ATITD Tests Psychological Origins of Play

At Ludium I, five teams competed to develop scholarly research questions that could be tested in a synthetic world. The Koithuo team proposed to test some implications from Francis Steen's theories of the evolutionary origins of play. Andrew Tepper, who was on that team as well, has now implemented the tests in A Tale in the Desert III, which goes live today.

The photo shows Thom Gillespie, Francis Steen, Randy Farmer, Andy Tepper, and Ian Pottmeyer. Also on Koithuo were Bill Sams and a student whose name escapes me.

While Koithuo did not win the Ludium, they clearly had the most controversial set of proposals. Here's why. Develop in your mind an evolutionary theory of human gender differences. Examine it; note that it explains why we have many ugly behavior patterns and outcomes that we really wish we did not have. Now because you developed your ideas using evolutionary psychology, you've endowed them with an uncomfortable robustness. We can't just pass a law and make them go away; they are the result of aeons of development.

Continue examing your theory but apply it now to games. Note how easily it explains why more guys play the current crop of MMORPG games. Here comes the hard part: use the theory to redesign games so that they appeal to your evolutionarily-designed model of females. It's not hard to do, just uncomfortable to think about. We're fine with the idea that boys and young men like to fight each other in a game environment. "It's a guy thing," we say. But this implies something queasy: maybe there are "girl things." To some, the very idea is revolting. And when Koithuo presented some theoretically-derived notions of what evolutionary psychology predicts "girl things" would be in games, they were criticized.

Steen's theories propose some very controversial girl game modes. Those modes are based on a prediction that women will be interested in a) games about rating men's prowess ("The Yenta Game"), choosing men to connect with ("The Marriage Game"), and getting men to stay committed to them ("The Newlywed Game").

These kinds of hypotheses are such that even stating them ends all rational discussion. Some even argued that such things should not be said as research hypotheses, just because of their political implications.  The ideas themselves got everyone into a major tizzy.  So I'll stop talking now and leave the heavy lifting to Teppy. Here's how he described the implementation of these games in ATITD 3, in an email earlier this month:

** BEGIN QUOTE **
"The Marriage Game" is now known as The Test of Marriage. One change  from the way it was presented at Ludium I is that your score is the sum of  your progress and your mate's progress *or* the number of marriages that  you ("Casanova") have been in. This made it a lot more palatable to our  players, without changing the optimal play strategy. It will be  interesting to see the distribution of "Casanovas" vs. "good spouses", and  to see if there is some correlation with player gender.

"The Yenta Game" is now known as The Test of the Prophet. Each week,  you'll have a chance to pick another player that you believe will go on to  have much future success. It is open to both men and women, though each  must prophecy about a member of the other gender. Though the Test is now  open to both genders, it is unchanged from the way it was presented at  Ludium I. Again, I look forward to seeing whether women or men are better  at this, and more importantly, if women rate this Test as particularly  fun. (Which was Koithuo's hypothesis.)

"The Newlywed Game" is now known as The Test of Souls. Each week,  forecast a marriage that will survive a long time. "Survive" means that no  divorce has taken place, and that both accounts remain active. Scoring is  paramutual style. It is essentially unchanged from the presentation.  Although we didn't explicitly give a hypothesis for this one, I'll propose  one now: heavily wagered marriages' players' accounts will have higher  retention rates than unwagered ones.
** END QUOTE **

These game modes implement the theory in a gender-neutral way. We will see whether there are any differences between the way men and women approach them.

I think this is really cool. Regardless of whether you agree with Steen's theories or not, the exciting thing here is that we get to see them tested, at the level of an entire society. It's not just a theoretical/political debate any more. We're getting some information. And that was the essence of the mission of Ludium I.

I can't wait to see what happens.


Comments on ATITD Tests Psychological Origins of Play:

Mike Sellers says:

Ted: Some even argued that such things should not be said as research hypotheses, just because of their political implications.

In 1992, I visited some neuroscientists at the Montreal Neurological Institute as part of a medical imaging product I was working on. During the visit they showed us, among other things, some very interesting data about striking morphological differences between cerebral cortices in adult human males and females. When I asked why they hadn't published this study, they laughed and told me it was because they valued their careers! Since then, fortunately, neuroanatomy has come around to the fact that men and women are not as identical as some cultural and political theorists would have us believe.

Like Ted, I'm very interested to see what happens in the petri dish of ATitD, and whether what Teppy learns can be applied elsewhere. But more than that, I'm heartened to see him not be put off by overbearing strains of political correctness who don't even want anyone asking questions that might lead to difficult findings. Seems to me that this sort of thing has happened before, but not, we like to think, in the province of anything connected to modern academia or the "liberating arts." Galileo, anyone?

FWIW, I don't necessarily agree with Steen's formulation of what women will find more engaging in gameplay. But I do think that there are gender-based separations evident in current play patterns: for example, at a broad level we tend to see more men attracted to achievement play and more women attracted to relational play. I believe this is one reason why The Sims franchise has blown the doors off of any other game out there -- it's a game that is engaging from a relational point of view, and an oasis in what is otherwise a desert of aggressive, task-and-achievement-based games.

That said, I think that we need to careful to avoid slipping into easy stereotypes of "pink" and "blue" games for girls and boys. Preferential play patterns represent populational tendencies, not hard-and-fast genetic destinies (and please don't bother writing up your anecdotal account of how your girlfriend loves to frag things or your boyfriend loves Harvest Moon, these demonstrate nothing generalizable).

I wonder what we'll discover about male and female psychology by exploring our similarities and differences via gameplay. Should be instructive, and hopefully fun!

Posted May 27, 2006 2:27:47 PM | link

Edward Castronova says:

Economists are frequently confronted with data indicating that people do not conform to the rational actor model that forms the basis of virtually all economic theory today. A lot of work has gone into developing counterarguments on a case by case basis, so much so that you get the sense that economists maybe don't actually believe people are rational, but they really really really *want* them to be rational. The flavor of some theoretical research is "Here's what rational people would do in this situation. We've heard that real people often don't do this. What our research shows is that if there are such people, well, they're just stupid, aren't they? And if bad things happen to them, so much the better. Because then they'll learn not to be dumb. Indeed, society should weed them out. And if they are allowed to just remain being dumb, well, that's a policy position we oppose. We favor policies that get rid of dumb thinking. So our theoretical research is important either because it is descriptively correct, or, if not correct, then it is still important because it provides policy prescriptions about what kind of thinking needs to be destroyed."

Several points about all that. First, it's evidence that this kind of thing happens on both left and right - it's not just political correctness. Second, it's probably impossible not to have your research questions be affected by how you want the world to look. Third, where you come out on these kinds of propositions and hypotheses comes down to how you feel about what's being said. Personally, it's OK with me if the world is filled with arational thinking, but oh does that bug most economists. It *bugs* them. If it turned out there was really no scope for a God in the universe, that would just *bug* me to no end, and everything I do research-wise is going to consciously or unconsciously promote a god-enabled cosmos. There's a similar question about values and comfort with respect to these male-female differences.

Referencing now my own pro-spirit thinking, would I prefer never to see research that questions the mystical? Sure. But I know it's good for me to encounter that research.

Posted May 27, 2006 4:04:19 PM | link

vacuumflux says:

Ed wrote:
It *bugs* them.

From my observation what really *bugs* researchers (be it in economics, science, technology or humanities) is the (private)realization that the data collected in the field does not match the picture that their reductionist model predicted.

Unfortunately they bet their reputation and their career on these "groundbreaking" and "elegantly simple" models.

Posted May 27, 2006 4:56:15 PM | link

Thomas Malaby says:

While I was, to say the least, nonplussed by the Koithuo proposal when I heard it at Ludium I, my reaction (and this may be true for others) was not based on political inclinations; it was that this was not good science. Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Lewontin both wrote a number of excellent articles about the always lurking, potential excesses of evolutionary hypothesis-building (Gould's "The Panglossian Paradigm" is the classic), specifically the tendency to create "plausible stories," based on assumptions about what might be evolutionarily advantageous. As both Gould and Lewontin regularly pointed out (since in evolutionary biology in the 80s the problem kept cropping up), the processes of natural selection are incredibly messy, and involve more than the too-frequently focused-on adaptation. When we are thinking about human beings, whose culture constructs meanings that lead to making choices which are often at odds with our reproductive self-interest, the robustness of any experimental research becomes nearly impossible to establish. As a reault, an "experiment" like that in ATITD is able only to refer back to its own suppositions, and neither confirm or deny anything about essential evolutionary predispositions.

There is a reason that this kind of "plausible story" approach to evolutionary research has moved moved from one discipline to another over the past thirty years: it's not good science. This doesn't mean, by the way, that there are no evolutionary influences on human behavior; it's simply that it's much harder to construct good experiments which target those affects than this effort in ATITD suggests.

Posted May 27, 2006 5:29:49 PM | link

monkeysan says:

Thomas said: "When we are thinking about human beings, whose culture constructs meanings that lead to making choices which are often at odds with our reproductive self-interest, the robustness of any experimental research becomes nearly impossible to establish. As a reault, an "experiment" like that in ATITD is able only to refer back to its own suppositions, and neither confirm or deny anything about essential evolutionary predispositions."

It's not the fact that we observe cultural pressures on individuals that contravene their apparent reproductive self-interest per se that makes evolutionary psychological arguments and 'experiments' so often suspect. Rather it's the fact that we nearly always lack the ability to adequately disentangle the contributions of genetic and cultural evolution to a given data set.

Even if the ATITD experiments yield the sort of data theorists expect, it will only show that the 'Steen' hypothesis is still a live one. It won't do anything to separate an evolutionary psychological 'just-so' story from, say, a cultural evolutionary hypothesis.

Posted May 27, 2006 6:52:07 PM | link

Warren Grant says:

I think the posited quests sound like they merely reinforce some common stereotypes concerning what women find interesting in gameplay. While it seems to me that our society discourages women from active participation in many games - both by failing to offer types of gameplay they might enjoy perhaps, and by instilling the concept that playing games is frivolous - deciding to offer them gameplay based on reinforcing the stereotype that women are solely capable of focusing on relations seems somewhat limiting as well. I do know many female gamers who enjoy the challenge of combat and problem solving inherent in games, although I admit women seem to prefer PvE over PvP generally.

Still I applaud the attempt to establish what gender differences there may be in gameplay preferences by actively testing them. Its an interesting - if limited - experiment.

Posted May 27, 2006 8:13:28 PM | link

Edward Castronova says:

From the abstract of Gould's article:

We fault the adaptationist programme for its failure to distinguish current utility from reasons for origin (male tyrannosaurs may have used their diminutive front legs to titillate female partners, but this will not explain why they got so small); for its unwillingness to consider alternatives to adaptive stories; for its reliance upon plausibility alone as a criterion for accepting speculative tales; and for its failure to consider adequately such competing themes as random fixation of alleles, production of non-adaptive structures by developmental correlation with selected features (allometry, pleiotropy, material compensation, mechanically forced correlation), the separability of adaptation and selection, multiple adaptive peaks, and current utility as an epiphenomenon of non-adaptive structures.

Posted May 27, 2006 10:35:51 PM | link

Thomas Malaby says:

Thanks, Ted -- Great to hear that again.

monkeysan wrote:
It's not the fact that we observe cultural pressures on individuals that contravene their apparent reproductive self-interest per se that makes evolutionary psychological arguments and 'experiments' so often suspect. Rather it's the fact that we nearly always lack the ability to adequately disentangle the contributions of genetic and cultural evolution to a given data set.

It's not clear to me whether you were trying to draw a contrast with my point of view, monkeysan, or in fact to agree and re-phrase, but from where I stand we agree completely.

Posted May 27, 2006 11:57:15 PM | link

Thomas Malaby says:

Apologies for the double post, but I do have one quibble, monkeysan: I wouldn't use the term "evolution" to refer to the processes of cultural change (and Darwin, according to Louis Menand, did not use it anywhere in On the Origin of Species by Natural Selection). It has now become so weighed down with baggage (in particular the suggestion of "progress") that departs from the essentials of Darwin's ideas as to be more misleading than helpful, in my opinion.

