Girl Gamers: a new option for tweens
Girls and video games: in the predominantly male world of game developers, the combination is still somewhat of a mystery. Most games for girls are super pink and girly, like Barbie and anything on this site, and while that may not be terrible in itself it doesn't contribute to growth as many games aimed at boys do. Where boys games help hand-eye coordination as well as planning and strategy, girls games seem to just help build up the dress-me-up-and-go-cook-some-dinner skills. There is even an iPhone game that lets them have fun doing nothing more than using their boyfriend's credit card.
Jen Shanley hopes to change that with her new company, Zwirlz. A former game industry professional and mother, she found inspiration in her daughter and her own love of games to create challenging and educational games for girls, based on how they play and learn. Jen says that while there are definitely steps in the right direction from game developers, like Farmville, there needs to be more dimension, face-to-face socialization and customization offered to girls to really take advantage of the benefits that can be gained from playing video games.
Studies have shown that girls and boys tend to play differently - that there is something hardwired into the brain that determines game play. Girls focus more on faces and act cooperatively in play, whereas boys tend to focus on direction and movement. Girls and boys react differently to colors as well, with girls preferring warm, bright colors and boys gravitating more toward cool, darker colors. Gender-neutral toys and games are great, especially when boys and girls play together, but encouraging kids to play and learn using what's most fun and attractive to them - and offering options - is key.
Jen has been working with professionals at her local university to look at these differences in playing and learning, to develop games for the iPhone that challenge multiple intelligences - body kinesthetics, math, and linguistics in ways that will most appeal to girls. These games are meant to be played with other girls face-to-face to encourage cooperation and sociability, physical activity, and friendship. She states that she is not going anti-pink, with Zwirlz games. Girls (mostly) like pink - it's just the way it is. Little girls respond well to pink and puppies and rainbows, and the hope is that by incorporating all of the things that girls are interested in - fluffy pink stuff included - technology won't seem so foreign and "boyish" to impressionable young tweens.
Zwirlz games will also have customizable features so girls can be more involved with creating their own game experience. Jen hopes that this will encourage girls to stop listening to the stereotypical attitudes on math, science and technology and start getting interested in participating in these subjects. She hopes that by the time today's tween girls grow up, they'll be more apt to venture into game development themselves, further opening up the gaming options for girls and women and giving the game industry more gender parity.
Do you have gamer girls in your life? Keep an eye out for the launch of Zwirlz and add some girl power to their game playing repertoire. It's time to take back the phrase "play like a girl" and show how badass it really is.
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By Lisa Owen