Saturday, January 24, 2009

Kiki's Quest, or "Why I Hate The Video Gaming Industry" or even "Why Does The Video Game Industry Hate Women?"

It seems painfully obvious to me, but maybe I'm missing something. It's just...um...why aren't there video games for girls?

Not pink, music, talk-about-boys, let's make flirtinis kind of games. (Do those even exist?) I mean, games that are about stories and characters and human interaction and DON'T involve trolls, or drive-by shootings, or mass quantities of blood, or weaponry and fighting and war and destruction and lots and lots of murder.

I'll come back to this in a sec. Hang on.

* * * * * * *

In December of 1987 or 1988, my sisters and I spent a good portion of our week-long, post-Christmas break playing King's Quest on our family computer. I can't tell you which King's Quest it was -- I can't even tell you what computer we were using, though I know it was an IBM of some sort -- but I can tell you that it was some of the most fun we've ever had. Ever.

This was early, early on in the days of computer "gaming" (obviously), back when simply installing the game took half a day. The game didn't come with play-related maps or booklets, it came with a lengthy instruction manual on how to install and CODE the computer game to play right. Which was hilarious, because Healy and I had no experience programming computers (I was 12 or 13, Healy was 9 or 10, and Sam would have been 5 or 6) and yet we were far more eager and far less afraid than our parents. And somehow we always got it to work.

Game play started off slow. We didn't actually know what we were doing, we'd just decided to try it on the recommendations of our friends. And after futzing around with the game for a while, having no idea where we were going or what we were doing, we got industrious and decided to draw an actual map. I also had to call my not-really boyfriend about 30 million times to find out what on earth we were supposed to be doing. But once we got it, we really got it. And we played nonstop -- day, night, bleary-eyed into the wee hours of the morning -- until we won.

On and off for the next several years, Healy and I would occasionally get or go out and buy a new game, often of the Sierra, Roberta Williams variety.

When I was in college, my boyfriend and I stumbled upon a game at an electronics store and took it home. It was the second in the Gabriel Knight series. By then, our home computer was a Mac, and the game came on several CDs and required almost no installation. We just got to playing.

Oh my god it was amazing.

So okay, there was blood. And the story was, at its base, about werewolves. BUT! There was also drama and subplots and the whole game was based in reality. The main character (Gabriel) was even played by a real actor and there was video footage of him and his partner (Grace) acting stuff out. AND the game was brilliantly woven into actual history, and used historic facts, stories, and places to build its story. Because of this stupid game, I know what the inside of Neuschwanstein Castle looks like, who King Ludwig was, and how even Wagner was involved in some crazy shit back in his day.

It was all-consuming, and Dave and Healy and I sat around the computer and did nothing but work on this game until we'd completed it.

* * * * * * * * *

I don't actually know, but I suspect it works very much like television shows and movies. Someone comes up with a relatively new concept for a video game that's wildly successful, so then every other VG company works on coming up with games exactly like that one.

And next thing you know, there are 80 million games about shooting people.

Meanwhile, no one is making games for women. The logic is that women don't like video games. Because women aren't the ones buying video games.

Which all makes me want to throw a PS3 at someone.

It's circular logic. Games aren't made for women, so women don't particularly like or buy the games, so the industry says "See? Women don't like video games," and then makes more games women don't care about.

And OH MY GOD, please. Let us not get sidetracked into the conversation of "Women would like video games if there were more strong female characters in them." That's stupid. I don't dislike the video games just because I can't relate to the Barbie-looking, bikini-clad, women-as-tokens element of them. It's that I can't relate to the whole damn thing. So taking the same old boy formula and sticking in some kick-ass woman as the main character does not magically make the game appealing to me. That's like telling a guy, "Oh come on, you would love Sex and the City -- Harry's a really great character." (Trust me, it doesn't work.)

The problem is, the entire thing is unrelatable. When I was a little girl, I did not dream of saving the planet by running around in a tank top and bike shorts -- killer body or no -- to fend off hordes of zombies. Not even once.

