Creating video games for girls allowed U.S. company to reach other markets as well

May 29, 2016

New gamers value dialogue and intellectual challenges over explosions and guns

CALGARY, MAY 29, 2016 — A video game company that actively looked at how to tap into the girls-and-young-women market in the 1990s did better than that: By creating video games on the basis of recommendations from a female teen advisory panel, they were able to reach not only girls and young women, but other untapped markets as well.

Andrea Braithwaite is a senior lecturer at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology in Oshawa. She grew up on Nancy Drew mysteries and on video games, and decided as an adult to research Her Interactive, an independent U.S.-based gaming company that created a successful series of video games based on the Nancy Drew franchise.

What she found is that the company’s success with Nancy Drew is largely due to its decision to create a teen advisory panel. The girls on the panel participated in the game production process, from character and story development to user interface design.

Braithwaite, who is presenting the results of her study at the 2016 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences in Calgary, says video games were relatively new in the 1990s and, at the time, they were mostly aimed at boys.

One company, Her Interactive, created the female teen advisory panel to get ideas about how to design games girls wanted to play. They created the Nancy Drew games on the basis of the panel’s recommendations.

Nancy Drew is a fictional teenaged detective created in the 1930s and popularized in a series of books aimed at girls and young women. Nancy Drew was tremendously popular in the 1960s and retains a following today.

The girls on the panel wanted female characters in the games, and they wanted them to be at the centre of the action. “What the Nancy Drew game did that was different was give you a strong, independent female character to play, whereas in lots of other games you usually had to play a male character, or the female character was the helper rather than the protagonist,” she says.

At the panel’s recommendation, the way the games unfold is also different. “In Nancy Drew, there aren’t any explosions,” says Braithwaite. “You are just being super snoopy. You are doing things like sneaking into the high school after hours and rummaging through the gym teacher’s desk.” “It’s a different kind of action. You are still in charge, but it’s less about explosions and guns and more about being where you shouldn’t be and knowing things you shouldn’t know.”

This type of game attracted not only girls and young women, but also people in their fifties or sixties reliving their youth, as well as players who enjoyed the clever dialogue. “By trying to make things explicitly for girls, they ended up making different kinds of games that appealed to lots of other people,” says Braithwaite. “They didn’t make girls’ games as much as they made alternative kinds of games that more people could enjoy.”

Andrea Braithwaite will be presenting this research on May 30 at the 2016 Congress for the Humanities and Social Sciences in Calgary. This presentation is called “Nancy Drew And The Case Of The Girl Gamers” and will take place at 1:30-3:00 pm in Science Theatres – 143 on the University of Calgary campus.


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