Scotland in Focus: Girl Geek Scotland – Part 2

Posted on by Phil Harris
Scotland in Focus: Girl Geek Scotland - Part 2

In case you missed part 1 let me just bring you up to date.

It’s Dundee in November and I’m at the Girl Geek Scotland Dinner whose guests are Pauline Randall (virtual-e), Carol Clark (Realtime Worlds) and Inga Paterson (University of Abertay).

The discussion is covering Women and Games and the questions were devised by Morna Simpson, Mel Woods (who set up Girl Geek Scotland) and from the floor of the meeting.

Mel introduced the second part of the meeting thanking the sponsors of the event Harvey Nash and then we went straight on with the show:

Question: Can you tell us what types of games you enjoy play the most and how does social media fit with this?

Carol Clark (CC): I don’t play as much as I use to due to time pressures but I’m a big First Person Shooter fan and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is amazing; I played it to death.

I like platformers and love the Super Mario games including the Role Playing Games (RPG), although I’m not normally a RPG fan. Basically if it has Mario on it I find the game quite charming.

I play some driving games but I’m pretty rubbish at them unless it’s Mario Kart. The problem with driving games is I can’t get [to grips] with a real physics simulation but I can drive my car perfectly fine… if you’re worried.

Is it the characters you connect to? Do you think the character development is important to develop and empathy with the character?

CC: I think it’s more about puzzle solving. With platformers nowadays you’ll tend to get to some point in the level and there’s a big puzzle to solve, for a certain item, but problem solving exists throughout the level. Characters do play a part in it though.

So what is it about the puzzle genre?

CC: It’s the achievement of problem solving.

How about Little Big Planet?

CC: It really excited me and when I played I got lost in it. It was very clever in the way you could interact with the environment and there was problem solving as well. What really annoyed me was the controls were really imprecise, especially the jumping, and you’d jump for a platform and miss. I couldn’t quite take to it.

The interesting thing about Little Big Planet is that you can build the world yourself, there’s a certain ownership.

[There was a discussion from the floor about the complexity of the tool box provided in Little Big Planet and whether it was as accessible as it looked.]

CC: It brings me back to the Brainhex. We did something similar at work looking at different things people take from games. Some people enjoy problem solving and others prefer to be spoon fed the experience. Little Big Planet appeals to people who are all about creation, like Second Life actually, it’s not about creating a game but about giving people the tools to create a game for an online community. People get pleasure from creating things other people will use.

Do you think puzzle games that purely interest you or is it games from another genre with a puzzle element added?

CC: It depends on the story and character. Professor Layton was puzzle after puzzle and that fascinated me. Zelda is the opposite extreme of that as there are lots of puzzles but many other aspects, character development, side quests. Each title tends to be very impressive.

Could anyone else comment on the games you enjoy?

Pauline Randall (PR): I also have time constraints and don’t play as many games as I used to but I tend towards adventure and puzzle solving games. My favourite was Myst which I enjoyed until the puzzles got so obscure I had no idea of what they’d been on to create this level of difficulty.

Interestingly I went back to Myst quite recently and found the point and click nature of the game quite restrictive. After working in Second Life I’m used to being able to move anywhere to see something from another perspective.

I have a copy of the CSI game but that’s still in its cellophane wrapper and now I tend to play iPhone games, many being problem solving games. Shooters have never done it for me and car [games] tend to result in bad accidents fairly quickly.

People use the physics engine in Second Life for all types of things and so you can go sailing, flying or parachuting. I’ve tried flying planes in Second Life and can I just say that it’s a good thing I’m not doing that it real life.

Inga Paterson (IP): I’m not a hardcore gamer but I organised the Women Games Conference in 2005 and one recurring theme throughout the conference was the time people spent playing games. There may be a gender difference and I hate to make it so black and white but there is this suggestion that guys will play for longer in more immersive games whilst women want something that captures their interest and holds it for a shorter space of time.

