.

Competing against your self (Beating your own high score)

The different motives will lead to a different usage of the utility / investment ratio.

Such a sketched out theoretical framework would let you formulate a lot of hypothesises which you could then try to test.

A possible break point of the framework is that you would have to assign the motives certain investments. Sounds very subjective.

Again: These were just some loose thought which I wanted to formulate. I put them in the blog because I have not heard of a similar approach to playing games. The concept is not at all usable in the present state.

Definition of casual/hardcore playing

There are many possible approaches to define Casual and Hardcore playing. This is a more crisp one than used in my casual games and gender paper.

Level of ‚hardcore‘ playing:
= Amount of effort invested into a game session.

Types of effort:

  • Time
  • Money
  • Game Capital
  • Social investment (self reflection against social norm)

Less invested effort means more ‚casual‘ play session.

Time: Time you are investing in a game session

Money: Money your investing in a game session

Game Capital: Similar to Human Capital theory you are acquiring Game Capital which is your individual experience with (computer) games. A player will have to master using a mouse and the keyboard in a pretty decent way before he can play an FPS in any reasonable manner (my grandma can’t do that). When you are playing a game session you are automatically bringing your game capital with you. So you already have made this investment into your game capital long before you start the gaming session in question.

Social investment: There are many stereotypes surrounding playing computer games. Many people don’t want to be associated with these stereotypes. Imagine your grandma playing a violent game like Quake. For example most elder people and especially females seem to dislike violent games. Playing these games is not what they are supposed to do. It would not feel right for them to engage in an activity they (partly wrongly) associate with young males. Bridging this gap between the social norm of what you should do on one hand and what you actually do on the other is what is meant with social capital.

Survey on Casual Games and Gender

While we know that the demographics between hardcore and casual gamers differ (hc: mostly male/younger, cg: mostly female/older) it is not as clear why this is the case.

Therefore I plan to do a online survey on one typical casual games site and one typical hardcore games site.
To get clear results I try to find two websites which are as similar as possible except for their casual and hardcore audience and ask them about user motives, time investment, experience with computers…

I think for the casual side it makes sense to focus on the „try before you buy casual games“ on the pc (and leave the consoles and Massive Online Games out of the way).
This leads me, on the hardcore side, to PC Hardcore gamers, for example Ego Shooters, Real Time Strategy or non massive RPGs.

On the other hand distribution models and often the level of violence differ between these two markets.
Both are aspects which could have a big influence on the possible customers (e.G. many women being turned off by violence). But both are not central differences between casual and hardcore at least if you go with this casualgames whitepaper definition:

Casual / Hardcore games involve less/more „complicated game controls and overall complexity in terms of game play or investment required to get through the game“ (or enjoy the game session as I would formulate it).

I am thinking about good example sites to highlight aspects of the casual – hardcore games difference?

How about „try before you buy HARDCORE games“ which would lead us to indie games – right?

Paper about Casual games and Gender

Right now I am working on my master thesis in sociology about the topic „Casual games and gender“. As part of the preparation of the thesis I wrote a shorter (18pages) paper.

Abstract:

This paper discusses the question: “Why do more women play casual games than men, if altogether more men play computer games than women?”

Gender seems to have an impact upon the affinity towards different kinds of games and upon how much effort a person is willing to invest while playing a computer game. This is indicated by the different gender ratios of casual and hardcore gamers. Many potential gamers do not identify themselves with the stereotype of ‘real’ gamers, i.e., hardcore gamers, who are often seen as being young, male and lacking social skills. This could be one of the reasons why women and older people more frequently play the less ‘real’ or ‘typical’ casual games while often not seeing themselves as ‘computer gamers’.

However, there are indications that the primary factor for the preference towards casual or hardcore games is, in fact, not gender. On the contrary, gender (as well as age) could cloud the more important variables, such as experience with computers or time allocation.
For a better picture of the relationship between the different variables we would need more empirical data.

Download:

Casual games and gender (English)

Casual Games und Geschlecht (German)

I would be very happy about comments or suggestions concerning the text or my future research. I plan to do conduct a quantitative survey on casual and hardcore game sites starting March or April 2007.

The German version was marked with an 1.3 which equals an A- in the US.