Gotland Game Conference anno 2013 started with a number of presentations for us in the jury – we are to sit in judgement over these games and give the students feedback, so Monday was pretty much spent listening to presentations and playing games until we dropped.

Tuesday was the first “real” day of the conference, starting out with Tobias Sjögren and Sara Lempiäinen from Stardoll and their talk “Girls Just Want to Have Fun”.

These are my notes from that talk.

Stardoll – Girls Just Want to Have Fun

“De gör typ det populäraste tjejspelet för tjejer” – kommentar i publiken/ “They make, like, the most popular girl game for girls” – comment from the audience

Sara and Tobias
Sara works with user behaviour and analysing how to translate user behaviour into game design. Tobias is a multi-talented person that work with the Stardoll studio.

Stardoll is a social network. By far the largest community for teenage girls. It’s all about empowering girls, re-defining games directed towards a specific target group, namely girls.

Bringing more women into the gaming industry. Tobias talks about the story behind Stardoll. The company is trying to move over to mobile.

Why does Stardoll care? Girls are 50% of the audience and they want to play games. People say that Stardoll can’t talk about games for women, because they only do fashion games. Tobias posits that maybe it’s good that girls that like fashion can play instead of adjusting to the male norm that dominates the triple-A mainstream gaming culture. Doing games for girls is fun, because it’s challenging. They are a varied target group. There is room in the gaming industry for all kinds of people.

Niche games vs. games that exclude. Do games for everyone, instead of targeting specific audiences.There is a problem of objectifying girls, so don’t do that. Expand your market by not excluding half of it.

What’s the issue? The objectification of women is so common that it’s difficult to see the patterns. Example – women having trouble drinking water and women laughing with salad. Tobias also illustrates using the Lego example, juxtaposed with friends lego.

This is a common problem, feminising and objectifying the women. Either you can use a male character with a full set of gear or a woman with a chain mail bikini. She uses Bits of tropes vs women in video games, fat ugly or as sources. With Fat, Ugly or Slutty, women send in messages they receive in their inbox, sexual innuendo and threats. But what about the guys? That’s just how it is, why not do anything about it? Well you’re supposed to man up and not be bothered. What happens when women bring this up? Sara uses Anita Sarkeesian as an example. She had to face a torrent of hate, vandalisation of her wiki page, a flash game about beating her up etc. What are people getting out of this behaviour?

What happens when game studios make games for girls? People don’t like that, so they attack the companies by disparaging the effort. Sara posits that games can’t be taken seriously and at the same time avoid criticism.

Fake Geek Girl trope is brought up as an example of how girls are dismissed in the gamer culture due to lack of knowledge or some other excuse to drive women away from the geek or nerd culture. You’re not allowed to be a part of the culture unless you conform to the norm.

Is this a battle worth fighting for? Yes, women do all the time. Gaming culture is very young so it is only to be expected.

Sara also brings up the 1ReasonWhy hashtag and how women are treated in the gaming industry. What do we have to deal with when entering the industry. 1ReasonToBe is brought in as a contrast to the 1ReasonWhy, and brought up as a reason to fight the battle.

Tobias brings up the example of the PS4 discussions, Sony decided not to make it pink, but to focus on different games for different audiences. He also talks about the fact that people think Stardoll is pink and had to disprove the fact by showing his business card to showcase the logo.

Examples of women making games, Silicon Sisters – they put a lot of research into finding out what boys and girls like. THERE ARE DIFFERENCES – USING BRAIN RESEARCH – PATTERNS (GIRLS), COLOR BLOCKS (BOYS) there are probably more things in common than apart. Mighty Play is another female studio that make games. 343 is run by two women, did HALO. And stepped up to put a stop to abusive behaviour.

What Sara has done this year is to start a small community to foster game development. Sara brings up a bunch of female protagonists in order to show that string female protagonists will attact women. Uses Lara Croft as an example of a humanised female protagonist with layers.

Want a good business?
* 50/ 50 females and males in your team
* Be aware of the problems – try to challenge the norms
* Research and test, don’t assume
* Support and empower women
* Communicate with user with respect
* Know and listen to your customers

* Respect people and different tastes in games
* Do not accept objectification
* Embrace people showing an interest in gaming rather than dismissing them

Q & A
Marketing women to women – aren’t you afraid that people will say it is objectification as well? Tobias answers by saying that this has been thought of, and that it is equal opportunity. Tobias also states that if you like fashion, you should be able to play with fashion. He hopes Stardoll is on the right side of the border.
Sara states that people who play Stardoll have an interest for creativity and design
Tobias states that they have a lot of hardcore games (measured in time) at Stardoll. You get dismissed as a fashion game.

You talk about games and say it’s art, does that not allow people to express themselves freely?
Tobias points out that art usually tries to make a point. There’s a difference between art and doing stuff according to norm. Art challenges norms. You can make a point with games.
Sara states that if you can’t relate to a character, you won’t get as much out of the game as if when you can. How to communicate with your users and knowing their preferences.

Creativity and star doll – awesome – how many boys are playing it?
Tobias – not that many boys playing it (4%) – good thing is that it is fairly safe. If you go to Stardoll you’ll get thrown out if you behave badly
Are you allowed to be nongenderous? No

When you show the good examples of girls in games they were moved into the male character. You have a multilayered characters – women with boobs – how do you take it further? The male is still the norm, how do we avoid that?
Sara – Showing a regular woman not moving towards the norm, being strong and feminine.

Avoid pink in your game because it is so loaded, but avoiding things make the gender question worse?
Tobias – if you avoid the subject you will never be able to process it. This applies to a lot of different parts of game design.
Sara – using pink as an easy way to attract women is not the way forward, you have to think about other factors as well.
Tobias – there isn’t the same urge to use blue in boys games. Girls said I’ll play anything as long as it’s not pink.


My comments

As a person who has done a lot of research into women in games, none of this is surprising. I do understand that a lot of people in the business have never even thought about these things before and that because of that, this talk was probably a good introduction. For me, however, it was a lot of the same old same old that I’ve been harping on about since the dawn of time. I do believe though, that a lot of people were unaware of how difficult it is to be a woman in this culture, which I do appreciate.

However, there are a few things I disagree with. First of all I don’t think gaming culture is a young culture anymore. It’s mature enough, but the “youth” of gaming is often used as an excuse to explain away unacceptable behavior.

Secondly, I would have wanted to hear more about Stardoll’s strategies to avoid objectification and how women are portrayed in that game, because that type of presentation is always interesting.

All in all I think that for a less knowledgeable audience, this was most likely an eye opener, but to me, it was not that new.