That would typify the way I would like to play and so a game I go back to is Bubble Breaker on my phone. I do like driving games, which doesn’t mean I’m good at them, but I like the intensity. There’s no plot, it’s just two or twenty minutes which fits my lifestyle as there are so many other things I like. Why simulate sailing when you can go sailing. Why simulate a near death experience when you can go and have that experience.

Do you think that’s a key to the perceived gender difference?

IP: I’m really cagy about trying to say that it’s about gender difference I think it’s about the diverse nature of human beings. There are different things that engage different people and it’s not always the gender that’s at the core of why we’re different. There have been studies done that link testosterone with game playing and game preference and I think they’re potentially interesting as it may relate to choices, gameplay and behaviours. That’s why some of the stuff International Hobo do is interesting rather then trying to stereotype us into gender categories.

All time favourite game or console?

PR: Myst will always have a place amongst my favourites but in Second Life I look at things to see how they were built and in trying to resolve this I’m engaging in problem solving. That’s probably why I don’t play so many games as that puzzle element is what I’m getting out of doing what I’m doing anyway.

IP: 360 because that’s what I’ve got.

CC: Super Nintendo; I still have one because it has memories of my childhood but the games are still really cute.

Would you say that games back then were harder?

CC: They seemed like they were but Curly Wurlys were bigger when I was thirteen as well. Is it because time obscures the memory? I find I whizz through the levels.

Do you think that we’ve become lazy?

CC: There have been articles about how game design has changed and I think the conclusion was that gamers are less patient now. It also coincides with technology becoming so much more mature. Now you get to choose the difficulty level. Game design is unbelievably complex.

Where are we heading in ten years time?

PR: In some ways the term gaming is becoming fragmented now. There are so many channels and social media that people play games on, Facebook, websites, gaming machines and phones giving you so much choice in the way that you interact with games and other people through those games. To identify where it is going is quite difficult and in some aspects it may fragment even more because we all want to do something different in different ways at different times.

The fastest way to insult a Second Lifer is to tell them that it’s a game as there is no end point or objective. There are whole areas of Second Life that are dedicated to RPG’s or shooting each other and losing health but it isn’t a game it’s a place where games happen. Much like your iPhone isn’t a game it’s a [platform] games happen on. Facebook isn’t a game but there are games there.

How about All Points Bulletin?

[Carol talked at length about All Point Bulletin (APB) covering the subjects discussed at Neon]

CC: In All Points Bulletin (APB) we’re moving away from traditional gaming patterns. Our cities will have social zones where people can interact as well as action zones where the missions happen. We fully expect that some people will buy the game so they can create things to sell to other players whilst others will play to race about the city and cause mayhem.

It’s all about creating an environment you can interact with and destroy somewhat but also about creating a community. In the main we leave people in control of how they manage themselves and people love that.

What happens when the game of the future has an impact in the real world?

CC: That’s already happened with Alternative Reality Games (ARG). You’ve seen people chase across New York City.

With the GPS on my iPhone I can foresee real world locations involved in entertainment content.

Can we use the environment to have a real impact on lives and how we live them?

PR: I think impacts are starting to occur. To a large extent the education sector in Second Life has been very big and very consistent. In the UK now there is only one higher education establishment that has no level of presence in virtual worlds. People are still experimenting quite a lot. Whether it is distance learning or adverse environments which you can’t do or are impracticable in real life. Immersive simulation has been proven to reap advantages when those students have entered the real world workplaces.

Most admired figure in gaming and digital media?

IP: I think Will Wright stands out because of his level of invention. His educational background is quite interesting as well because he’s take some of his educational learning at Montessori into game development.

PR: Probably Philip Rosedale who started Second Life. The way they set it up with this idea of creating a space with sky, water and land and then allowing the people who use it to create the content was quite a brave decision. Actually allowing you to create a space that isn’t replicable at all because all the choices are down to the people who own the space.

