Women and FPS games

My wife is one of those who just finds it impossible to navigate a 3D space. She gets hopelessly disoriented and even slightly nauseous. She generally doesn’t like playing games but does admire the idea of turn-based strategy games. She still isn’t willing to invest the time and effort to learn to play one, but she seems to genuinely enjoy talking to me about them.

We’ve recently begun playing boardgames on a regular basis and I find she’s much more enthusiastic about them and I am. I’m generally just as happy playing Ticket to Ride or something similar because I can always go to something like Fall from Heaven 2 if I want something meatier, but she keeps wanting to play more complicated stuff like Agricola or Power Grid.

Her favourite games on the PC are MyBrute (still!) and Pet Society.

They can’t drive either.

a Asia Carrera played Unreal Tournamrnt. Even made her own skins for her avatars.

Was quite a day to log into a death match and see her skins blasting you to bits.

I definitely fall into the category of women who can handle the controls but rarely come across a game that compels me. Other than the FPSish Oblivion and Fallout 3, the only true FPS I’ve ever gotten into was Half Life 2 (that counts, right?). I have wide ranging tastes, running from RPGs to RTS to Sims to platformers to adventure games, on and on.

So I think the thing is that for me, story, setting and writing almost always trump game design genre. I don’t usually like fighting aliens or wars, but I like high fantasy and ponies!!! But most marketing for women certainly misses the mark, at least for me. Unless it has ponies.

I would love to see any additional articles on the subject if you stumble across them during your research. My favorite genre is FPS games and although I don’t find myself to be exceptional, I can hold my own pretty well. So it is often frustrating reading other forums where people tend to generalize the subject pretty badly and continue making women gamers look bad.

Thus, extra resources to reference would always be welcome. I will also keep looking myself, and see if I can find more of what you are looking for.

At work, where we are still playing Urban Terror (v4!), we used to use a couple of gals as cannon fodder.

Then they got upgraded PCs and discovered the joys of mouselook and headphones.

Now, they regularly pwn us all. Especially if they’re on the same team.

My girlfriend and I met at a QuakeWorld LAN, so she definitely knows how to play FPS games. She’s taken a particular shine to Left4Dead lately which is encouraging, and we’re going to a small LAN next month where she will no doubt show us how to kill zombies properly.

At all the LANs I’ve been to though, I’ve only ever seen a few female FPS gamers. I think I might agree with Marged here, in wondering if the genre simply doesn’t appeal - my girlfriend for instance is a demon at mini games, flash games and numerous Popcap games, but won’t really branch further than Ghost Recon, and even that was only for a day or two.

Incidentally, I’d still kick her arse at Quake. One must retain the trousers of this relationship.

I play Left 4 Dead and Team Fortress 2 with a couple of girls. They’re as good as any guy I’ve played with.

My Mom plays Team Fortress 2 and with almost 1300 hours as a Pyro alone she could kill you all.

I remember the days of bouncing a grenade to take out rail campers in q2.

I don’t have a problem with 3d space, I have difficulty when the sync of the game does not match movement. Half life 2 makes me ill. I get a bit wobbly jumping from heights in Wow. Given time and ways to change my view angle I can get over most of the hurtles. Prototype was too much. I can’t play it at all. The lurching of the world makes my stomach tumble. I have absolutely no problem figuring out -where- I am in the world up down or sideways… just my mind continues the spin even when stopped.

I wonder how many FPS playing girls (from the older days- I am 35) also played sports. I was a regular bowler, bike rider, general outdoors type for most my youth. Perhaps that lends itself to 3d easier.

As for navigating in 3D, I can share this true anecdote:

We sometimes go to this supermarket. The other day, we went to the same supermarket, but we approached it from another side.

My wife: “Oh, I didn’t know there was another one of these supermarkets here!”.

She wasn’t able to figure out where we were and that this HAD to be the supermarket to which we had been a dozen times before.

There are studies showing that men are better at navigating 3d mazes on a screen than women, and that they have a better sense of direction in virtual spaces. However, those studies all fail to take previous experience into account, meaning they don’t care whether their college-age subjects have played games before or not.

Some instruments developed by Witkin for his cognitive theory studies also suggest that men are better at interpreting represented perspective and predict movement over time. I don’t feel that proves anything, however – the differences were relatively small.

I think it’s all cultural. While explicitly saying “women don’t like violence” or “women don’t like competition” makes you an essentialist, I think the gender schemas prevalent in Western society dictates that women should not enjoy participating in zero-sum outcome games and direct competition because those are traditionally associated with masculinity, which itself is defined as a negation of feminine values (Chodorow psychobabble, if anyone is interested I can supply sources).

I think there’s very little reason to believe that women are somehow inherently worse at games than men, but I think there’s plenty of reason to believe that games are culturally constructed as masculine domains, in that they are embedded in computer technology and are portrayed in other popular media as being about driving cars and shooting. This keeps women away because games can not be seen as reinforcing their gender identity – I also guess this is why women who actually play games often regard themselves as tomboys, or as “taking on boys at their own game” rather than embracing both femininity and videogames.