Of course, there are exceptions. There are women who DO game now, who are fine with the industry as is. There are women who work in and are making waves (and wins) in the male-dominated video gaming industry.

Ooh -- and we should never, ever forget to mention the droves of women who would pick Buffy over any of the shoe-shoppers of Sex and the City any day.

But.

Where are the games I want to play? Maybe they're out there and I just don't know about them? Are they? Can you tell me?

Remember those super popular games like 7th Guest and Myst? And the SIMS? I played all those. And I have to believe that a large part of their overall popularity was that women joined in playing them. Adults could even play them with kids and not have to worry about explicit language!

But that isn't even the point. I don't give a shit about explicit language. I don't mind some violence (murder mysteries are right up my alley!). I don't even mind some fantastical elements, especially when they're set in or against the real world (a la Harry Potter).

So here. As a woman, here's what I want out of a video game. The kind that I would race out to spend money on, would make all my friends buy, would LOVE to receive a press kit about, would blog about ad nauseum, would play until I conqured: Plot and exposition; interesting characters; solving problems; solving puzzles; data gathering; racing against the clock; figuring people and places out; situations with sexual* tension; having to remember and assimilate information in order to advance; and maybe a little ass-kicking here and there.

Is that too much to ask?

Is it out there and I just didn't know it?

Or should I just give up?




*Note: Sexual tension generally requires character development. Sexual tension generally does NOT mean women with fake boobs wandering around topless. Well, unless they are really, really interesting women critical to plot development.

45 comments:

  1. ooh, c'mon commenters, give us some tips - I want a game I can play and enjoy, too!

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  2. Thank you for this! I love the SIMS games, but have never found any other game I want to play like that. I play word games online, but another game like the SIMS would be so great.

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  3. I hear you! This post was topical for me, as we just got an X-Box 360 this weekend. While we were browsing the games to decide what we'd bring home with it, I, too, noticed a great lack of anything not gun- or killing-related. For girls, in other words.

    So it sounds like you have a PS3. I'm sorry to say that I have no experience with the PS3 or any games for it. For the 360, Rock Band 2 has been my answer. Also at some point I'm going to get that Movies game. I'm looking forward to other commenters' suggestions, though!

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  4. Delurking because I get nightmares from watching my husband play Grand Theft Auto 4 (I love it anyway, but seriously, it might as well be called Hookers and Blood). I don't know if this is quite what you have in mind, but have you played Little Big Planet for the PS3? (I also love the Sims, so although LBP isn't quite what you described story-line wise, I thought perhaps you might enjoy it. :) There are lots of levels in the game, as well as side challenges and a whole online community where you can build your own levels and play levels created by other people. Again, it doesn't really have the story line aspect, but perhaps it might quench a little video game thirst. :)

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  5. I haven't played a computer game I liked since Myst. That one was fantastic. I look forward to see what you discover. I don't want another game where to two females go shopping for cute outfits. I would like to use my mind sometime.

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  6. I have to say, it's not really a story based game, but Little Big Planet really kicks butt. The graphics are gorgeous and it's cute, fun, beautiful and difficult at times.

    But I'm with you on the "video games for chicks" thing. There's only so much war or espionage or whatever that I can take. I like shooting people as much as anyone - I'm a big fan of the Grand Theft Auto series - but there's got to be more of a reason for me to play something.

    I love my PS3, but I too want to play something that really immerses me in a thought out story with several twists and turns that more than just "walk, shoot, drive, shoot, shoot, steal something, shoot, drive".

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  7. There are plenty of games out there with great stories, people, interactions etc.
    i'm a woman, and I play games...A lot of games. I own close to 300 games spread over tons of consoles.

    Try The Witcher, a pc rpg where you're decisions have an impact on future events in the game. there's magic and combat and sexual relationships and intrigues.

    Try Oblivion, another RPG, open world, lots of quests, different factions to join, lots of interactions with characters, their lives and their problems.

