Video Games: Why The Gender Bias? Essay

This Christmas, like millions of other parents, I bought my two children, a boy and a girl,
a popular home video game system. I thought they could share it and when asked if this was OK
with them, they replied, “Sure mom, that would be great.” So, we planned on installing the little
goody onto the TV in the family room, so that both kids would have an equal chance to play. So,
“What then?” you may be asking is the problem. The problem arose when we went to shop for
games for the system. They weren’t hard to find. They were in all the local toy stores and
Walmart and Kmart too! But, there weren’t any for girls! I looked high and low and came up
empty handed.

Why was this happening? Surely, girls must want to play video games as much as boys
do! Why then, aren’t game manufacturers producing any video games that feature girls as the
main character? On a recent trip to our local Walmart store, I found over two hundred video
game titles, yes I counted, for our game system, but of these only two had female main
characters. One of them was, you guessed it, Barbie! The other one was a female warrior
dressed in a scantily clad leather outfit. I’m pretty sure the latter was designed for young men,
and not for young girls.

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Surely, a big retailer, like Toys-R-Us would have more of a selection. So, off I went on
my merry way only to be once again disappointed. Toys-R-Us had over 300 titles in stock for
our game system and only the same two titles I found at Walmart were available there with one
new addition, which was the Spice Girls CD. It’s price had been reduced, so I guessed it was left
over from last year when the Spice Girls used to be popular.

I ended up purchasing 4 games for my kids to play. I found a few with cartoon characters
as lead characters, that I felt would be appropriate for kids. I bought Rugrats, Loony Tunes,
Grand Turismo (race cars), and Tetras (puzzle). All, except the puzzle game, had male
characters in the lead, but at least these were rated as non-violent.

After some careful research, I found that video games are a 7 billion dollar a year
industry that out surpasses even the movie industry by 2 billion dollars each year ( 2 ). Mostly,
these games are being sold to boys and young men. Girls currently represent only about 20
percent of the market, having been pretty much written off by important manufacturers like,
Hasbro, Sony, and Sega ( 3 ).

Girls have extensive buying power though, nearly 84 billion dollars annually, and over 6
million of them live in households with gaming systems ( 3 ). From ages, 6 to 10, girls play
video games as much and as often as boys in that same age bracket, and one survey reports that
if there were more games out there that they enjoyed, 85 percent of girls surveyed would use
their gaming systems more ( 1 ). Girls don’t seem to like the same kinds of games boys do.

Instead of the violent, time-limited games boys go for, the girls like games that offer strong
narratives, interaction, and creativity. It’s not enough to simply convert or replace existing
software for girls; the basic structure should be changed. A 1995 survey in Children’s Software
Review found only 28 of the 344 games with female characters in leading roles ( 3 ), proof that
few producers have created games exclusively for girls.

I believe this is largely so, due to the male dominance in the whole computer and
technological industry. Males are turning out a product for other males. Then why aren’t women
out there designing a product girls will enjoy? Some are trying, but I have found it a catch-22
situation. Men are leading the technology industry because they are the ones inviting other
males to join their ranks by making only games geared towards boys and young men. Girls are
less likely to deem this area as fun and inviting and thus, turn their attention to other areas of
study once college bound.

Some companies are beginning to look for ways to encourage girls to get more involved
in information technology. Girl Tech is one such group, in hopes of reaching 3.4 million Girl
Scouts, they are sponsoring a technology merit-badge program (3 ). Efforts like this must
continue, though more immediate measures need to be taken in order for girls to become
technologically proficient. If for no other reason than for an increase in earning potential, girls
must learn to use and keep up with the technology around them.

Not developing video games for girls, seems to be a classic example of symbolic
annihilation ( 4 ). That is, the media has traditionally ignored women. In this case, even though
girls have money to spend, their needs still aren’t being met. With the amount of time children
spend playing video games each week, one study says as much as 4 hours by boys and at least 2
hours by girls, what kind of message are we giving our kids ( 2 )? I know it can’t be positive.

I really hadn’t realized the bias towards girls in the toy department. This has really
opened my eyes as a consumer! I am interested on my next trip to the toy store , to find out if
other areas of the store are as biased as the video game department. It’s already evident that
there is a division of boy isles and girl isles. My children have pointed this out many of time
with cries of, “I want to go to the girl isle!” from my daughter and the opposite from my son.

What is important here is that, I am at least aware of the problem now. I wonder how many
other mothers with daughters are aware of what is available to their daughters as consumers. It
really is disturbing when you think about it.


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