Posted May 28, 2006 12:12:50 AM | link

Michael Chui says:

I do know many female gamers who enjoy the challenge of combat and problem solving inherent in games

They're almost certainly not the market segment we're not getting to, then. =P

Posted May 28, 2006 12:23:22 AM | link

monkeysan says:

@Thomas: No, you are right, I wasn't disagreeing with you as much as pointing to the fact that the problem of entanglement would exist even if cultural pressures always served reproductive self-interest.

As for the use of 'evolution'. Even Daniel Dennett can't rehabilitate 'meme' as a cultural analog of 'gene', for example, so I understand your concern. Nevertheless, I still find compellling reasons to suspect that something akin to 'evolution' is going on. There is ample evidence of the operation of natural selection, mutation, and inheritance-like mechanisms in cultural terms to convince me that there is such a thing as 'cultural evolution', which is in some important way involved in a feedback mechanism with genetic evolution and environment.

Still, if the term feels freighted, you can always think of it in the way physicists use it when they talk about the 'evolution' of a system--a series of state changes over time where prior states influence future ones. I don't think anything I said truly hangs on one or the other though.

Posted May 28, 2006 1:26:28 AM | link

Frank Lantz says:

The question is not whether this is pseudoscience (it clearly is) but whether it is useful pseudoscience, and if so, what sort of uses are we putting it to?

If the goal is to create better games, then we are in the realm of aesthetics. Clearly we aren't really concerned with discovering what women find interesting in some trivial sense, the way we study the attention patterns of babies or mice. We are concerned with what women find interesting in a *game*, a special kind of stylized social interaction that they choose to participate in for its own sake. Women players in ATITD are conscious, active participants in an expressive work of culture.

From this point of view, ATITD is experimental in the same way as Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, or James Joyce's Ulysses, or Ad Reinhardt's all-black paintings. (And unlike, eg. the Stanford Prison experiment or Milgram's authority study.) Just as those works were asking questions about music, language, and painting, what Andrew Tepper is doing is asking questions about games - how can they be made more complex, rich, satisfying, engaging, meaningful?

In the realm of aesthetics, any recourse to biological or evolutionary explanations is going to seem extremely simplistic and reductive. But we shouldn't worry too much about that, a lot of interesting work gets done in the name of pseudoscience. Maybe Braque and Picasso thought that cubism was really discovering something new about optics and perception - and in believing so they turned out to be right, but not in the scientific sense.

I happen to think that Tepper is an extremely interesting game designer, especially when it comes to crafting these kinds of social dynamics. ATITD is a fascinating experiment - in game design.

Posted May 28, 2006 2:18:42 AM | link

Michael Chui says:

The question is not whether this is pseudoscience (it clearly is) but whether it is useful pseudoscience, and if so, what sort of uses are we putting it to?

I feel obligated to point out that part of the reason Terra Nova is here is because virtual worlds provide an excellent test bed for the exploration of science in situations where we otherwise would have a far harder time. Naturally, there are a myriad of other considerations, but the main thing I got out of this was, "Finally, someone is using a virtual world to do research." Not as a player, but as a developer, as part of the very game they created.

I see it as a first step sort of thing. Needs and deserves criticism and critical analysis, naturally, but also recognition. Because it's cool.

Posted May 28, 2006 2:53:37 AM | link

Essi says:

What a horrible set of theories proposed by Steen! They imply that women's lives only revolve around men. I'm speechless.

Posted May 28, 2006 3:51:07 AM | link

Samantha LeCraft says:

Wow, it's tempting to cross-post this to the Women In Game Development list and watch them all sink their claws into it. But since I was invited to Ludium I and was unable to make it, I do feel somewhat responsible for decreasing the number of female voices present at the Ludium, so I'll give you the short version of what the Women_Dev list would say: There is no one type of game that will satisfy all women. Neither developers nor academics generalize male gamers by saying "men want games based on real-world sports" or "men want games with guns." That would be idiotic, since obviously men play ATiTD, Second Life, Puzzle Pirates, RTSs, fantasy RPGs, flight sims, civilization sims, people sims, etc.

I agree with Mike that there can be broad generalizations made about a given population, in terms such as "a higher percentage of men than women prefer achievement-oriented gameplay". I think if we could examine the game playing tendencies of all women world-wide, we would start to see some populational tendencies arise, and I think we could learn something about current female gamers from such populational tendencies. But a broadly generalized tendency does not define the individual -- sure, anecdotal accounts of men who love Harvest Moon do not demonstrate anything generalizable, but it does prove that not every person in a given population will fit into the bell curve of "most prefer..."

The frustration, from my point of view, among women when men start in with the "what women want" topics, is that it comes off as an attempt to boil 50% of the population down to a simple "girls are sugar and spice and everything nice" formula. Women have the potential to have as broad a taste in games as men do. The center of the bell curve may be different (perhaps achievement-oriented for men, relational-oriented for women, as Mike suggests), but there will always be individuals who fall outside the majority. So when a man says "women want X" and an individual woman reads that and it doesn't describe her, her reaction is understandably one of frustration. (FWIW, it's just as frustrating when another woman says "women want X", but we don't seem to see that as often. We're still only 11% of the game industry, after all.)

However, even if we had enough data to broadly generalize what female gamers prefer, it would not answer the big question: what sorts of games would get women who don't yet play games to start playing games? If you're only interested in the women who already play games, then there's really no reason to do anything differently -- after all, those women have apparently found games they enjoy. But if we're interested in turning more women into gamers (for whatever reason: expanding the current customer base, creating games for a currently unserved group of consumers, helping women become more comfortable with technology, bringing gaming out of the nerdy-guys-only basement, etc) then I believe we have to do more than study the population tendencies of women who already game. We need to look at other entertainment forms that draw high percentages of women, and we need to try out new designs and see what happens.

And I have to give Teppy props for doing the latter. That said, I'm not at all convinced that the data he gathers will be of use to anyone else. ATitD is already a unique game with a unique player base -- a player base which happens to be fairly small. We aren't talking hundreds of thousands of players from which to draw generalities, much less the 6.5 million who play WoW, the 24 million who bought the original Sims, or the 63 million who voted for American Idol last week. The data gathered from the ATitD experiments will only tell us what ATitD players like. It may give the rest of us an idea of what direction to head in, or it may lead us to create a bunch of ATitD clones -- and most of us can't live on four digit player bases.

All the criticism and caveats aside, I am glad to see this happening. Experiments are better than assumptions, and some action is better than no action. Maybe we'll get useful data out of it, or maybe it will just spur other developers to conduct similar design experiments. Or, if we're really lucky, maybe it will attract a few more female gamers to virtual worlds.

Posted May 28, 2006 3:55:34 AM | link

vacuumflux says:

(Experimental/Online/VW) game studies to me seem like an incredibly rich scientific field offering the opportunity to have a fresh look at all sorts of interconnected questions from "brain science" to "narratology".

But in order to keep as much as possible of that "freshness" you have to be careful not to damage your effort by oversimplified and (statistically or methodologically) untenable claims. Proposing something like "On the Origin of /Play/ by Means of Natural Selection" is a provocation that may in fact attract a lot of attention, especially in an "Evolution vs. ID" environment. But applying this type of provocative approach without the necessary caveats (which Francis Steen actually seems to be aware of judging from the Ludium I documentation) does little for the overall advancement in the field.

What is still needed as the field of game studies establishes itself in theory and more importantly in experimental practice is a /broad/ discussion of possible approaches rather than a narrowing down of the discussion.

Make sure to learn from the "perennial" and in my view frustratingly annoying discussions in the "philosophy vs. humanities vs. hard sciences" arena.

Instead of getting lured into "their" dead-end battles "out-play" them! You have the tool(s) right there in front of you!

Posted May 28, 2006 7:58:53 AM | link

Daniel Speed says:

I think it's fun that someone is giving something a go.

As much as I'm certain that Samantha is correct about what frustrates women every time these discussions start, the flip side of that is that I get entirely frustrated every time a discussion about the differences in preferences is run into the ground with a wailing and gnashing of teeth and accusations that by asking the question, the male game designers of the world are all trying to pigeonhole and repress.

We need more women in games development, but we also shouldn't fall in the trap of thinking that's the only thing that needs to be done, just relying on female designers personal intuition for game design rather than everyone trying to undertand the issue as a whole in a better way. I don't think it's a good idea that we pigeonhole all games into "for men" (designed by men?) or "for women" (designed by women) categories, so it's important for *everyone* to better understand how design descisions generally affect different types of people (and there's no reason to presume that there's only one type of "female" audience, or that all conform to the same mould).

I entirely agree that more (good) experiments and more (good) data are a positive thing.

Posted May 28, 2006 11:03:59 AM | link

vacuumflux says:

Just stumbled over an article by Jerry Fodor on psychological Darwinism (review of two books by Pinker and Plotkin, 1998):
http://www.lrb.co.uk/v20/n02/fodo01_.html
Fun to read!

Posted May 28, 2006 12:45:50 PM | link

Edward Castronova says:

I give up.

Posted May 28, 2006 1:45:35 PM | link

vacuumflux says:

Okay, one more idea on how to tackle the issue of "gender-specific mating behaviour" via a game setting (inspired by Pete Border's "Jane Austen game" proposal).

Lauren Henderson published a book called "JA's guide to dating" in 2005. Being an english major she systematically extracted the "10 rules" of the dating game from across the different novels (as already hinted at by Pete). Each rule is made plausible by several fictional examples from the novels (serving as some sort of "archetypes" ). An contemporary update is provided by the author's observation of her friends dating behaviour. In addition she provides a "mate matching test" that looks like a parody of a stereotypical psycho test from a women's magazine. It's fun!

Now the "strange" thing: all the rules sound pretty common sense, in fact they are somewhat context insensitive, i.e. they seem to apply to most people raised within the "western individualistic culture".

As it is the book could serve as a rule set for a /real-life game/ right away.

Why don't you ask her to provide input on the rule set and the environment parameters of an in-game mating study (looks like she lives in Europe though)?

Posted May 28, 2006 2:21:14 PM | link

BridgetAG says:

Being the first woman that Koithuo first brought in to run by this proposal by at Ludium, I have to give some insight into the "major tizzy" that occurred around these ideas there.

I must start by saying that I highly respect both the people involved and the socio-anthropology behind the experiment.

When I sat down in the room, I was told "Women like chick flicks..." and other extremely general and stereotypical comments about women's entertainment choices, and was then presented with "Would women like betting on which man will be the most successful?". I tried gamely to help, but really wound up saying over and over "Well, I'm not that kind of woman but I suppose it might interest those who are". What I heard at Ludium was not a well-worded and even-handed exploration of human relational expectations in a virtual world setting, but a pretty shallow read of the most trite pop bevaviors applied unapologetically across the board to my gender.

It was presented in a fashion miles away from the thoughtful, dual-gender experiment that was described in Andy's letter and is being implemented in the game. I know that Andy will say that it is exactly the same thing, they are just including everyone, but I think that is precisely the point. Allowing everyone to do this, and collecting info about who most enaged in the predictive market, who was best at it, etc feels so much more expansive than the extremely narrow, "girls like pink" description it was given in Indiana. And there was no doubt that men and women reacted negatively to that, without even getting to the fundamentals of the proposal.

I do wonder whether the "opposite gender" rule is a game mechanic, experimental parameter or in-world social norm.

So, hats off to Andy for adding something exciting, risky and really damn intellectually interesting to his world. And thanks to him and team for evolving it away from its biased roots. I look forward to updates as this progresses and am very interested in the outcome and the debate.

And I have Azizi stockpiling bricks and boards and looking for a solidly professional Nile-based man - marriage minded only, please.

Posted May 28, 2006 3:16:36 PM | link

monkeysan says:

Michael said: "I see it as a first step sort of thing. Needs and deserves criticism and critical analysis, naturally, but also recognition. Because it's cool."

No question that it's very cool and exciting. It's a great experiment in game design.

Posted May 28, 2006 3:21:50 PM | link

Samantha LeCraft says:

Daniel, I started to pull out snips of your most recent post to agree with, and I ended up taking just about the entire post. So instead, I'll just say this: I agree with all your points. I am certainly not trying to run this conversation into the ground, and I'm not accusing anyone of knowingly, willfully, or maliciously trying to pigeonhole or repress women. However, I do think there is a human tendency to oversimplify any population of which we ourselves are not a part. I've seen it done at least as often with "Asian gamers" as with "female gamers". Rather than saying "all Asian gamers want more character customization" or "all women want dating games", I believe that market research and design experimentation are needed.