    Go further back and play Morrowind, the game that came before Oblivion..another HUGE open world to explore.

    Lost Odyssey, a JRPG with a hell of a story based on the life of an immortal who has forgotten his memories..and as he recalls those memories and you read them, you will cry. It also has comic relief, romance, family, intrigue,betrayal.
    Knight of the Old Republic...like oblivion and morrowind somewhat, but in a star wars world.

    Dreamfall, another interesting twist on the RPG genre.

    Go to gamespot.com..you'll find PLENTY of games that fit he bill you want.

    and the Sims...I think they are on game I billion and 5 or something..I dont like them but many people do.

    Oh and a less time consuming but no less wonderful story.. Prince of Persia the sands of time. there's humor, action, puzzles, platforming, romance, tragedy...everything and anything all wrapped in a charming package with beautiful graphics and characters you'll love and care about before the game is through.

    there are SO many games out there I could spend all day listing them.

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  8. I *miss* the games where there were real actors acting scenes out. Sigh.

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  9. Have you tried Syberia (I and II)? It's the perfect game in my opinion and I think the maker has released something else, too. It's older, but it's soooo worth a look!

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  10. Ok, I wanted to add that the maker of Syberia has made some other games (Amerzone, Paradise, Sinking Island) that look VERY promising, too. The latter, Sinking Island, is a murder mystery. :) If I check them out first, I'll let you know if they rock.

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  11. Plenty of women are on World of Warcraft - have you tried it? It's nerdy, but whatever. There are quests that build on each other, stories, histories, worlds to explore. Sure, it's a bit of fantasy (ie "trolls"), but it's not really violent or anything.

    I hate first-person shooters. They make me nauseated.

    And then there's the Wii... Lots of games for it that are not violent.

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  12. I like the car racing video games, like Mario Kart. Totally gender neutral and fun!

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  13. I go to BigFishGames.com. They have some pretty awesome games and the best thing you can try most of them for an hour to see if you want to purchase them.

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  14. I know what you mean! I thought I had just lost interest in those games; it hadn't occurred to me that video games (or at least what's readily available) have changed. I stopped playing them so long ago that it was more watching my dad play them than playing them myself. I was too young to get into Myst, for example. But the game series that I remember being addicted to (and this was in like, fifth grade) was the Dragon Warrior games for NES. They had maps and booklets, and I would take them to bed with me and read them like they were real books.
    Now I just play puzzle games like Tetris or word games, but I bet if I found a 2009 equivalent of Dragon Warrior, I would really like it!
    Also, I clicked on the Wikipedia link in your post and started reading about King's Quest--in case you are interested, Wikipedia says that all of the games have been re-released for Windows.

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  15. Oh, my next door neighbor, my brother and I were obsessed with King's Quest! What was her name... Esmeralda or something? And Myst (the first one) had me so obsessed it was embarrassing. You're right, there aren't many out there (and I am the person who would pick Buffy over shoes). And I'm an avid video game player too, so it's all the more frustrating.

    I will say that the kids actually found Kingdom Hearts, and we loved that one enough to play it a couple times through (one and two, actually... though the second one took a while to get rolling.) You have to love Disney, though. Other than that, things have felt lacking. I'm making note of some of the one's folks are mentioning (oh, and my 7th guest got corrupted and I never got to finish it! It's bothered me for years that I never knew what ended up happening!)

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  16. Final fantasy. Any of them except online... (and I guess you could play online if you REALLY wanted to, just be sure that you have NO life whatsoever outside of gaming)

    :D

    And that's about all I can think of... pretty sad- especially for a female gamer.

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  17. I'm a World of Warcraft nut myself (the quest and storylines in the latest expansions are amazing!) but I've heard fantastic things about Little Big Planet from ... well ... the wives of the guys I play World of Warcraft with. :)

    (For the Horde!)
    (sorry!)

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  18. Seems like lots of people play WoW.