It’s tough, though. Media and academia emphasise the gaming tomboy, but games like Kingdom Hearts or even the fruits of the Girls’ Games Movement, that don’t necessitate negotiating male subject positions, have proven very popular with girls and women. Of course, the enthusiast media and apparently also some developers appear to scorn those games, making them “not real games” in the eyes of “real gamers”.

there were a large number of thief fans who were women on the ttlg forums. and i think quite a few fan level designers, too.

I suspect that’s because she wasn’t driving. When you aren’t really paying attention to which turns to takes, which landmarks, which roads, it’s easy to makes mistakes like that.

Thanks Erlend. I’ve always wondered about this given Kasparov commenting one time years ago that women were simply wired differently than men and that’s why they struggled to show the same representation or skill at the top levels of chess even for similar committment. Is there actually a brain-level difference or is it all merely cultural? Sounds like no real evidence for the former though I suppose it’s possible.

because they LOVE to sneak around and stab you in the back! O_o

Erlend, if what you describe is true, then I feel hard done by. My cooking sucks balls, and it’s not fair that I have no edge in either of the most important aspects of life. Oh, the masculinity!

GloriousMess: If you practice your cooking, the style section will follow.

I don’t know, put simply. I don’t think anyone knows. There have been studies that prove men are marginally better at things like aiming, depth perception, navigating without landmarks, but the numbers I’ve seen are weird and inconsistent even in the same studies, and have been picked apart by sociologists. I’ve read a lot about women engaging with so-called hardcore games, and hardly any women interviewed in any study has expressed any sort of desire to play violent or competitive games. Most anthropologists and sociologists seem to think this is because women don’t earn any social capital from playing competitive or challenging videogames.

A study of a group of women playing Morrowind showed that none of the women were immediately attracted by its combat, but that they started engaging with and eventually came to enjoy the combat once they had framed it in relation to the activities they actually wanted to participate in. So they realized that combat allowed them to earn more money and loot to help them cultivate their trading, craft or social interaction-based play styles. A study of children playing games over a period of several years in a school showed that the girls would almost always be supportive or self-deprecating on winning, even if they were more skilled than their opponent.

Boys, on the other hand, would brag and establish a pecking order based on their skills in games. However, the girls eventually played competitively against they boys – they even took the initiative, suggesting a tournament. The researchers interpreted this as meaning that competition was certainly a possibility, it was just not a particularly attractive concept, and one that needed to have a wider context surrounding it to be meaningful. It’s not that competition is somehow repulsive to women (as I’m sure all women of any age will attest to), but investing time and dedication in inhabiting what’s most likely a masculine subject position in order to overcome abstract challenges with no bearing on “the real world”? It’s just not interesting, unless it enables something that does matter. Don’t ask me why crafting or cooking in games seem to appeal, but at least they fit into the dominant feminine gender schema, and reinforces identity, just like driving fast cars and blowing nazi brains all over the place does for men.

It seems to be rather common to think that there are intrinsic differences between men and women, supported by claims that women are more emotional and irrational than men, and that women are more socially oriented and able to express their feelings than men. There’s no scientific proof that this is somehow natural, however, and I think we’re going to be very hard-pressed to find any.

Gah. I got a 12 000 word dissertation on this lying around if anyone wants to see it. It’s a bit of a rambling mess, as it’s my first real academic work, but it might be informative if you have no real idea of the relationship between women and games.

I can hold my own in FPS games – thus the reason why I ended up in the career I’m in now – and in a large group of really good guys I worked with, I was consistently in the top three players in our highly competitive daily Rocket Arena games.

My skill, though, was always in direct face-to-face combat. After our games when we discussed moments of the game, or talked about parts of the map specifically, I frequently had trouble calling up which part of the map they were talking about when it could come up. Statements like, “you know how you go through the tunnel and then you come out and then there are those two rooms with the ledge above them?” constantly made my brain lock up even though I could play well. In order for me to mentally navigate the map and thus improve my skill in actually tracking down and meeting players on the map, I had to play it at least twenty times more than the other guys to know the layout as well as they did. I always found that really fascinating.

Ask Caryn Law.
That PlanetQuake feature ended years ago, silly.

And I never wrote that column. That was Mynx. I ran PlanetQuake.

About women and chess:

A Hungarian guy named Laszlo Polgar was a mediocre chess player, but a huge chess enthusiast and chess theorist. He decided to turn his family into an experiment. He and his wife (an intelligent woman but not a chess player of any note) had three daughters, and he home schooled them, focusing intensely on chess at a very early age.

Zsofia is now an International Master, Zsusza is a Grandmaster, and Judit is a Grandmaster and maybe the greatest female chess player in the world/ in recorded history.

Now, my thinking about the Polgar sisters has always been this: It would be a hell of coincidence if this Laszlo Polgar guy gets the idea to intensively train his own daughters from early childhood, who then just happen to turn out to be incredibly strong chess players. It really makes me think that the percieved weakness of women in chess is mostly an artifact of culture, social selection, steering, etc and not anything genetic/neurological.