I also agree that while we need more women in game development in general, it won't be a panacea for this problem. I firmly believe that any sufficiently intelligent and talented designer can design an outstanding game for any given population, regardless of whether or not s/he is a member of said population. It may take research, careful planning, extensive testing, and strong design instincts, but I don't think gender is an important factor. To design for only ourselves, our own likes, and the populational tendencies represented by ourselves and our friends, is design laziness, IMO. Sure, it's easier to design for ourselves, and many designers cut their teeth on just such a project, but I believe that at some point, a professional designer should be able to remove him or herself from the equation, and design to the tastes of the consumer.

I applaud the effort Teppy is making. I hope it spurs on similar researching and playtesting in other developers. But I do groan inwardly at the idea that any design aimed at women has to involve dating in one form or another. Wouldn't you guys get sick of football games, eventually?

Now, to wrench this conversation in a completely different direction: How will this issue of research-and-playtesting change once development tools such as those we discussed late last year become available to everyone? If professional game designers can quickly implement and test, if academics can state a hypothesis and quickly test, and if hobbyists are free to try whatever odd thing the other two groups wouldn't touch, how does this environment of assumptions vs. testing change?

Personally, I'm hoping it will change in good, exciting ways. :)

Posted May 28, 2006 3:47:55 PM | link

Lee Sheldon says:

I'm not qualified to speak to the science of any of this. I do think I'm qualified to say something about content and its attractiveness to an audience. My thesis in several different media has always been: Write for yourself. Write for everybody else. Limit yourself or your audience and you will never realize you did not succeed. You will never know how much your audience or you might have grown.

Samantha:

"...we have to do more than study the population tendencies of women who already game. We need to look at other entertainment forms that draw high percentages of women..."

Absolutely. You will never add to your audience, if you never look beyond it.

Daniel:

"I don't think it's a good idea that we pigeonhole all games into "for men" (designed by men?) or "for women" (designed by women) categories..."

Exactly. For centuries men have been writing successfully for women, and women have been writing successfully for men. M.E. Braddon's "Lady Audley's Secret," comparable to the best of Wilkie Collins, was a bestseller in its day (1862). It succeeded with both men and women. The "M.E." stands for Mary Elizabeth, a fact hidden from the book-buying public since writing "sensation fiction" was considered "an unsuitable job for a woman." They thought the book was written by a man. They couldn't tell the difference. They would have cared had they known (sales would have dropped), but because they assumed, the issue was moot.

Samantha:

"I firmly believe that any sufficiently intelligent and talented designer can design an outstanding game for any given population, regardless of whether or not s/he is a member of said population."

Of course. Unfortunately the game industry is so inbred it believes its children are all beautiful. The situation reminds me of the Twilight Zone episode The Eye of the Beholder about radical plastic surgery gone disastrously right. Our need to debate issues that other media have moved on from since 1862 is proof how insular we remain.

The reference to M.E. Braddon's ability to write equally well for both sexes is not anecdotal. It is a single example from tens of thousands. Male painters have been painting pictures that reach women since caves had walls. Female songwriters have written songs men sing on the construction site.

Bringing more women into the industry is important and necessary for so many good reasons. However it is only necessary to help produce more content for women because the men here are generally clueless.

Samantha:

"I believe that at some point, a professional designer should be able to remove him or herself from the equation, and design to the tastes of the consumer."

Word. We have more amateurs driving Porches and Hummers than any other wing of the entertainment world. As long as me and my bro design for each other, we are the primary audience for each other's games.

Are there exceptions? Sure. But the answer has never been: men write for men, women write for women, and cirripeds write for cirripeds. Professionals write for themselves. Professionals write for everybody. Our children are not all beautiful. Only a select few turn out disastrously right.

OTOH Lady Audley's Secret, Titanic, The Da Vinci Code... Any one of those could have been written by a man or woman. The audiences are equally split, and proportionately huge.

Posted May 28, 2006 6:25:25 PM | link

Katie says:

I have to admit, I sort of cringed on reading the descriptions of the "tests" that are supposed to be "girl things" in ATitD. I think somebody missed something when they were coming up with this. If fighting each other in game environments is a "guy thing" and the point was to find a parallel "girl thing" to include in a game, then something is wrong here.

Guys don't like fighting because they go around punching each other's lights out or shooting each other with sub-machine guns all the time. For most guys, that isn't part of their lives. They like it in a game, but they don't want to spend their time in real life doing that. Some do, but most guy gamers don't.

Girls rate guys and think about marriage and relationships because it is important to their lives. They are brought up with and possibly geneticly told to some extent that it is important that they think about these things. It isn't a game to them like punching each other can be to guys (boxing).

People think about work all day, but I haven't seen any games lately where the point is to sit in an office and move up the corporate ladder!

Games are something else all together. People play games for all different reasons. Sure, The Sims is popular, but not because it mimics real life (it doesn't really). It's popular because it's fun for a lot of people to build relationships or play god or whatever.

The premise that a lot of women like relational game play better than heirarchical game play (I hate the phrase "achievement-oriented" since it implies that only heirarchical movement is achievement, which is a very very narrow definition) is fine, but taking that to the extreme of building "marriages" in game is a little bit off. Many men (most of the ones I know) say that they play games to escape and to accomplish things within the game world (earn levels, save the princess, kill the zombies, whatever. So why would women want to mimic real life (or mimic what they want their real life to be) when men don't? Most women that I've met game to escape and hang out with people. Few of the girls I know care much what level fighter they are playing, as long as the game is still fun.

I think that the problem with the premise is that it is saying that what women spend their time on in real life is what they must want to think about in their spare time. Women are not that much different than men.

My guess is that most women will either do these "tests" to get in-game rewards, or ignore them because they aren't that interesting (while the rest of the game is) and the rewards don't make it worth it.

Rating other people isn't usually something women care much about. It's heirarchical and while it has been shown that most western men think in heirarchical terms, most western women do not. They think in relational terms. They think "how will this hurt that relationship?" The tests in the game do nothing for that and aren't that fun, so what's the point?

Posted May 28, 2006 11:38:09 PM | link

Barry says:

"These game modes implement the theory in a gender-neutral way. We will see whether there are any differences between the way men and women approach them."

How do you count men playing a female avatar though and how would you know?

Posted May 29, 2006 9:36:27 AM | link

CherryBomb says:

The marriage tests as implemented in the game are a lot less offensive than the original proposal, but it is still a pretty crude model of marriage, and I don't see any reason why people would behave the same for the same reasons they do in a real-world marriage. ATITD already has lots of activities that take varying degrees of co-operation, trust, competition, shared resources and social networking. If I were Mr. Tepper looking for gender differences in play styles, I would just mine what I already had.

Posted May 29, 2006 12:29:00 PM | link

dmyers says:

Thanks to vacuumflux for the Fodor link.

From there...

"Cultural relativism is widely held to be politically correct. So, sooner or later, political correctness and cognitive science are going to collide. Many tears will be shed and many hands will be wrung in public. Be that as it may; if there is a human nature, and it is to some interesting extent genetically determined, it is folly for humanists to ignore it. We're animals whatever else we are; and what makes an animal well and happy and sane depends a lot on what kind of animal it is."

Something good seems to come from every little thing, though not often so quickly.

Posted May 29, 2006 1:02:15 PM | link

vac says:

Here is one more quote from Jerry Fodor (LRB, 1998) on /reverse engineering/ (any "brain game" engineers tuned in?)

"Methodology is yet another thing that Pinker and Plotkin agree about. Both believe that the (anyhow, a) proper method of cognitive psychology is 'reverse engineering'. Reverse engineering is inferring how a device must work from, inter alia, a prior appreciation of its function. If you don't know what a can-opener is for, you are going to have trouble figuring out what its parts do. In the case of more complex machines, like for example people, your chance of getting the structure right is effectively nil if you don't know the function. Psychological Darwinism, so the argument goes, gives us the notion of function that the cognitive scientist's reverse engineering of the mind requires: To a first approximation, and with, to be sure, occasional exceptions, the function of a cognitive mechanism is whatever it is that evolution selected it for. Without this evolutionary slant on function, cognitive science is therefore simply in the dark. This, too, is a long story. But if evolution really does underwrite a notion of function, it s a historical notion; and it's far from clear that a historical notion of function is what reverse engineering actually needs.

/You might think, after all, that what matters in understanding the mind is what ours do now, not what our ancestors' did some millions of years ago./

And, anyhow, the reverse-engineering argument is over its head in anachronism. As a matter of fact, lots of physiology got worked out long before there was a theory of evolution. That's because you don't have to know how hands (or hearts, or eyes, or livers) evolved to make a pretty shrewd guess about what they are for. Maybe you also don't have to know how the mind evolved to make a pretty shrewd guess at what it's for; for example, that it's to think with.

/No doubt, arriving at a 'complete' (sic) explanation of the mind by reverse engineering might require an appreciation of its evolutionary history./

But I don't think we should be worrying much about complete explanations at this stage. I'd settle for the merest glimpse of what is going on."

So designing an experiment aimed at finding out what all the different gamers like to see in a game environment means ...?

Answer a) reverse engineer the evolution of homo sapiens

Answer b) reverse engineer the /contemporary/ human brain

Answer c) any ideas?

Enjoy!

Posted May 29, 2006 4:41:22 PM | link

Thomas Malaby says:

The Fodor review is indeed terrific, and merits a complete reading by anyone interested in the limits of evolutionary psychology.

Posted May 29, 2006 5:14:57 PM | link

Andy Havens says:

@Samantha:

Some clues as to why, in terms of games, "Men want to find out what women want."

1. Finding out "what women want" is a game in-and-of itself. When we find out, we get points. Sometimes those points can be traded in for money; if we design better products, including games. Sometimes we trade points in for sex, sometimes for peace and quiet. So we keep at it like a... well, like a boy playing Space Invaders on an Atari 2600 for 14 hours straight, trying to roll the score over to "zero" again because... well... that's what we do.

2. "Huge untapped market." Because X number of men/boys spend X dollars on games, some game companies figure that, eventually, X number of women MUST... EVENTUALLY... SOME GREAT DAY, O LORD... spend the same amount of money on games. Why? I have no idea. Because Y number of women spend Y dollars on shoes, and nobody, anywhere, thinks men will ever come close to 1/10th Y. You don't ever read, "How can we get into the vast, untapped men's shoe market?" Why? Because some market segments just don't products/services to others. It may be (and this might bring a shocked gasp to the crowd, so please re-read the "may" portion of the sentence) that women simply don't like to play games as much as men. I'm not saying it *is* the case... just that it might be. Are there games that appeal more to women? Yes. But we may find, over time, that women are willing to put much less time, in aggregate, into gaming as a whole pursuit, even if some games appeal more on a case-by-case basis. And, if that's the case, then there will always be more "male preferred" games (or at least ones that are equally preferred by males), from a market-standpoint.

3. There has to be a three. Three is the number of the counting, and the number of the counting shall be three. Neither shall thou count to four, nor to two, unless thou proceedest directly to three. Five... is right out.

Posted May 30, 2006 12:11:07 AM | link

Samantha LeCraft says:

But we may find, over time, that women are willing to put much less time, in aggregate, into gaming as a whole pursuit, even if some games appeal more on a case-by-case basis. And, if that's the case, then there will always be more "male preferred" games (or at least ones that are equally preferred by males), from a market-standpoint.

Andy, while I think that may be true (emphasis still on may), I think it's mis-defining games to assume that they must take large amounts of time to enjoy. If I play Puzzle Pirates for 15 minutes and then go back to other, more pressing issues (work, raising the children, cooking, cleaning, the most recent episode of Desperate Housewives, whatever), have I not gamed? Am I not a "real" gamer, if I play 15 or 20 minutes 6 or 7 days a week? (Now, mind, this is not an actual description of myself -- I don't watch Desperate Housewives, and most days I play a great deal more than 20 minutes. But I'm not the average non-gamer woman we're trying to reach.)

