Contexts, pleasures and preferences: girls playing computer games

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Author: Carr, Diane
What kind of computer games do girls like? Games developers, various games theorists, and educators who are keen to exploit the apparent pedagogic potentials of computer games without alienating female students, have all pondered this question. In this paper I address this question via my observation of computer gaming sessions with year 8 girls at a single sex state school in South London. What emerged is that gaming preferences are alterable and site specific. Girls in the mood to exploit the social potentials of the situation choose dual-player ‘pick-up-and-play’ driving or fighting games, and preferred to use the consoles. Girls who wanted to play alone put on headphones and used the PCs to play games that rewarded a deeper investment of time and attention, such as action adventure or simulation games. Some participants would swing between these options from week to week. As this implies, preferences are not static – our choices depend on where we are and what we have had previous access to, they reflect what we know, who we know, what we’ve tried, or tired of, and what we will admit to. The question of ‘preference’ is explored as it relates to a set of commercial games offered to a group of players in a particular context. I am concerned with unpicking the notion of preference itself, by cataloguing the various factors that impinge on users’ choices, rather than merely reiterating that (or if) girls are predisposed towards particular game genres, or with how their level of enthusiasm might compare with their male peers. Preferences are informed by a variety of factors (such as previous exposure, access, peer culture) and these factors are shaped by gender – in other words it is not gender per se that is accountable for any differences in taste between male and female computer game players. Such distinctions reflect patterns in games access and consumption that spring from gendered cultural and social practices. Access and situation shape inclinations, and simply offering these users access to alternative games in new contexts was sufficient to generate changes in their stated preferences. I made a point of including several games with strong female leads, expecting that these games would generate a higher degree of interest than others, if female central characters were of import to these particular users - but this was not the case. What did become apparent is that the girls’ increasing gaming competencies enabled them to identify and access the different potential play experiences offered by specific games, and to selectively actualise these potentials according to circumstance and prerogative. Thus, I argue, it makes sense to investigate games preferences, within a mobile and incremental paradigm: that of games literacy.
Contact: Diane Carr, CLC, IOE, University of London,
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