    Not much puzzle solving or thought required to play though...at least for me. I break the quests down like so:

    Gather plants.
    Take this message there.
    Kill x amount of this creature.
    Gather body parts.
    Kill boss.
    Rescue person.

    However, some of the characters and quests are hilarious. I love the game. HORDE FTW!

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  19. The video game industry hates women because there aren't really any women in the industry.

    You're expected to work brutally long hours in an industry that chews up people. If you don't like it, there's always someone willing to take your job for less money, because everyone wants to work in the industry. They hire you on as a temp for nine months, then let you go for three so that they don't have to give you health benefits, because if you're there for a whole year, legally they need to give you health care. Or they just keep you on, without healthcare. And when they're done with you, out you go.

    In the entire month of February 2007, I had two days off, total -- I worked 26 of 28 days. My brother worked overtime on his birthday this year and was let go two weeks later.

    And that's not even mentioning the day-to-day life of being one girl in an office of fifty guys. I haven't even started to tell you my stories, lady.

    But yeah. That's why I got the hell out -- because it's a terrible industry for people in general, but especially for women.

    But anyway, I would suggest RPGs, like the Final Fantasy or Suikoden series, but those are mostly on PlayStation 2. Okami (available on Wii) is amazing. I'm sure I'll think of more, but Okami is one you should pick up for sure.

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  20. how about the one where a depressed woman reads my mind then makes a mess of herself?

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  21. I will also suggest Final Fantasy...it's got the storyline, puzzles, time-sensitive elements, etc. Plus, the newer versions are graphically beautiful.

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  22. Really interesting post. I never thought of it that way. One of my friends is totally obsessed with that stuff.

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  23. To put it simply, the video gaming industry does not need us. Selling video games to men is like selling candy to children. They are already pre-disposed to like it, want it, and buy it if they can. So when the concept for a new game is being developed, it makes more sense from a marketing standpoint, to try to gain ground in the existing target market than to try to expand the market itself.
    Plus, there a lots of women who are very into some of the games out there already. Putting time, money and effort into developing a game that would be attractive to the average woman just doesn’t make any fiscal sense. And even if these games are out there (as many commenters have mentioned) they are not going to be well marketed to women because the risk of alienating the male dominated market is too great.
    At least that is my personal take on the current state of things. Sigh.

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  24. T-Girl said : "To put it simply, the video gaming industry does not need us. Selling video games to men is like selling candy to children. They are already pre-disposed to like it, want it, and buy it if they can."


    I think I'm a guy with boobs then.
    because I can't pass by a gamestop and NOT go in and buy a game. :)

    The perception that games are "only for men" is just as backwards as the perception that they are "only for children"

    There are so many games out there that are fascinating and fun regardless of your sex.

    One example of a game that to me really stands out and resonates is Bioshock. Its based on the ideas of Ayn Rand and is absolutely amazing and beautiful. the world is a gorgeous art deco style.
    Anyone can appreciate the story and the beauty of this game.

    Honestly I see it like this... Its not that the game industry wants to alienate women, its just that you can't please everyone.
    If a person (male or female) is interested in gaming, they will do their research and find something they like, just like any other hobby.
    I know men that sew and crochet and knit...yet when's the last time you saw these things marketed towards men?

    Why does there always have to be this divide?

    Games are games, and they are varied and plentiful, if you want to play, you'll find something to play.

    There are also plenty of women in the industry..2 that come to mind are Jade Raymond and Cammie Dunaway.

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  25. I must be superlame, because the games I have always loved have been Nintendo. Zelda and Link. Puzzles and using your noggin (or at least memory). In some of them you have to play music, and ride horses! Fairies and goddesses. What's more girly? I want to take a week off work and play. :)

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  26. I loved Syberia too. I would say it's a game for women and has all of your above requirements. Also, Silent Hill series are really good if you don't mind the scary. Indigo Prophecy also has all of your requirements right up to the sexual tension. If you liked the SIMS you may like Roller Coaster Tycoon. That's for PC, really good.

    Let us know which ones you got!