No other entertainment medium is assumed to be, by nature, more appealing to one gender or the other. Even in the most stereotypical, segregated analysis of TV, we have this: Men watch sports on TV, women watch soap operas on TV. Does TV itself -- that is, the medium of moving pictures with synchronized sound, broadcast into a box inside one's home -- by its innate nature appeal to men more than women? Or women more than men? Or rather, is it the content which utilizes the television medium that appeals to one population over the other? For sake of argument, accept for a moment that more men than women watch football, and more women than men watch Desperate Housewives. Is that a reflection on the television medium itself, or on the content of those broadcasts? Further, if a man watches a football game for three hours on Sunday, and a woman watches a day time soap opera for one hour a day, five days a week, who is the true consumer of television?

I believe that games can be the same way. Up to this point, we've been creating games that appeal to more men than women, and which take huge amounts of time to complete. Most are hierarchical in nature (as Katie so aptly put it), may not offer the option to play as a female character, may demean females in general, may have little to no story or character development, and may not have a multiplayer mode. (And we wonder why most women aren't interested?) But does that mean that that is all games can be? If we define (computer/video) games as a digital entertainment medium which takes input from the user and returns feedback to the user in an interactive fashion, how does that lead to the entire medium being male oriented? Television can be 15 minute children's cartoons or four hour war documentaries. Can't games be similarly diverse?

Many of us are quick to write off casual/puzzle games as not "real" games (I did so recently myself, on the basis of potential profitability), but I think there's something to be learned there: a game doesn't have to have characters, or story, or experience points, etc, to be considered a "game". It's digital, it's interactive, it's fun (and some would argue that fun isn't even a necessary component, as long as it's compelling), so therefore it's a game. If the television medium can appeal to so many different types of people, then I believe that games can, too. And until we figure out how to bring games to more diverse markets, we're just shooting ourselves in the foot.

As to your first point: Finding out "what women want" is a game in-and-of itself. When we find out, we get points.

Do you get points even if you take short cuts and make assumptions, rather than searching for the real answers? It's the assumptions that I (and many women) object to, not the search. ;)


"Three, sir!"

Posted May 30, 2006 2:31:19 AM | link

John Bilodeau says:

"For sake of argument, accept for a moment that more men than women watch football, and more women than men watch Desperate Housewives. Is that a reflection on the television medium itself, or on the content of those broadcasts? Further, if a man watches a football game for three hours on Sunday, and a woman watches a day time soap opera for one hour a day, five days a week, who is the true consumer of television?"

I like this example; very illustrative & insightful... It gives you the feeling that statistical analysis is just stereotype wrangling.

Posted May 30, 2006 8:41:26 AM | link

Mike Sellers says:

Andy Havens: "[Guys] keep at it ... because... well... that's what we do."

Interesting comment, coming on the heels of the brief discussion/disparagement of evolutionary psychology. I'm not suggesting teleological answers here (evolutionary or otherwise), but the axiomatic nature of statements like this points to the reality within which we live: broadly stated, guys pursue points, achievement, and the like. So yeah, if you have a bunch of guys who make games based on tasks, achievements, and points (plus a few scantily clad women here and there)... guess who will buy them?

This also highlights how blinded we can become by our own design ruts, when the echo-chamber of listening to those just like us predominates. Andy again: "Because X number of men/boys spend X dollars on games, some game companies figure that, eventually, X number of women MUST... EVENTUALLY... SOME GREAT DAY, O LORD... spend the same amount of money on games. Why? I have no idea."

Because every now and again, a game comes along that shows us how huge this market is. First there was Myst, the first game ever to sell millions of copies to men and women. And then came Barbie Fashion Designer, the top selling game in 1997, out-selling games like Quake and Diablo. Finally there's The Sims, which as we no doubt all know by now (but I think from experience probably don't all really accept) has far outsold any other PC game, ever, by a wide margin -- and this done by a game that was a "virtual dollhouse."

And yet most of the game industry steadfastly ignores these games. It's just easier (and lower-risk for hit-driven publishers) to make shooters or platform jumpers, games where getting just a few more gold coins or where the "I just have to finish this level" ethos predominates (if you haven't seen the video attached to that link, you owe it to yourself to do so -- at the risk of seeing guy geek gamers everywhere skewered mercilessly).

So it's not that we're talking about selling make-up to men or boxing to women; there's an amply demonstrated market that most developers in our industry willfully ignore. I think there's a complex mix of historical, cultural, social, psychological, and financial reasons why, but that's not really the point right now.

Now that said, it is vital, I believe, that we avoid the curse of the "pink game." This is a discussion that has been going on for a long time... though I'd forgotten just how long until I re-discovered this article from Salon in 1997. That was the year we supposedly all finally went, "ohhh, I get it - girls will play games if we make good ones that are about more than just shooting."

Apparently we're an industry of really slow learners. This article from nine years ago ends with:

But in the end the [GDC '97] audience learned precisely nothing. No one said computer games, while equal parts high tech and big business, eventually come down to handicraft. No one dared mention that market research is no substitute for inspiration, that transcendent products do not emerge from conference rooms. In the end, the secret to divining what female players really want is far simpler and more complex than anyone ever imagined. What it takes is the faith of vision, the courage of the blank screen, the quiet to hear the words of an eighth grader: I would like it if it was good.

Posted May 30, 2006 11:31:59 AM | link

vac says:

Thanks Mike! Your post helps to bring this thread back game design.

So where to look for new design /inspiration/, new /transcendent/ concepts of alternative worlds, untold stories, and the new language that needs to go with it?

Ever heard of "Literature"? Or "Poetry"?

To which extend are writers getting involved in game conception today?

At least some accomplished people like Philip Pullman do have their own ideas about what "to play" is supposed to mean: http://www.newyorker.com/fact/content/articles/051226fa_fact

No common ground there?

Posted May 30, 2006 3:09:28 PM | link

vac says:

Oh, and btw, my post on Lauren Henderson's "10 rules for dating" derived from Jane Austen's novels wasn't ironic at all. What if she is right and a novel game concept/worldview is to be discovered there?

Posted May 30, 2006 3:20:59 PM | link

Mike Sellers says:

For my part, I have little interest in supporting Pullman or his views. More broadly, the conjunction between literature and games hasn't been an easy one. Literature (among other forms of entertainment) has a lot to teach game developers, but the conceptual common ground is difficult to find.

I think game developers would be better off if more read Austen, O'Brian, Lewis, Frost, Powers, McKee, and others -- including those in non-fiction such as Maslow, Ellis, Tuchman, Putnam and the like (including Campbell, but too many stop there). Doing so I think leads to more broadly and deeply appealing games, those that resonate with what we all know and feel. But even so, there is no clear direct line between any of these and "better games."

Posted May 30, 2006 4:59:54 PM | link

vac says:

Mike, I mention Pullman just pars pro toto, as a somewhat popular (fantasy) writer who actually does express his views on "game play" publicly. Mentioning all sorts of (continental) european writers (yes, some of them "structuralists") that have made explicit, even "rule-based" connections between "game play" and "human action" wouldn't lead anywhere, I guess.
Again, maybe all this "post-modern gibberish" coming out of US "soft sciences" departments is not as useless as it often seems on first sight. In any case, I think it is great that you support reading novels for inspiration.

One more (illustrative) proposal:
H. Hesse, Steppenwolf, the "magic theater" play at the end of the book. How about turning that into a game?

Posted May 30, 2006 6:55:39 PM | link

Bart Stewart says:

Regarding Teppy's three new Tests: I'm not seeing how these are either "risky" or "pseudoscience."

As noted, he's not restricting his sample on the basis of the player's sex to try to prove any specific belief such as "women like X." So the Tests aren't "tests" in the sense of right answers and wrong answers; they are experiments to see what real people actually do when given real behavioral options.

If that's merely pseudoscientific, I wonder how many thousands of theses and dissertations exploring sex-based behavioral differences are invalidated at a stroke....

As for risky, where is the risk? That the data will reveal no differences between men and women? Or that they will?

I'm reminded of a 20/20 interview John Stossel did with Gloria Steinem (February 1, 1995), in which she explicitly said that research into male-female differences should not be performed. (Phil Plait at BadAstronomy.com offered a very good response to this.) Is this really where we want to go when trying to figure out what gamers want?

I'm not trying to set myself up in opposition to anyone here. I'm actually encouraged by some of the comments. In particular I want to agree with Samantha that it's crucial for anyone discussing this kind of thing to note that, when considering differences betwen types (men, women) on some aspect of behavior, the variation in individuals of a type utterly swamps the variation between the average of the types. (Each bell curve is a lot wider than the distance between the two peaks.)

The average man or woman may tend to act in a certain way for a given context, but that doesn't tell you anything useful about how an individual man or woman is likely to act in that context. You can't usefully assume that some individual man or woman is likely to behave like the average man or woman -- such assumptions are offensive to human individuality.

But that doesn't mean there are no differences between these groups. In some things, the bell curves do have different peaks... so how is it right to ignore such results? If you're trying to satisfy some behavioral desire of a large population -- as in making multiplayer games -- it's useful to know what the average member of important groups within that population enjoys doing.

From that perspective, we need more developers to follow Andy's lead, to ask the questions about what people actually like to do instead of assuming that they know what people want.

If it took a Ludium to provoke that, it sounds like more of them would be a good idea, too.

--Bart

Posted May 30, 2006 8:15:29 PM | link

magicback (Frank) says:

The tests or gameplay is a great addition to ATITD. They have the possibility of being just a collection of insignificant mini-games or something else altogether.

From the perspective of MMORPG game design, when people talk about fedex quests, the "why" always seemed to be a second thought or be reduced to quantitative gold or XP rewards.

From the perspective of general video game design, I can see that The Sims family of games are thoughtful about the“whys”.

From another angle, the restructuring of the three games from a Vegas perspective could be designed as a hybrid of The Amazing Race and The Apprentice (FYI both are popular US reality game shows which is also similar to the Richard Branson’s British version):

1. Instead of The Test of Marriage, it could be The Test of Pair-cohesion (without the gender connotations)
2. Instead of The Test of Souls, it could be a bet on The Test of Pair-cohesion (on either the pairing scores or the individual scores)
3. Instead of The Test of the Prophet, it could be a bet on the overall individual winner

(sorry if I missed out other key elements of the games)

The restructuring obviously help get rid of the designer and gender bias, but also interjects and refocuses on the betting aspect of the Tests.

Also one can easily surreptitiously insert a control set of neutral-based mini-games (with same design element and rewards) and see the effect of the inherent biases.

As an aside, the current flash game of the month at my office is the "quick service restaurant" waitering game where you have to manage a busy lunch-time crowd.

The context of the game could be a hospital's emergency room (given the popularity of hospital dramas), but it just wouldn't be the same :)

So in summary, I think the "whys" and the context are important in this dicussion.

Frank

Posted May 31, 2006 12:12:00 AM | link

Jean McGuire says:

I post here occasionally under a nom de plume, or perhaps a nom de guerre. For this issue, though, I'm out from behind my mask. It's important.

I am a woman and a gamer. By way of demographics I am 43 years old, married, no kids, some college but never finished, and I run a little website design/hosting company called Winterhome.

It is my considered opinion that what will bring more women into gaming is more PvP.

Hey, you, stop looking at me like I'm out of my mind. Yeah, you there in the back. Settle down and listen.

First of all, 99% of the "evolutionary psychology" crap is just that: crap. It's circular reasoning at its worst. "Women do X. There must be a reason for it. Our ancestors probably experienced Y. Because of Y, it would make sense for women to do X. Therefore, women are locked into doing X." Notice a few things missing here? Like, oh, evidence? Proof? Some mechanism of causation? Something testable that would separate wishful thinking from social tradition from actual biological roots?

Given the fact that any group of people you're studying have spent their whole lives immersed in their cultures, and there's no way to take that upbringing out of the equation when you're measuring how people react, how exactly does anyone propose to disentangle nature and nurture?

Now, back to the PvP thing: One of the very few generalizations I've read about "what females like" is the idea that we're more process-oriented while males are more goal-oriented. In simplest terms, that means a guy will endure hour upon hour of mind-numbing boredom -- raids, let's say -- in order to finally achieve some goal -- a roll on Teh Uber Lewtz. We, on the other hand, figure if it's a game then what we're doing is supposed to be fun, and hours of listening to some walking stupidity vector swearing on Vent about how everybody (but him, of course) is doing everything wrong is not, in its essence, fun.

