On "Girl-Centric" Video Games

When I was ten and my younger sister was seven, we were gifted a story-based PC video game for girls age 7-12 called Chop Suey, which wasn't what you might imagine solely based on that descriptor (like an electronic version of Mall Madness or something). It was a David Sedaris-narrated tale of two sisters exploring a quirky town, with a meandering plot and weirdly melancholy tone (which made a lot more sense about ten years later when I discovered that the game's creator was the late Theresa Duncan, who committed suicide in 2007 with her artist boyfriend Jeremy Blake amidst Los Angeles Scientology paranoia).


Meanwhile, when friends of the family who had a son my age came over, we played shoot-'em-up games like Doom and Quake exclusively, during which the little boy controlled the joystick and I mashed the keyboard's space bar to fire at the precise moment that he told me to. Paging Dr. Freud.

No doubt Chop Suey would be of great interest to visual artist and programmer Rachel Weil, the founder and director of a brand-new "feminine computer museum" called FEMICOM, launched last month. Weil may have been inspired by Digital Archaeology, a British-originated installation at last year's New York Internet Week that resurrected some of the oldest and most influential websites on their original platforms. But where there are teams of programmers dedicated to mining for the Internet's mainstream past, only Weil seems to think that these girl-centric games from this period (including handheld ones like Nano Babies and Tamagotchis) are worth saving for intellectual and sociological purposes. She adds that she's seen fellow designers and collectors refer to these games as "garbage," "a waste," "insulting" for illustrating the kind of gender binaries that make us uncomfortable today, and so on:

With FEMICOM, I want to provide a historical snapshot, a catalog, that says, "Here lies the evidence of several decades of video game and software and web media that attempted to inspire and delight." If we're confronted with a pile of harmful stereotypes, let's talk about that. If we've been wrong to criticize a game for not being more like Halo, let's talk about that, too.

Weil is the first to collect them in one place, but not the first to make them emblematic of something bigger; playwright Young Jean Lee recently used found footage of mid-90s "girl video games" and My Little Pony clips in Untitled Feminist Show, juxtaposed with expletive-laced rap. However, Weil makes a point to separate the engagement of real-life female gamers from the necessity of preserving these "girly" video games and emphasizes that she has no idea to reconcile the divide between girly gamers and gamer culture (or the idea that there even is a "girly gamer" label, which is obviously its own can of worms):

I'd like to note that I view my interest in the preservation of feminine game design as an endeavor separate from engaging female gamers. As you've hinted, I think, the solution to the gender imbalance in gaming isn't to make Modern Warfare: Girlz and call it a day. Gameplay mechanisms and the engagement of a female audience are challenging topics that I'm honestly not qualified to speak to.


'Girly Games, Games For Girls, And Girls Who Game: A Conversation With Femicom's Rachel Weil' [The Mary Sue]


Seoul Sister

I dunno, I always felt the problems inherent in 'girly games' were the same problems inherent in Barbies, or Easy-Bake Ovens. They heavily, heavily reinforce all sorts of detrimental gender roles and also tend to coat things in pink. They're rarely complicated or interesting (which is a form of condescension that happens to also make games less appealing to all genders).

Things like tamagatchis were pretty universal, and never restricted to a particular gender (the notion that they're an electronic game enjoyed by both genders and thus, categorized as a 'girly game' is part of the problem.)

I agree that they're not junk, and they're useful as a snapshot, and worth preserving to the same degree that just about anything is.

I'm not going to outright dismiss them but most of them were, as far as games go, bad games. It's not much different than exploitation films.

I dunno, maybe it will be neat to see, though this FEMICOM thing.