Maybe half a dozen times in my life I’ve tried to get videogame-virgin lady friends into videogaming.
One thing I’ve noticed is that the more the graphics tend towards photorealism, the more my lady friends tend to expect the environment to behave realistically, and basically think it’s lame when the game doesn’t behave according to a real-world ruleset.
Tiny sample set I know, but bear with me :)
Now for a digression: as a musician, I’m very aware of how forms of modern electronic dance music that start off with clubs full of boys and girls tend to get “harder” as time goes on, alienating the girls, and ending up with the unfortunate spectacle of mosh pits full of sweaty guys.
What typically happens is that an abstraction takes hold, usually nowadays at the bass end where there’s a tendency towards “demonic” sounds, partly because demonic sound-mangling gets easier and easier as time goes on, with the tools available, and music programmers try and push the envelope. This abstraction then takes over the whole of the musical form, like a virus, and this moves the music away from a more (if you will excuse the pun) rounded form, where there’s a balance between the elements of bass and drums, midline and topline (or between certain kinds of timbre). Yes, the music can have very hard elements, but when those hard elements take over the whole musical form, and start to have nothing softer to contrast against, that’s when it loses the girls. It stops being sexy.
It strikes me as a possibility that there’s been something analogous going on with videogames, only with videogames, it’s been “hard” and “abstracted” from the beginning.
IOW, females are effectively coming across a fully-formed videogaming mosh pit, and, unsurprisingly, finding it unsexy and unattractive, because highly abstracted. It looks like a closed club because unless you’re already familiar with the abstractions, they’re impenetrable. In that context, it’s rarer for girls to get into it - not unheard of or impossible, of course, but I suspect that many female gamers are from gamer families, so they’ve grown up with those abstractions.
This leads to the possibility that if more videogames (especially with the advent of photorealism) were more like simulations, using the ruleset of reality as we know it (only foreshortened, compressed, etc., rather than abstracted-away-from - and with the addition of rayguns and magic, etc.) you might get a more even balance, and have the videogaming club rocking with an equal proportion of sweaty gents and sweaty ladies.
Another way to look at it: perhaps because of the technological limitations on videogames as they’ve grown up, their rulesets have been heavily abstracted from reality, into little self-contained rulesets, the genealogy of which you have to be already familiar with, and like. As a videogamer, you know that you won’t be able to do realistic thing X, because you’re familiar with the limitations and tropes of gaming up to that point.
But as technology progresses, surely abstracted rulesets are less and less necessary, and the rules can more and more approach a (sweetened, easier-to-be-successful-and-heroic-in) instinctively understandable form of reality, and therefore easier to pick up for someone not previously “in the know”?
Dunno just some fots, hopefully food for brain dumps and micro-dissertations from some of you working designers here! Obviously one major motivation for thinking about this subject should be that there’s gold in them thar’ hills. I suspect I’ll be told that technological/economic limitations are still in the way of realistic simulation, for the most part :)
(This was also partly motivated by that Gabe Newell lecture where he mentioned in passing that they’d tried realistic rules for one of their games but found that “realism sucks”. That got me thinking: I really wonder about that - surely a primary advantage of realism is that understanding of the real world is more or less ingrained and doesn’t have to be learnt afresh for each game? But maybe that advantage doesn’t loom very large in the greater scheme of things, when balanced against other, largely pragmatic factors?)