So what does that have to do with PvP? Simple: In PvP, the fun is the process, not the reward. Sure, in Shadowbane I loved looting corpses, in DAoC I eagerly checked my realm point standing on my server, and in WoW I count HK's like anyone else. (in AutoAssault, well, nobody ever seems to actually be online to PvP with) But that's not why I do it. I was devoted to PvP in a game where the only thing I got out of it was respect and repairs, and more of the latter than the former.

In PvP, it's the process that's fun. PvE is unchanging. You learn the patterns, learn how the mobs react, learn the system, and it's easy. Pull, peel, kill, rinse, repeat, until your mind turns to tapioca pudding. PvP is ever-changing. You're up against someone who wants to win as much as you do, someone who's trying to outsmart you, outmaneuver you, who remembers what you did to him last time and won't let you get away with it next time. (well, except for a certain paladin, but that's a tale in itself) The important thing is it's fun -- not the reward, that's nothing, but the heart-pounding, high-adrenaline thrill of the combat itself. Plan. React. Move. Think on your feet or you're dead. No AI can match that, and no PvE can come within a mile of it.

That's what I play for, that visceral rush of excitement when I'm up against another live player. It's the process that I love. It's just plain fun.

Anyone who thinks we females aren't competitive hasn't seen us at the right time or in the right circumstances. That competitive drive is there, all right, and simmering just below the surface. For many of us it comes out in social competitiveness, whether competing to snag the most desirable male or the top spot on the cheerleading squad. But that's just the social skin on a bone-deep competitive nature. Oh, it's there all right. The only thing that's lacking is a game that appeals to it.

Almost a decade ago, in a newspaper column I used to write, I lambasted the designers of "pinkware". I pointed out how ridiculous it was that when they designed games they intended to be for males, they drew their ideas from far and wide. Few of us experience war first-hand, and ruling the world, fighting aliens, or even living as an itinerant monster-slayer are out of the question. For girls, on the other hand, they came up with "Rockett's New School", a game about a girl stressing about clothes and being popular. Because, you know, everybody plays games to do more of what they do in real life, that's why games for guys are about life as a middle manager for some accounting firm. Not.

Yes, there's some social conditioning to overcome to get women hooked on PvP. Females are, or are raised to be, more empathic. (though, oddly enough, one of the most vicious griefers I've ever known was female) We're more likely to be unhappy when someone beats us down and /spits on us, and hence feel uncomfortable about inflicting that same distress on someone else. That's not a biological issue, though, it's a social one. I have the same biology as any other woman, but you run into me in a PvP setting and I'm gonna hunt you down, take you out, and dance on your corpse. I know you haven't lost anything but some pride. (and at least losing to eight feet of muscle and steel, like my tauren warrior, beats getting ganked by some giggling gnome hiding behind a bush)

Overcome that social conditioning and you have something that will be not just appealing but addicting to women. I know many women, in many different games, who love PvP, all for exactly the same reason: it's fun while you're doing it, not something you endure for the phat lewtz at the end.

As far as how to go about it? One step would be to feature formalized group PvP, more like a team sport than a battle. You haven't seen vicious unless you've played field hockey against a Catholic girls' school. :-p Another is to go the exact opposite direction to the modern trend of being unable to communicate with the enemy: Allow cross-faction communication in this hypothetical PvP game. It exists anyway, from IRC to TS and Vent, but allowing it in-game will help overcome the "nice girl"'s concerns that she's ruined someone's day. There's nothing like a good burst of invective to make it clear that you didn't make the enemy cry, you made him mad, and now he's coming back for a grudge match. Having PvP that incorporates more than just standing face-to-face and hacking/nuking/whatever each other would be good, too. I used to have a great time, in a PvP area in the first MMORPG I played, challenging people of much higher level to hunt me down within a certain time. I won a fair bit of money betting on myself. :) No, I wasn't playing a stealth class, I was just sneaky, wily, and knew that map like the back of my hand. That, too, is PvP fun.

It's almost 4 am and I've babbled on far too long. But I saw just one more example of a bunch of men getting together to speculate about what women "really" want, and throwing together some circular logic to "prove" their preconcieved notions, and I had to react. I find it telling that they did not incorporate any actual female gamers in their group. Yeah, yeah, we all know there are no gurlz on teh intarweb. Except here I am, here many of us are.

I'm someone with active accounts in two PvP MMORPGs and lapsed accounts in several more. I'm someone who has never forgiven Wolfpack for making such a botch of Shadowbane, the game I waited so long for. I'm a PvPer, a gamer, and a woman.

You can find my contact info with a simple whois. If you don't believe I exist, or that I'm what I say I am, feel free to give me a call and ask. Just make sure you have a lot of time free to listen to the answer!

-- Jean

Posted May 31, 2006 3:48:25 AM | link

monkeysan says:

For me, the real value of the ATITD tests lies not in what they reveal about sex differences in behavior. Instead, as many have pointed out, the ATITD tests are valuable because they attempt to suss out what modern people actually 'want' out of play, as opposed to what designers expect that players want or that cultural and evolutionary 'just-so' stories predict they want.

This observation also reveals exactly what is wrong with the ATITD tests from a scientific point of view. Steen's theory on the evolutionary origins of play is rather creaky for reasons beyond simply being evolutionary psychology. Howver, it does contain an important feature of any theory of play, namely the recognition that the kinds of play people enjoy is not easily tracked by what modern people do when they aren't playing. So, even if it is true that women are from Venus, there is no reason to expect that they want to play there. It's just as plausible (even from some pseudo-evolutionary vantage) that they'd rather spend some time on Mars when they play. Just because a particular pattern is observed in play doesn't mean we should expect that pattern to carry into non-play behavior and vice versa. But this is precisely what the 'scientific' component of these tests assumes.

To borrow a real-world example from Steen, children (and adults) engage in chase play. There are interesting evolutionary questions about why that may be (my own take on the subject has more to do with a model-oriented take on Nichols and Stich's 'possible world box' view of pretense, but I was a grad student at Rutgers, so I may be biased and I know I am extremely sympathetic to Fodor's concerns). Regardless of these theories, humans still like and engage in chase play even though we don't encounter a lot of predator-prey chase scenarios in our modern non-pretend lives.

Going the other way, just because our real-world individual behavior is influenced by cultural sex differences doesn't mean that once we become more used to playing in possible worlds we will blindly import these behaviors and psychology into our play worlds. Many of us may just as plausibly want to leave them behind.

Posted May 31, 2006 3:31:42 PM | link

says:

to figure out what gamers /would like/ to do watch what they try but can't get done. watch in what circumstances they try to do something that is against the built-in game logic. where does the game logic collide with the gamer's urge to break out of his/her pre-defined role and act on his/her own impulse? do a systematic survey of all these failed attempts.

Posted May 31, 2006 6:12:24 PM | link

Wanderer says:

to figure out what gamers /would like/ to do watch what they try but can't get done.

Two words: Ironforge Airport.

Posted May 31, 2006 8:13:07 PM | link

Guest says:

No other entertainment medium is assumed to be, by nature, more appealing to one gender or the other.

Actually, the market for US adult fiction skews heavily female. In Korea, the market for film is heavily female, or at least female-directed (Koreans watch movies almost exclusively on dates, and the girl chooses the movie; incidentally, this has led to a preponderance of sappy melodramas). Within any given culture, there are plenty of media whose markets have heavy gender imbalances.

Entertainment media exist in a web of social practices, and the market for those media cannot always be changed simply by changing the "content" that you pour into the medium.

Of course, it's far from clear that this is the dominant reason US gamers tend to skew heavily male. It is, however, something to keep in mind.

Posted May 31, 2006 9:25:19 PM | link

Andy Havens says:

@Jean, particularly, and all, in general:

I would never suggest that there aren't women, and lots of 'em, who don't like "traditionally male games." I know a bunch of them myself. But, right now, the fact is that the majority of big-dollar, big-box games skew heavily male. And when you get into RPGs and MMORPGs, I keep hearing that the ratio of men to women is 85/15.

People keep mentioning Myst and The Sims as games that appeal to women as much as men. Yep. OK. But the fact is that those are also games that have had broad appeal, not just across genders but across *other* demographics that normally don't play lots of video games. You had a whole slew of people who had never played a video game before pick up one of those games or the other and give it a try, often because of a review in the press (they were both hugely covered), or because they were very heavily "gifted," games or because they were easy to pick up and try, etc. etc. Lots of reasons, all added up, plus some luck.

Same thing happened with the "You Don't Know Jack" games, frankly. They did very well. But I hope we won't start discussing party games played on the computer here as a phenomenon, because the difference between the computer version of YDKJ and any Parker Bros. boxed game is nil.

When I was younger, and didn't have a kid, and had more disposable time (there was this neat 3 year period where I had both disposable income AND time... ahh... memories...), I'd buy just about every new PC RPG and RTS game that came out. Why? I loved to play new games. Didn't care if they were minor clones off each other. It was fun to see the progression and itterations. Probably hundreds of 'em "in my day" (insert old coot chuckle).

I mention this only to compare that mentality to that of someone who plays an online board, card or puzzle game that costs them nothing and may (or may not) make some little per-unit dough in advertising revenue, depending on the click-thru. On the one hand... 13-to-30-year-old males willing to drop $1,200 per year on various flavors of slash, bang, pow, vroom, oomph. On the other... well... some other people who want "something..." "different." Maybe it's... Myst? Maybe not. Other Myst clones have done poorly. Heck, Myst's successors have done poorly. Maybe it's Puzzle Pirates. Maybe it's Suduko. Maybe maybe maybe... Maybe if I'm a game publisher with salaries to pay and shareholders on my yass, and an 85/15 split of testosterone poisoned slash, bang, pow addicts already priming the pump for sports, fighting, combat and RPG games, and they keep buying the same stuff...

Posted Jun 1, 2006 3:11:59 AM | link

Andy Havens says:

BTW...

I liked Myst. I hated The Sims. There was a comment to the effect that we don't play games like "middle management sim." We don't encourage play that so closely emmulates life? Wasn't that the Sims all over? I tried it for a couple hours. Helping a Sim go potty? Going to work, coming home, showering, cleaning the kitchen... I was playing "me" but even more boring, and I hadn't thought that was possible. The wild success of The Sims amazed me. Not just with women, but with anyone. Sim City? No. That's fun stuff. Lots of the other "God" Sims, too. But The Sims themselves... freaky. Little pet people. Maybe if you could dress them up like elves or something I'd be more comfortable with it as "play." As it was, it felt to much like "Me 2.0." Just my 2-cents on that one, but I'm all for "whatever trips your fancy," so god bless them what likes The Sims. Not trying to start an argument over whether it's "good." Not saying it's not. Just saying it wasn't my thang.

Posted Jun 1, 2006 3:14:47 AM | link

Karita says:

Hrdy's wonderful book points out that while our culture likes to interpret evolutionary theory and zoology to support the existing patriarchy, it might not if you look more closely. For instance, in groups of primates where observers have traditionally assumed the females want stability for their children and are therefore faithful to their polygamous male mates, DNA testing has more recently shown that 50% of the babies in the tribe have fathers outside of the tribe. So these females are sneaking off to some other tribe, getting it off with the males there, and coming home as though they're faithful as anything - see, evolution-wise, their genes are more likely to survive if they spread their bets and get sperm from more than one source.

So what about a fourth game where the player's goal is to sneak off and cohort with a lover without her husband or boyfriend noticing? See, you could even make a fun game about that.

Might disturb the boys, though. They might not like us playing that kind of a game, eh?

Posted Jun 1, 2006 8:45:10 AM | link

Andy Havens says:

@Karita --

FABULOUS idea! I love it. We'll call it "Gene Playuh." Tagline: "Don't hate the playuh... hate the code." Or, maybe, "R-U-Phit-ENUF?" The possibilities for really funny, ribald and interesting interaction are amazing.

Where games like "Thief" are stealth versions of classic "tank fighting" games, this could be a "stealth" version of a dating/relationship sim. The actual long-term goals could be hidden and/or unique based on play styles of users, groups, clans, tribes, guilds, etc. And, on the surface, a particular interaction could mean very different things depending on the long-term (or short-term) game plans of your particular genome.