CC: Dave Jones. I assume some of you have seen him speak and he’s pretty amazing but if you sit with him in meetings he’s just an ordinary person who thinks in an abstract way – which is actually quite inspiring. Dave is a designer through and through and if you look at his vision… None of you have played APB yet but I think it’s going to be huge and the other project, I can’t really talk about, shows a level of vision, a level of anticipation of what is about to happen in these type of spaces and being part of that is really exciting.

Do you think that Realtime Worlds is alone in having such an influential at the heart of the company?

CC: I think there are other independent studios out there with people like Will Wright and Sid Meier who seem to be a lot like Dave. At Realtime Worlds it’s about creating the thing that Dave has envisioned and we get time, space and resource that we need to do that. It’s not let out of the door until it’s ready. So you work with teams who are completely enthused. It’s the most unique environment I’ve ever worked in and the best job I’ve ever done.

Are small tightly knit teams the way forward?

IP: Working at university it’s slightly different but within that I work in a team of fifteen people which has been described as a “football team” but it’s how we communicate and collaborate that leads to success and respect. We’re also fortunate to have a strong leader of the team.

Do you think having women in management is important to provide a different variety of skills?

IP: I think having a gender balance provides a happier workforce. At the risk of sounding contentious I did have a female boss once and having been so used to working in male dominated environments I found the whole thing slightly unnerving because of the different approach. So there are two sides to the equation but I think gender balance is important.

Do you think online gaming and microtransactions are the future of gaming?

CC: I think there’s room for that market to get a lot bigger and research corroborates that. The Western market is changing to be more tolerant of microtransactions. Online gaming will become bigger but there will always be that other side and products made for solo gamers. There are still a number of gamers who prefer consoles as the developers have to adhere to heavier standards to get your game published. You don’t have to worry about graphics cards, drivers or memory and I don’t think that’s going to go away soon. Are consoles going to be around when my children are thirty? Probably not, but there will be something games can be played on in households. There may represent some part of a larger “media centre” due to the convergence you’re seeing in the industry.

Are developers actively encouraging female gamers?

PR: I appreciate fashion magazines and clothing but a whole game based around it doesn’t appeal. I find it patronising as the “little” girl games go down that route whilst the “big” boys games go another way. I’m into puzzle solving not shooting but if someone is making these “pink” games there must be a market for them and someone is buying them.

IP: A girl gamer website had all these online games; supposedly designed for girls. Hannah Montana looked positively intellectual compared to potato peeler or school bus kiss which conformed to a stereotype. How long would you spend on these games? “My God! I’ve peeled a potato”; spending longer doing it virtually than I would have normally. You do it once. You don’t go back. These games aren’t really engaging girls and those that do are not necessarily the obvious ones that fit into the perceived “pink” stereotype.

Is the problem that the games industry is so dominated by men?

PR: What they think we want.

IP: My view is yes to a certain extent. That’s not to say games don’t engage girls. Where the pitfalls lie is assuming all females conform to a type and not the diversity of interest and behaviours that extend across the spectrum of both genders. Good developers will try to meet this increasingly diverse market.

PR: We’re sometimes treated as “tech-y tourists” even though we have iPhones and laptops. You look at the gadget magazines and they usually have some woman on the front which I can find off-putting. There is a tendency across all sectors to try and put people into boxes.

IP: That’s a good point because the marketing of games and what’s on the cover may affect if you do or don’t buy. It can put women off whilst the game behind the cover may be something worth playing.

CC: I don’t see the whole “pink” games thing. I don’t want to play Hannah Montana or Barbie because of my age but I have a ten year old cousin who loves this type of thing. Yes I admit you’re unlikely to find a ten year old boy playing one of these games. I’m a girl who likes to play games and I play all sorts of games. The human spectrum is broad and I think that games probably reflect that.

[Pauline had to leave to catch a train at this point]

If you were going to give advice to someone trying to enter the industry what advice would that be?

IP: Understand the bigger picture. Understand how the business operates.

CC: You need to think about your portfolio and need to manage your expectations and what level you go in at in terms of what’s available. You can’t be a lead artist straight out of university. Think how you can develop through university, projects and portfolios as well as demonstrations of workplace skills would be perfect.





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