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  27. I enjoyed the mystery solving aspect of Myst, although I would have liked it better if it had a different setting. I also remember a game called "Titanic" that was character based... I was only able to play it once due to the limitations of the computer I had back then, but I think it would appeal to you.

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  28. I really like the Nancy Drew games. Some people think they're cheesy, but I really enjoy the puzzles you have to figure out.

    I used to love World of Warcraft, but as of lately I have grown addicted to other things (re: The Twilight book series) and haven't played in a while. I know I'll get back into it later, but maybe after a year and a half of non-stop (practically) playing a break is a good thing. With that being said... I do like the game and recommend it, there is always something to do and lots of back-story to learn.

    For the Alliance!! Gnomes Unite!

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  29. Ask Darci. She gets it and makes awesome game recs. (She's the one who got me started on that farming game a couple years back when I couldn't do anything but feed my cartoon cows and grow cartoon carrots.)

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  30. I am totally hooked on Animal Crossing: City Folk on the Wii, but I have to say, beyond that, it's been a challenge for my fiance and I to find games we could both like and play together. And does he really need ONE MORE WAR GAME? Agh.

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  31. Hi! I've read your blog for a long time and never responded, but this post I had to chime in... I bought a Wii for my girls for Christmas and immediately upon purchase had a flash back of calloused thumbs and bleary vision from playing the original Zelda for hours, days, weeks during high school. (And let me say that my girls have had a PS2 for several years and I have yet to pick up a controller...) After I came to post-flashback I raced on two wheels to the local gamestop, praying there was an updated version for the Wii. My kids opened "their" Wii on Christmas morning, I hooked it up the next day and, friends, as of today I have over 70 hours logged on my profile. (not really sure if I'm endorsing this game or reaching out for a support group) In short, it has every element you're looking for, but buyer beware, it is seriously addicting and things like social interaction become secondary...

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  32. So this might be lame, but as a chick - I am hooked on Tiger Woods PGA and have been for the last three years. It's also the sole reason I purchased an Xbox360.
    I don't golf in real life, but the game is super fun AND it does inspire me to try it for realz..the only thing holding me back is my bustline (38DD) Have you ever tried to mini golf with tata-tatas like that?! I can't imagine trying to drive a ball!

    Also, the Wii has super fun games too, great for entertaining and family friendly.

    The SIMS and MYST are classic and always fun...I wish they made another MYST - that game drove me nuts!!

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  33. The game industry sucks because it is so hard to make games. There is not enough competition and it is very hard for independent game developers to make games.

    If it was easier to make games you would have independent female game developers making games for women and the increased competition would push games in better territory.

    I used to work at various game studios, two you might have heard of are Hypnotix and EA. Anyway, the reason that video game writing sucks is because there are very few professional writers employed at video game companies. It is mostly whoever is in charge of that area writes the dialog, story, etc.

    The sad thing, is I read an article three years ago "called don't make games pink" or something, that basically echoed what you said verbatim. But most of the owners of video game companies, like Epic, they make games for themselves. And they're not women.

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  34. I have been lamenting this fact since I finished the last Kings Quest (Perils of Rosella?) - and to no avail. People at video game places always tell me that Castlevania will be what I want. NO. You could try the Lara Croft ones - they are terrific but I have no idea how to stop her from running into walls. They are almost entirely puzzles.

    OH, and you MUST try Alice!! it's a few years old but AWESOME - Alice in a bad nightmare wonderland. It's ALL puzzles and stuff. My husband and I played it nonstop. Seriously, try that one.

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  35. I loved Alice! I also liked Baldur's Gate and I usurped my bf's Age of Empires series...

    And I must say I'm also a WoWnut. I play a troll andwhile there is some "killing" there is also tons of lore, quests, raids, storylines, interaction and pretty shiny things. I think the game is different for every class you play... or what kind of server. In that way it is definately more engaging than Grand Theft Auto.