Hysterical. As a game, you've got a choice. Either, A) try to actually model male/female choices and cultural/group interactions that affect genetic propogation in a way to let people "see" more of the issues involved and "play" on a different scale, or as more than one person, or over multi-lifetimes, etc. etc. Or, B) you could "model-down" the actual human system we've got... change it in some way to include more than 2 genders, or a much more simplified version of how genes pass on, etc. Maybe a system that changes your gender every so often? Something... that makes it clear that the external, social choices of your character/avatar aren't necessarily the ones that will be passing along the chromosomes.

Neat, neat idea.

Note to Karita -- why wouldn't the boys like that kinda game? We're the lovers as much as we're the boyfriends and husbands ; )

And in the game world, guess who we'd be playing more often? How many guys here play an orc with a +4 Wedding Ring of Restriction?

Posted Jun 1, 2006 11:57:08 AM | link

Vicky says:

In response to Jean McGuire: I'm female, 28, and a gamer. And I have absolutely no desire to "overcome my social conditioning" and become a lover of PvP.

What I want is something else most games don't provide. Firstly, well-designed games with interesting, detailed storylines, believable NPCs and enjoyable (read: complex and interesting) puzzles; and secondly, pleasant, emotionally mature gaming companions to interact with and work together with to solve the game. Puzzles are vestigial at best in most MMOGs except some of the cleverer RPGs and Uru Live; plot is an art form which is sadly under-represented in the gaming industry thanks to its reliance on explosions and gore; and the average gamer in my experience would appear to be an adrenalin-mad, hypercompetitive nutjob who thinks I'm unutterably dull unless I try to kill him within ten seconds of meeting and have an endless store of game-related trivia to discuss.

Jean is quite right that I want to get away from the humdrum everyday world - but I'm not talking about grey office walls and tedious routines. I'm talking about the enforced, survival-related conflict which is part of real life, and the stress that conflict generates. Precisely because as a woman I've been raised to be highly empathic and to feel all emotions deeply, conflict on any level drains me completely. So I don't enjoy fantasy worlds which generate stress by requiring me to put up with conflict and to constantly 'prove' myself in battle in order to be interesting as a member of (the game's) society. If I wanted that I'd get off the computer and go back to my day job. As for competing against other female gamers - I spent eleven years in the kind of girls' school Jean describes, playing field hockey against my classmates whether I wanted to or not and observing the developing female psyche in all its vilest forms. And quite honestly, facing down that kind of amoral viciousness for kicks is not my idea of fun. I want my gaming to bring out the best side of human nature, not channel the worst. Jean herself may have broken free from her oppression and essentially become one of the boys, but that's not what every girl wants.

Posted Jun 1, 2006 1:02:44 PM | link

says:

Vicky > I want my gaming to bring out the best side of human nature, not channel the worst.

A statement worth to be repeated.


Posted Jun 1, 2006 1:20:54 PM | link

Edward Castronova says:

On Fodor:

He's a positivist. Suppose you go into the world and notice that A and B often appear together. Then you concoct a theory saying that A causes B. Of course there could be a Q that causes both A and B, but your theory says that A causes B. And the only data we have are about A and B, not Q. So your theory is not proven, no. And positivists would say that your theory is a mere plausible story, not supported by the data, hogwash, and pseudoscience.

But not everybody is a positivist. A non-positivist might proceed by saying this: If you don't like my plausible story that cannot be tightly verified empirically, you have to come up with a better plausible story. And what makes your story better than mine, is whether or not it sits well with that unidentifiable wholistic "I" that Fodor lionizes early in his essay (inconsistently, for a guy making a picky positivist argument). The standard is: What seems to fit with the common sense, among reasonable and sufficiently informed people, of the overall nature of human beings and their society?

Earlier, I said that personal discomfort is a strong predictor of how people react to these kinds of hypotheses. Fodor writes:
...the picture of the mind, indeed of human nature in general, that psychological Darwinism suggest is preposterous; a sort of jumped up, down-market version of original sin.

See? The predictions really bug him.

Fodor's basic point is that Darwinism of the mind is about as testable as a Creationist explanation. I feel I can grant that and not be worried at all that I am doing pseudoscience. Certain aspects of Creationism fit very well with my understanding of the world, despite being largely untestable. I believe that the theories I hold of the origin of the world and our minds, while deeply spiritual and even mystical, can be made plausible to others. No, it's not Science. But it's not Pseudo-science either. It's Knowledge: assumptions about the truth, shared with others.

When you are studying Mind (or designing environments for Mind), Science is insufficient, and a narrow view of scientific warrant and plausibility is insufficient as well. To cross reference Bogost, I'll say again that the humanities and the technologies are involved in synthetic worlds together, inextricably. And I see absolutely no harm in implementing controversial game modes in ATITD. If Steen's plausible story doesn't show up in the data, the whole argument was moot. If it does, we can say that psychological Darwinism is a possible explanation. It could have been God too, or space aliens, but probably not. And while I will have no proof that it was not space aliens, you will have no proof that it was not evolution. It's a data point; what it means is a matter of broad judgment.

Posted Jun 1, 2006 5:22:00 PM | link

Thomas Malaby says:

But Ted, the problem does not hinge on positivism at all. It does not require a commitment to a law-driven world to be skeptical about the adaptationist paradigm. It requires only a healthy awareness of the complexity of the factors involved. Once one does so, one realizes that the issue here is actually quite similar to the rational-man theory that drove economics (nuts) for so many years; that is, the realization in a paradigm of a cultural ideology, and one that did not force us to ask good questions of the data that's out there. The objection is empiricist, not positivist.

Posted Jun 1, 2006 5:27:00 PM | link

Thomas Malaby says:

Another way to put this is that the objection is not to the addition of one more useful data point through this work, it's that this work can't generate a useful data point because its premises are muddled.

Posted Jun 1, 2006 5:30:46 PM | link

vac says:

@the authors' guild

can we please fork this thread?

a) collecting ideas on novel schemes of play, like the stuff Karita proposed

b) on the theory of mind and language, which is not only fundamental for building more exiting games/worlds but also the most obvious link between the humanities and the "game science crowd"

In fact given that these topics come up every four weeks or so why not put up some sort of wiki? (I think that is the third idea that comes up every four weeks ;-)

Posted Jun 1, 2006 5:43:34 PM | link

vac says:

@the authors' guild

why don't you invite people like Fodor or Pinker to write a short essay on what they believe "online and offline game play" is all about?

Or make a questionnaire out of it!

"Ten questions on game play, answered by the most recognized philosophers of mind/language"

The TerraNova crowd can have a vote on (some of) the questions and good ol' Chomsky will be the first on the list (given that he's been voted something like "most important intellectual" or so).

Unfortunately that might bring you on the first page of the NYT's arts section which will lead to the immediate crash/overload of this site...well ;-)

Posted Jun 1, 2006 6:28:42 PM | link

Jean McGuire says:

Interesting post, Vicky. I could almost imagine you as my husband. His reason for not wanting to play MMORPGs (yes, we're a mixed marriage; he's a non-gamer) is that he dislikes conflict and stress. His idea of relaxing does not involve Arathi Baisin, or even more abstract forms of combat such as StarCraft.

I'm a voracious reader, especially of science fiction, fantasy, and mystery novels (mostly historical). Not being one of the TV generation, I look to books for my stories, my characters, and all that. I have never been able to find that kind of enjoyment in any computer game because, well, it's a game, which necessarily has 'play' type components. I don't like to have to play my fiction. (yes, I hate those "choose your adventure" books, too) What I want from a game is a totally different sort of entertainment than I want from a book. Plus a book has infinite save points, vastly better special effects (at least when run on the appropriate meatware, namely a creative human brain), is conveniently portable, and much cheaper.

I find the usual game puzzle frustrating rather than entertaining. Perhaps it's the fact that I can never quite rid myself of the intrusive knowledge that someone deliberately put this obstacle in my way to interfere with me reaching my goal. I'm not sure. I just know that I hated Myst. It was beautiful and interesting in other ways, and I've read several of the novelizations, but as a game it was great interactive wallpaper for me. I would much rather repeatedly practice doing something involving timing and motor skills -- a tricky maneuver of some sort, for instance -- until I get it right than try to work out the kind of puzzles that seem to delight game makers. Perhaps it's from too many bad memories of guess-the-parser text adventures from years past, I don't know. But if I had my choice of playing a Myst-style exploration/puzzle game solo or a FPS against a bunch of teenage boys that have reflexes I will never have again (and probably never had) who will frag me ten seconds after I respawn, I'll take the FPS. Maybe they'll get sloppy. Maybe they'll get lazy. Maybe they'll get careless. Maybe I'll get lucky. There's always that chance. But the puzzle will sit there, silently defiant, until I slam the power switch in frustration.

As you've probably guessed, I'm KEA or KAE depending on how long I've been playing a game (more E towards the beginning, A after I've built up my resources). I guess that makes me an "...adrenalin-mad, hypercompetitive nutjob". For me, games are a competitive thing; that's the whole point. I don't play chess to get in touch with my feelings or play Monopoly to explore the dark heart of bourgeois capitalism; I play them to cut my opponent's liver out and eat it. Then we shake hands, say "good game", and put the box back on the shelf.

And that, I think, is the part that Vicky and some others (my own husband included) are perhaps not seeing. PvP is not "channeling the worst" of human nature any more than chess or golf is. For that matter, take battle.net, that wretched hive of scum and villainy: people still sign off with "good game", even if you sucked. It's an acknowledgment that this is just a game, and we're done playing it now. Even that rather toxic culture has its own forms of politeness.

For me, and other players of a competitive nature, it is, dare I say it, just a game. It's no different than chess or monopoly. This is the sort of thing Dr. Castronova didn't understand in the "Orcs are Evil" discussion: to a substantial fraction of the player base, myself included, orcs or protoss or biomeks are just playing pieces with different capabilities and paint jobs but, in the end, still just playing pieces.

Is it "amoral viciousness" in Scrabble when your opponent drops in a 4-point word just to block you from using a triple word score square that would get you a fifty-pointer? (if so, my mother is the Antichrist) Is it "amoral viciousness" in chess when your opponent forks your king and queen? Is it "amoral viciousness" in Monopoly when someone slaps a hotel on Boardwalk right when you're about to land there? Of course not. It's just playing the game. So how does it suddenly become either amoral or vicious when they move their gnome-mage playing piece to the behind-the-bush square and slap down a "you've been sheeped!" card?

As for the game companions: I personally don't like soloing. That's why I've drifted out of AutoAssault already; it's, well, empty. But I fail to see why the only acceptable activity to do with those interesting companions is solving puzzles. There is a certain ... I'm not sure how to describe it ... gestalt? ... in a good group of any kind. It's the feeling that you're surrounded by people you can depend on totally, and they in turn are depending on you, and you're not letting them down, and you dance your ballet together, and it's a rush like nothing else in the world. I'm told that's how musicians feel in a performance. I've felt it in such diverse places as running a stretcher team to carry an injured man off a mountain and playing Lazer Tag in the woods at night knowing my best friend had my back. But mostly, I've felt it in games. It's the feeling you get when you know you won't ever have to ask for a heal, or a buff, or someone to peel that mob off you, because everyone is watching out for everyone else. You feel a part of something better than you alone could ever be, and for me, at least, that's what a group is all about. I was in a PvP guild in DAoC for a long time, and that's what we were all about. We'd do an Emain run and take out groups twice our size because we knew each other and trusted each other and we were damn good at what we did. (well, they were; I kinda sucked) We didn't "relate" or "emote" or whatever; we didn't discuss things more profound than the Red Sox, wins be upon them. We just played the game. DAoC changed (TOA boo hiss) and we changed and things will never again be what they were ... but those hours of cruising Emain at speed 5 and looking for the nightly hibzerg, time to pit our superiour skill and organization against their superior numbers, fight and release and wait for the port and do it again ... those were some of the best hours I've ever spent in gaming.

It's not amoral viciousness; it's playing the game. Shadowbane or DAoC or WoW or AA aren't Second Life; they're not places where I go to live. They're games that I play, competitive games versus other players. The people who I play against are my opponents, not my enemies. If I were to meet any of them IRL (and I have) we'd go out for a burger and a beer and discuss our endless store of game-related trivia. :)

Posted Jun 1, 2006 6:52:42 PM | link

monkeysan says:

"On Fodor. He's a positivist."

