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Mary Clark

Games 4 Girls

Since my last update, I started and finished reading Brenda Laurel: Pioneering Games for Girls, the latest book in the Influential Video Game Designers series by Bloomsbury Publishing. I read it seeking some gendered historical analysis of 90s games and technology, but I got that and much more. Laurel’s innovative approaches to design were research-driven, interdisciplinary, and completely revolutionary for their time. 20 years later, I can see hints of her Human Computer Interaction philosophies in some of the software engineering design practices that I had learned. There’s a lot that I loved about this book that isn’t really related to the media anachronism project, but I highly recommend it. Laurel’s HCI book from the early 90s, Computers as Theatre, is near the top of my reading list now.

Moving on to what’s most relevant to the media anachronism project: games. One of Laurel’s biggest and most controversial areas of research was in games for girls: the types of games girls wanted to see, what topics they cared about, and how their play differed from boys. Her game company Purple Moon, known for creating the Rockett Movado and Secret Paths series, was the culimation of this research. The two series formed a dichotomy of whole interaction with the Rockett Movado universe: the Rockett Movado games focused on the external conflicts and responses of the player-controlled character Rockett, while the Secret Paths series explored the internal struggles of characters from the same series, and allowed the player to reflect on the conflict and the character’s final resolution. Neither of the games would try to assert that a choice the player made was right or wrong, but instead gave them practice in “social rehearsal” and inner reflection. For example, characters in Secret Paths would only provide their personal resolution at the end of the story arc, and not the external repercussion of their choice; players could see how the character came to a healthy resolution that fulfilled their personal values, and that was what mattered most. They were both critical series in the Games for Girls movement.

However, the games were criticized for their gendered play on both ends of the spectrum. Parents and critics didn’t really understand the game and found it boring compared to more masculine, male-targetted games of the time, but feminists criticized its stereotypical gameplay that put girls in emotional situations. I’m mixed on the issue: I think that if I had been old enough to be playing these games at the time that they were released, I would have loved them, but 22-year-old me can understand where feminist critics are coming from. We’re also two decades past the release of these games, and as the author—Carly Kocurek—hypothesizes, I think Purple Moon’s games were predecessors to today’s “emotional games” that usually aren’t gendered, so I think that a 2017, research-driven game for girls would be much different from those of the past. Much like Laurel herself believed, I think that all that really mattered was how preteen me would’ve felt about the games, and I think they would have been healthier for more than some of the other things I read/played.

As a result of my reading, I think I’m going to download or buy a copy of a Secret Paths game for the room, and either a copy of Barbie Fashion Designer (a competing game for girls made by Mattel) or a Rockett Movado game. I already have a copy of My Little Pony: Friendship Gardens for the room, which is a game for girls made by Hasbro, and I want to be able to contrast games like these with others from its genre.

In other updates: I got my copies of Myst and Sam & Max Hit the Road, and those are in the room but have not been installed anywhere. I also got a disk image of Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing that I’m really excited about, and next on my to-do list is to download a copy of DOOM from the Internet Archive. We are now using virtual machines to emulate old Windows versions on a PC, so this will make it easier to emulate disk images (I think).