I am reading Pikachu’s Global Adventure right now at work (yes I have time ample time to read at work), and the beginning of it discusses Henry Jenkins’ whole spiel on games as virtual play spaces. Basically this says that games act in the way that the world used to for children, but no longer does due to the lack of space to house these natural activities. I don’t think Jenkins is wrong in this either.
In thinking of this however, it makes me wonder about the girl’s play space. I think about my own daughter and wonder what games really help her develop her own activities in a healthy manner. Admittedly, she does enjoy playing video games, but she often plays them in a much different way than I actually would which is kind of interesting in many ways and frustrating in many others.
For instance, she plays Super Smash Bros., and it is one of her favorite games in fact. Which you might think is odd for a girl. But then, she doesn’t entirely like to play it, she more likes to watch it play which is odd as heck. She usually plays team mode with either 3 against 1 (her being on the team with 2 other computers) or 2 on 2 with the 1 other on her team being of an advanced level. On the surface this type of activity blatantly states that she just wants to win which is natural for all kids, and I do think this is part of it as well. But then she will also set up the game for all computer players and just watch them fight. I see this same type of thing in Kirby’s Air Ride which has no general speed to the game, the karts just go regardless of if you press something so she often just lets the controller go and watch the karts race. She also strangely enjoys watching other people play games.
So this makes me wonder if part of her enjoyment is just watching others have enjoyment, or others doing activities. And thinking back on my own childhood in which I can remember girls constantly watching boys and other people doing things if this isn’t a natural activity for girls? Being a boy, this is hard for me to judge. And obviously we can’t exactly make “watching” video games, but to some extent we already do by making video games that might be fun to watch. 1 So what other games can be made to help a girl fulfill her virtual play spaces?
The obvious answer is The Sims which allows kids to play House, though this game is hardly aimed at kids and thus I think has missed out on much of its ability to really turn a great profit. Can you imagine this same idea in the hands of someone like Miyamoto whom is looking for something children can play in addition to adults? It might turn out to be something like Animal Crossing just better. And in large part I think this is what EA is trying to do with the MySims series. This idea of house is not a bad one for the video games field to get into as it is the obvious activity that we know girls enjoy and it also has a certain element of playing with dolls and dollhouses in there as well (after all, Will Wright originally came up with the idea for Sims watching his daughter play with her dolls).
Viva Piñata, which was trying to copy Animal Crossing, kind of stumbled into another field I think girls could do well in and this one is more on the respect of animal care and gardening, activities I think girls are very much into. Although Viva Piñata largely chewed its own foot off almost literally by forcing the player to feed the creatures that the player helped grow to other animals in order for them to grow. I think this act in itself alienated the opportunity they built for themselves to really get the young girl consumer. Which is too bad, if someone could fix this aspect of the game, this really would have been a marvelous game (that and the bad controls).
Another genre I think would do well if someone could find a more fun way to do it might be the cooking genre. I know my daughter loves pretending to cook things and serve them to me (either with fake food, or play dough food). Finding some way to make an enjoyable game that allows you to cook and serve the food to people I think might do well. I think the cooking games so far have been a good start, but only get about halfway. They are too simple at this point in time.
And in the end, this might be a key problem with girl games, is that they are too short. In previous posts I have stood up for casual games. I am all for them. But you still do need the more thorough game to go to as well. You need complicated AND simple, and right now for the girl games, they are mostly simple and this really detracts from its ability to really draw the girls into a virtual play space of their own. What is needed is for these games to take the next step into the virtual play space realm and come up with a really full-fledged title that girls can truly relate to. For some reason, I think if this game is done right that it will be a big earner for the company that does it.