It's not of chief importance here, but Fodor is no positivist, if by 'positivist' you are referring to the 'logical positivists' of the early 20th century, a la Popper, Carnap, etc., and their 'verificationist' program in philosophy.

Also, I'm not sure how I see the example you give as being particularly 'positivist'. No scientist would assent to the claim that discovery of a correlation between A and B proves a causual connection, especially if there also exists a plausible, but untested rival hypothesis.

At least I hope not. =]

Posted Jun 1, 2006 7:10:17 PM | link

vac says:

Great post Jean! Thanx!

Jean > But if I had my choice of playing a Myst-style exploration/puzzle game solo or a FPS against a bunch of teenage boys...

Vicky's point as I understand it is:
One /can/ in fact solve a puzzle collaboratively!

This is what engineers and scientists do all the time! It is extremely rewarding because it is fun and you learn and (more importantly) /achieve/ much more than as a single player. (Even people who steal the success from somebody else had to get involved in some form of team play first before the betray the other players' trust.)

There are several "modes of play": e.g. competition, puzzle solving, gambling, etc.

The diverse expectations and motivations players have obviously make it so difficult to find any common ground here...

Posted Jun 1, 2006 7:22:12 PM | link

Edward Castronova says:

Tom, you're understanding "positivism" in a way that I am not. I am talking about the positivism that is a theory about empirical work, as an empirical method. The rejectionist approach to research - all that. I guess "logical positivism" is the accurate term. Your argument that muddled premises have led in this case to poorly-formed questions is not a logical positivist argument, although it does have that flavor. But Fodor's argument really does stress directly the idea that the darwinist theory is incapable of empirical rejection. That's a logical positivist position. It certainly is similarly knife-edge to me.

And the fact that Fodor says "don't believe Darwin; believe isntead that we know nothing" is also a knife-edge, logical positivist approach. And in all the objections to the Koithuo proposal, I have yet to see anyone front a different theory of why, for example, women read harlequin romances. Steen proposed a theory for that. Nobody likes what it says about women and men and our society (I don't like it either, for the record). But I have yet to see anyone propose another theory.

If we adopt Fodor's view, then we have two choices in thinking about the world: we know something very, very well, or we don't know it at all. You seem to be saying the same thing: because Steen's theory is not the sole explanation for what we may see in ATITD, it's not good science. But then you're throwing away a huge cache of empirical knowledge including, I might say, the vast majority of ethnographic work. My god, if we were to find an empirical phenomenon for which there is only one tight theoretical explanation, there would be no point in studying it. You can reject a study because it does not tightly identify underlying causes, but that's a fanatical position if applied broadly. I doubt you apply it broadly, though. And then we're back to my very first point: why does this research, among all the loose, half-baked, tentative, speculative research that we see every day (not infrequently here under my name, I should add), do we choose to fire the artillery of Scientism at this one study? Of all the corny ideas thrown out at the Ludium, and for goodness sake everywhere else, why does this one catch such fire? Why is every other study of virtual worlds, which at this point in the game is necessarily tentative, poorly theorized, unsupported, implausible, and conjectural, why are all all of these other piss-poor research studies (including my own) received warmly, with friendly suggestions and encouragement, while Francis and Andy get heaped with criticism and abuse? As far as I can tell, the standard being applied here is not one based on a reasonably fair sense of the scientific or scholarly merit of the studies. If I become persuaded that the standard you're applying to Steen/Tepper is a legitimate one, I will withdraw all of my work. Because in terms of methodology, strictly speaking, their effort to actually implement and test an actual social science theory is completely superior to my "method", which thus far has consisted mostly of back-of-the-envelope calculations and speculative ramblings. I am glad that people have been open and receptive to what I say. I just think people who are actually doing this stuff right should get roughly similar treatment.

Posted Jun 1, 2006 7:23:49 PM | link

vac says:

Ted, people who agree with Fodor do not reject evolutionary theories as such but the naive application of those theories to the /mind/ itself! I believe most people here underwrite some form of nativism i.e. the notion that the biochemisty and physics of the human brain/body somehow govern everything we do.

BUT the answer to the question HOW the "self" works in relation to the environment surrounding it and all the living beings in it is NOT so simple to answer. Fodor (see the quotes half way up this thread) among many others points out that it is not adequate (not even in terms of common sense) to take a theory that was developed based on fossil records of the remains of species (such as homo sapiens) and apply it directly to the human mind.

Why?

Because your mind or my mind are not the same thing as our bodies! Of course there are /links/ in between but how do they work? We all postulate in so many words that somewhere out there there is some form of materialistic explanation of the human mind (just as Freud did) but we also have no idea how to find it. No one has right now and i am actually not sure if that's a bad thing after all.

Posted Jun 1, 2006 7:59:00 PM | link

Thomas Malaby says:

I understand our confusion now, Ted. I was thinking of positivism in this sense, meaning specifically the claim that "Positivists believe that there is little if any difference between social sciences and natural sciences, as societies operate according to laws and to the principles of causality, as does nature." I am personally as far removed from that position as it may be possible to imagine, since I believe that (and my work is entirely about how) the world has multiple and irreducible complexities (contingencies). That is why I am surprised to see your reading my post as having a positivist flavor, since I hold Weber's antipositivism dear. Empricism here comes to the aid of combating positivism, as it holds out the exceptional cases and mutliplicity of processes as against a determinist universe.

As for Fodor, it's a good read, from my point of view, and it points out the limits of evolutionary psychology. But his position is not the same as claiming that "the only authentic knowledge is scientific knowledge" (the more classical meaning of positivism. In any case, I don't know Fodor's broader views on the issue, and they don't really matter to me, because for me the case was made by Lewontin and Gould, who were pointing, like Darwin, to the complexities of the kinds of phenomenon that we are seeking to understand, and trying, at least for that which purports to be science, to ensure that careful, critical thinking was in place.

This does not mean that scientific knowledge is the only legitimate knowledge by any stretch. This would leave out the symbolic life of human beings, for one, and their experience of things like suffering, faith, and the other ineffables of human life. When we want to talk about legitimate knowledge claims about those things, we are on different ground(s), and we must confront the multiple ways that human beings have to construct legitimate knowledge through them (Ian Hacking refers to them as "styles of reasoning").

So, in short, my problem is not with asking the questions and proposing the possibility that informs what's going on in ATITD. It is with the way that it is not forthright about where that kind of knowledge comes from, seeking instead to parade it as Science, thereby only furthering the (to a certain extent) overblown faith in scientific and technical knowledge over and above other forms that is regnant today.

Posted Jun 1, 2006 8:02:05 PM | link

Andy Havens says:

Back to the original post... and the thing that bugged me about it, and I have no idea if this positivist, logical or otherwise. I was an English major. We didn't care if stuff made sense, so long as it made good reading. If a scene doesn't work... rewrite it ; )

Anyway... I think what troubled me about all 3 of the games proposed by Steen/Tepper is that they seem to want to graft "successful female evolutionary behavior" directly into a game without any framing; i.e., without levels of metaphor, indirect control, implicit rather than explicit reasoning, etc.

Here's what I mean. If we assume the male hypothesis at the beginning of this idea -- that boys play boy games because they are related, somehow, to successful male evolutionary behaviours -- then good boy games, of which we have tons of examples, would be decent models of those, right? But these games -- combat, sports, RPG, let's say -- are not direct, linear, literal translations of successful, male evolutionary behavior. They are several social/cultural generations removed, even when the games emmulate real subjects (sports), are often highly symbolic (also sports), and very often referential from a literary and fantastic standpoint as well (MMORPGs). A guy could play guy games 24/7/365 and not realize he's, in some way, involved in simulating successful male procreative activity in highly symbolic and ritualized manners.

That's what makes a game a "game" rather than a "life sim." Except, of course, for The Simes (see above , "Andy don't get it" comment). It sets markers in place for real life behaviors. The more complex the set of markers and stand-ins, in many cases, the more interesting the game.

If the skills needed for the evolutionary survival of women include the ability to encourage relationships... don't just plunk that down as A=A and have a Yenta game. That's not a game; it's a direct model of a real life situation. Fun for gals? I have no idea. I'm not a gal. Fun for me? Doesn't sound like much. And I like some "pink" games.

Trace some skills needed to build relationships -- trading, conversation, attention to personal detail, rating of others' comfort over your own -- back to game mechanics and try that on for size. What about a game where you can't ever directly do anything "important" without the consent of several people? How about an MMO with no combat? Or no items/armor/farming, where all leveling was based on how well others rated you a la the star system in eBay? Or a game where you are given "outoing points" of some kind to use... but you win by getting "incoming points," that have to be earned from others cooperatively. Or diabolically. Be Super Nice Kitty or Total Heather Bitch Goddess. Your call on how to collect those stars...

Posted Jun 1, 2006 8:31:16 PM | link

Jean McGuire says:

vac said:

Jean > But if I had my choice of playing a Myst-style exploration/puzzle game solo or a FPS against a bunch of teenage boys...

Vicky's point as I understand it is:
One /can/ in fact solve a puzzle collaboratively!

I didn't make myself quite clear enough. In that hypothetical FPS, there's really no interaction with the other players. In both cases, it's the player (me) alone against a challenge: in one, the challenge is provided by the game programmers; in the other, by other players. In one, the challenge is a puzzle; in the other, active opposition. It's not about the number of people involved, it's about the gameplay.

Yes, of course you can solve puzzles collaboratively. I just don't find it much more fun than solving them alone. In a situation like that, I'd be the person slacking off and talking politics while everyone else does the heavy puzzle lifting. It's just not what I enjoy.

As for Vicky not wanting to discover how much fun PvP is:

That's kind of like me as a little kid not wanting to learn to like pizza. (yes, I know I may be totally burning my geek credentials here, but until I was in high school, I hated pizza!) I would have missed out on a lot of enjoyment in life if I'd said I didn't care how much fun everyone else thought it was, it was just something I didn't like and I wasn't going to try to enjoy it. I did try, of course, and found out how tasty pizza really is. I think I've made up for lost time since then. I think we can all point to something we didn't know we liked (and probably didn't like initially) until someone pushed us to try it, and then we found out it really was good after all. That's the point I'm trying to make about women and PvP: It's not something we have to be "reprogrammed" into liking, just something that we naturally will like if we get beyond the barriers we have against liking it, just as I did with that pizza.

Posted Jun 2, 2006 1:54:26 PM | link

Mike Sellers says:

Jean: PvP [isn't] something we have to be "reprogrammed" into liking, just something that we naturally will like if we get beyond the barriers we have against liking it, just as I did with that pizza.

You're arguing from your individual experience here which doesn't generalize well to the overall population -- the population of game players, of women game players, or women.

PvP isn't pizza. If there's an applicable food analogy it might be PvP as escargot or balut (depending on whether you want to be complimentary or not). An acquired taste, certainly, and one that most reject out of hand or after they've tried it. The few who become fans can't understand the revulsion that others feel, but that doesn't reduce how repelled they are, or how many will never try it.

Andy doesn't find The Sims enjoyable and you find PvP enjoyable. That's fine. But it's a mistake to believe that such personal preferences can be used as indicators of what others in a similar demographic might enjoy. The common wisdom is that about 5-10% of MMO gamers enjoy PvP. Games that focus on PvP do not do as well as those that don't. The Sims has far outstripped any other PC game -- and continues to do so, years after its initial launch. Those are populational trends worth considering in designing a game.

Andy said: What about a game where you can't ever directly do anything "important" without the consent of several people? How about an MMO with no combat? Or no items/armor/farming, where all leveling was based on how well others rated you a la the star system in eBay? Or a game where you are given "outoing points" of some kind to use... but you win by getting "incoming points," that have to be earned from others cooperatively. Or diabolically.

This is digging down past the surface/pop-psychology of "women want to find a long-term mate" to the underlying mechanisms. If hypotheses similar to Steen's are on the right track, then we should see games using mechanics and dynamics such as Andy suggests be successful (more enjoyable to more people). Thus far we don't have a lot of examples to draw from.

Posted Jun 2, 2006 3:31:37 PM | link

Andy Havens says:

Here's another example/question: how would a relationship version of the board game "Diplomacy" work, for example? I don't know about others in this gang, but -- at least in my high-school/college days -- I was amazed by the speed at which my female friends (not girlfriends, but "friends who were females") changed "alliances" in terms of who was in which clique, who was their "best friend," etc. etc. By contrast, there was almost nothing a "good buddy" could do that would stop him from being a goody buddy.