    My cousins have me addicted to Wii to to the point that I may have to go get one.

    but you're right. I'd like to see somemore plot-oriented, character-driven games out there for us females!

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  36. Holy Crap. I had no idea you played king's Quest! We must talk about this

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  37. ah...
    you mean those boring games???
    yup...
    they do it! :)

    xxx

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  38. I have to admit I'm a little surprised that you play video games Kristy. Not because they are bad, but they are a huge time sink. I used to play, and I am totally with you about companies making games more suited to both sexes. I don't know, these days, at least for me, spending hours alone with a game, time which can't even be called couple bonding time, isn't worth it.

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  39. There are lots of games for the Wii that are marketed for non-traditional gamers. I'm hooked on Animal Crossing, but I won't even try to explain why. There's no storyline or point; it's just excessively cute.

    Looking for Myst-like puzzles w/ a simple storyline: Super Paper Mario. The different levels require you to do things like switch from 2D to 3D mode to get around what looks like an impenetrable wall (they definitely get more complex than that). I've heard good things about Super Mario Galaxy and Zelda, though I haven't played them myself.

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  40. Oh, and on the computer game side, check out Spore.

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  41. Enjanerd is right. Super Paper Mario is loads of fun. The gameplay itself if awesome, and there's an interesting plot behind it that is revealed in pieces the further you get into the game. Spore is just awesome. It's evolution--you start as a single cell and work your way up by improving your creature. Zelda for Wii is really fun. It's not as impossible as the older ones, and it's absolutely beautiful graphically.

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  42. There are games out there that would appeal to your requirements. I think the problem is that you haven't clearly defined what you want.

    "Video games for women" is just as generic as "video games for men." It starts with the assumption that women don't want to play war games or first person shooters. It doesn't sound like you do, but there is a whole universe outside of that and plenty of women who enjoy those games. One of my female friends in the Air Force is in several all-female "frag leagues."

    Do you like simulations? Sims, Sims2, Sims3 coming out, Urbz, Animal Crossing, Harvest Moon, the _ Tycoon franchise... and that's barely scratching the surface. A lot of people categorize these as feminine games, but I've traded types with many male gamers about each of these titles.

    Do you like mystery or adventure games with challenges embedded in the landscape (like Myst)? You've gotten a lot of good suggestions in that category. I don't think of these as being male or female. My husband and I played the Monkey Island games together, and Grim Fandango, and Hercule Poirot mysteries, and Sam & Max.

    Do you like puzzle games (Tetris, Bejeweled, Solitaire etc)? My mom has a DS and plays only puzzle games. A 60 something priest is no one's idea of a "typical" gamer, much less a typical female gamer, and yet any time she wants a game I can find literally stacks of them because I know what she wants beyond "something that isn't for men."

    In short, the games are there but you need to know your own tastes and how those relate to gaming industry categories. This isn't anti-woman anymore than expecting someone to know what genre of music they like would be sexist. Rock isn't "for men" and country isn't "for women." Each category of game markets for its audience differently. Big budget shooter games advertise on TV because the kind of person who plays them probably watches a lot of TV and has a gaming console. Simulation and puzzle games advertise in magazines and with banner ads because their players are a different market, not a different gender.

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  43. Oh my God, how I loved Kings Quest and Space Quest! We had an Amiga computer that we played them on when I was little.

    But I never enjoyed another video game since then, up until recently. I now have a Wii and like the Wii Fit games, but my favorite, favorite game is World of Goo, which is WiiWare, meaning you can buy it right from your console (it is about $15). It is so incredibly smart and creative; I absolutely love this game. If you like figuring things out, you will really like it.

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  44. Thanks for the tips, ladies.
    I remember the old games like Kiki mentioned that we would play as a group and have also found them hard to find these days.
    I'm now the only guy in a bunch of Wii freaks, and lots of it is fun but I miss the solid story, characters, and problem solving of those old games.

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  45. There was some very useful info here, thank you.

    I hope that one day I will have enough resources to make game which takes your opinion into account.

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