Now... my female friends, at the time -- when this was pointed out -- would claim that this was because we (the boys) were shallow and didn't care about emotions, feelings, what we said, etc. We (the boys) shrugged and said, "Whatever," probably proving the point. But then we'd point out that, "You and Gina were, like, best friends last week, and now you can't stand each other. But, like, the week before that, you hated each other's guts, right? That's not shallow?"

And so it went. All part of the dance.

But what a fun dance it was. Which means, maybe it would make a fun game, if you didn't try to model it on a 1-to-1 basis. 'Cause that would just be Sim Dating (ugh). SimPatico (ugh-er). Or SimPotence (ugh-issimus).

Why do some "shallow" relationship behaviors succeed in some situations? Why is it "good" for guys to stay with one pack of buddies, while the women change cliques? Why do men hide their feelings from each other? Why do women find it such a "victory" when they get their guy to shown their feelings? All these things, if modeled as points in a metaphoric way, or on some kind of non-literal field, could make for an interesting game.

I get you to "side with me" on some level. Point for me. But I'm of the "type" where if I get too many others on my team, all of a sudden I can't distinguish myself... so I need to "ditch" a team-mate, without completely screwing up my chances for future "points" from others. How do you do that? How do you accrue individual "prestige" in a group setting while maintaining autonomy from the group? Interesting game model possibilities.

Just don't do it smack-dab-directly. Don't give me "Barbie Princess Dance Recital Friends and Fellowship Glass Slipper My First Big Date Kissed by the Prince Will I Make it Home By Midnight Sim." You have to game the game, or it's just... no fun.

At least for me. There's gotta be something that removes it from reality. Which may be why the fantasty setting has worked so well in MMOs for so long and so often. We don't mind grinding... as long as we're elves grinding for gold and spells. If we put a middle management spin on WoW and made it "World of Store Craft," I have a feeling very few people would try to become Level 60 Wisconsin Office Max Managers.

Posted Jun 2, 2006 5:36:00 PM | link

Jean McGuire says:

I get you to "side with me" on some level. Point for me. But I'm of the "type" where if I get too many others on my team, all of a sudden I can't distinguish myself... so I need to "ditch" a team-mate, without completely screwing up my chances for future "points" from others. How do you do that? How do you accrue individual "prestige" in a group setting while maintaining autonomy from the group? Interesting game model possibilities.

Haven't you just described typical guild politics in a nutshell?

Posted Jun 2, 2006 7:24:25 PM | link

Andy Havens says:

@Jean:

I have no idea. Not the guilds I've belonged to. And even if that was the case, that's not intrinsic to "the game," as you don't need to be in a guild to play. I'm not saying it's not true... just that it's not part of the game per se.

You can add social elements to any game. You can flirt while playing Monopoly, and have heavy-drama moments about Euchre, if you'd like. But that doesn't make them "social games." It makes them games that you're being social about. Hell, people get bent about the politics involved in anything, including planning church picnics, but that doesn't make them games, and certainly doesn't make them more fun.

In fact, I'd argue that, for me, if I was in a guild where politics came into play like that, it'd be *less* fun. Because guilds are (for my type of playing) supposed to remove friction, not add to it; i.e., help me do "other game stuff" easier. If I'm spending my time in guild politics, I'm not leveling, questing, earning points, etc. -- doing "the game."

If the game itself were about guild politics... that might be fun. And an MMO where guild levels determined character levels and/or attribs beyond a certain point? Oh... that might, in fact, have some killer possibilities. I've been saying for years that some aspect of character development should be dependent on player-to-player ranking/judgements, rather than just game/publisher denoted stats. You want to be better than a 10th level Palladin? OK... heal a bunch of people and have them thank you. You want to make it past 15th level thief? You got to steal crap from player characters, not NPCs.

PvP and P4P stats... eBay ratings for your avatar... that'd rock.

Posted Jun 2, 2006 10:52:54 PM | link

Bart Stewart says:

Over at MMORPG.com, an exchange between two of the staff writers on the subject of "what do women want from their online games" has been published.

More fuel for the fire....

--Bart

Posted Jun 4, 2006 12:42:15 AM | link

Jean McGuire says:

I'm notorious for my hatred of tradeskills. (I suspect that's one of the reasons the people I play with all think I'm a guy) I will literally do almost anything to avoid having to do tradeskills.

Now, what's really interesting about that is that IRL, a lot of my hobbies (other than gaming, that is) could be defined as tradeskills. I make jewelry, I bake bread, I build models, I tool leather, I work on my car, I garden, etc.

I think, right there, that's pointing out a difference between MMORPGs and real life. I don't think there's any correlation at all between people who enjoy real-life "tradeskills" and their in-game representations.

Whatever reasons there might be for a game tradeskill to be appealing, one of them is not what it simulates. For instance, I love leatherworking. I used to manage a Tandy Leather craft store, and at another time in my life I was selling my leatherwork at SF conventions. But as a WoW tradeskill? Hatehatehate.

Clicking a button on the crafting interface is, well, clicking a button. It's not feeling the swivel knife glide through the leather cutting the pattern's outlines ... not watching the design take form with taps of the mallet ... not even the rhythm of stitching or lacing, watching a piece take on three-dimensional form at last. It's just clicking a freaking button. It's no different, in terms of the intrinsic enjoyment of the process, than clicking the button marked "Preview" just below where I'm typing at the moment.

Nobody would say "People like playing soccer, so we'll put in a 'soccer' system: you click a button and it tells you whether your team won or not. They'll love that because they love soccer!" That's patently ridiculous, of course. But if that's so obvious, why do they get this idea that people who enjoy some type of tradeskills IRL will enjoy clicking a button in game to be told whether or not they succeeded? Especially when the requirements to be able to click that button involve hours of grinding worthless mobs to get some freaking Salvaged Grease!!!

The results of the tradeskill process can be worthwhile, of course. That's why I'm so good at making money: so I can pay people to do my tradeskills for me! But actually doing them ... ugh!

Obviously, since there are people who enjoy tradeskills (for their own sake, not just to get rich) there is something about the tradeskill process they find appealing. But that thing, whatever it is, is not the same thing that attracts people to whatever that tradeskill is simulating.

Another example: I enjoy baking bread. Not just throwing a mix in the bread machine, but things like baking sourdough bread from scratch. Do I enjoy the cooking skill in WoW? Not on your life. Baking bread IRL brings all kinds of enjoyment: the feeling of the dough under your hands, the smells of rising and baking, and most of all that delicious moment when you bite into that first hot, fragrant, delicious slice. That has nothing in common with the enjoyment that comes from knowing your character now has a stack of +10 sta buff food. Different source, different feeling, probably even different part of the brain.

Now, something like I've heard of in Second Life, where you can actually create something new and unique that people will want to buy, as opposed to mounds and mounds of junk items that just get sold to the vendor, that might be interesting. Maybe. Kinda. But not enough to play SL to find out.

This all goes back to the process vs. reward thing. For me, anyway, the process has to be fun. I don't care how uber the resulting item is, if it's not fun to make one I'll go do something that is fun and earn enough money to hire someone else to make me one. And I have never, ever seen a tradeskill system where the process was fun.

It's 2:30 am, I'm babbling again. One final thing to think about:

There's this whole attitude that "most" female gamers don't like monster bashing, etc., and point to the fact that Second Life, for example, has 27% female players out of its 100k players. That's a nice percentage, true. But let's say that only 5% of WoW players are female. Out of 6 million players, that's 300k women playing Wow. 3x the total number of SL players, and over 10x the number of female SL players. Percentages are nice, but in raw numbers, it appears that the women who want to bash monsters outnumber the ones who just want to hang out and play Trigo by quite a bit.

By the way, I'm one of those people who wants armor dye in WoW. I want to dye all my armor one solid color (black would be nice) so my tauren warrior doesn't look like he's wearing a clown suit. For what it's worth, I've seen the guys being just as obsessed with the WoW dressing room option as any girl could be. (one of the challenges of passing as male in-game: not knowing the polite way to tell a guy "I don't give a flying you-know-what which helm looks better with your new shoulders!") Our present society's expectation that men will not be peacocks is quite a recent thing, historically, and I think the pendulum is swinging back fast. IRL, what can I say, I'm the jeans at T-shirt type, and the T-shirts generally are advertising some computer product or other because I got them free somewhere. I know I'm out on the end of the bell curve on this one.

Posted Jun 4, 2006 2:55:41 AM | link

Andy Havens says:

@Jean:

What you're saying about in-game trade skills vs. RL skills is similar to what I've been saying about "girly" games vs. "games that appeal to the types of activities that tend to be more socially, culturally and or psychologically attractive to women." There needs to be a metaphoric link, a symbolic link, a PLAY link... not just an associative one. A picture of food is not food, a representation of crafting is not a craft and a high-IQ character does not make for a high-IQ player. Again, to quote one of my favorite GMs of all time (hi, Ed): "It is very difficult to play a character that's smarter than you."

As far as "crafting" in Second Life -- if you have no interest in the crafts of 3D object creation, Photoshop artwork, Poser animation development or programming/scripting... then, as you say, don't bother. But those are, frankly, true "in game" crafts. For example, as a Photoshop user, I very much enjoyed creating highly detailed tattoos for my avatars and friends in game. I did some limited jewelry crafting as well, using the in-game 3D tools. I never got into full-on architectural design, as I don't currently have the time. But I can certainly see the appeal, and the appeal of putting all those skills -- real skills -- together to create fully working environments. Second Life is one of the few "games" where many of the skills you need to thrive in the game will actually translate into other environments. You will become better at Photoshop, Poser, programming and 3D rendering as you get better at building stuff in SL.

The other set of "skills" that are meta in almost all MMOs are, of course, communicative. We discussed some of those in the whole "text as sense" thread. There have been articles in the press (one good one at Wired) about folks who have received promotions because they were well known guild-masters in WoW and other games. Being a good in-game leader takes "real" skills. Not just clicking on the "blue button" over and over. Typing fast is a "real" skill. Multitasking is a "real" skill. Strategy, tactics, planning, project management... lots of elements of complex games require various levels of "real" skills, depending on how deeply you want to play.

Or you can just borrow daddy's credit card and RMT your character up to Level 60 and lay about with an RMT blunderbuss of ultimate fragging. Two very different ways to play the "same" game.

Which illustrates an important point. Games like WoW and SL are hugely complex. They allow lots of people to play lots of different ways. I read a blog post by a nice non-gamer lady in education who said that she was going to try one of "these online role-playing games" because she felt like she should, since so many of her students were doing it, and she had no idea what it was all about. Which is a very good attitude, frankly. I applauded her willingness to try something new and, probably a bit scary. But I also replied to her post to let her know that just putting a toe into WoW would only give her one dimension of one way to play one game; that even with just that single property, there were at least a dozen very different ways to play. And that there were dozens of other MMOs that were very, very different than WoW.

My point being that when we discuss trying to design games that are meant to appeal to a particular segment of the population, it isn't really helpful to point out that there are X thousands of "that type" of person already playing some game or another. Sure. Yes. Of course there are. There would have to be. It would be truly remarkable if there were *no* women playing WoW or SL.

But if computer/videogaming is truly becoming mainstream... if it is garnering more dollars and attention than first-run, feature films... if games allow for more immersion and learning experience than other forms of media... then it is important to understand why the numbers of women playing are still, comparatively, so low.

Why? If WoW is the new golf? If videogames make us smarter? If everything bad is good for us? If games are the new Hollywood?

Yes. Some men obsess over helm color. Yes. Some women play games exactly like men do. No generalization is completely accurate, and I've RPGd with great women players and GMs for years. But they are, to be sure, in the minority.

If it's not an important question... OK. We'll move on. I think it is, though. I think that, at some point, somebody will "crack the code" on some new kind of game that is as equally compelling, fun, addictive and profitable for women as it is for men. And those numbers will end up making WoW look like chicken feed.

Posted Jun 4, 2006 11:38:13 AM | link

Pete Border says:

I was also at Ludium 1, and was also part of the Koithuo team.

Posted Jun 7, 2006 4:55:57 PM | link