Core Corner: How hardcore Facebook games can welcome women

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Core gaming on Facebook is definitely a more challenging genre than casual Facebook gaming. There's plenty of fun to be had in a game like FarmVille, but sometimes a more in-depth experience is needed. But do core games attract mostly men? How can women get into the RTS battlefields and turn-based adventures? It's been known for a while how many women enjoy gaming on Facebook. It's safe to say that they make up the largest portion of the user base. But how many of those women enjoy tank battles or castle-building in the hopes of conquering a server? It's hard to say without deeper investigation, but that's not really the point. The more important point is how the core developers seem to market to a very particular crowd and how they often cut female characters out of the equation. It's simple: Look at the highest rated core games on Facebook and see how often women appear in the games, and if so, how they are presented.

First, the list. I came across this list by going to the App Center, clicking on games, next on strategy, adventure or simulation (generally home to more advanced games) and then organizing them by top-rated. At that point, you see some obvious trends. Generally, when you see a reference to a male character, he will be the picture of power: muscular, well-armored or packing enough weaponry to take down a city. This is par for the course in gaming in general. It's not quite understood why, especially since female players make up at least half of the audience in gaming, social or otherwise. Wouldn't it be smarter to make more neutral images, or at least balance the testosterone with at least some strong female characters?

Women are represented in these basic searches, but mainly in two ways. First, there is the scantily-clad warrior. She wears as little clothing as possible, and usually this is her only option. She can look powerful but must also look appealing. Next, we have the harmless professor-type of character who usually hosts a friendly game of city building or zoo keeping. This character has a nice hairdo, and generally looks as though she can solve any issue while keeping her hair in a perfect bun. What's curious about all of this artwork and imagery does not stem from the normal areas; even if we look at it from an academic point of view, we have to wonder how it got this way in the first place, or how it can be changed now. We know for a fact that women and men play social games, even core games, in equal numbers at least. Sure, there will be some sway depending on the title, but is that due to poor representations through artwork or advertising? How many of us see a core game for the first time and skip it without ever trying it? Now, imagine you're a player who normally does not enjoy core games or who normally avoids games altogether. The last title you might attempt to play would be one that seems to be chock full of sexist stereotypes.

I's easy to present several ways to build such games. Stop forcing the only female characters into roles as either sexy robotic assistants or a plucky, cute scientists, for example--pretty obvious. The more important point to make is that game developers miss out on a lot of potential revenue by marketing to one side rather than remaining relatively neutral while pointing out the finer points of the game. Instead of having a massive, muscular warrior screaming from an advertisement of a real-time-strategy game, maybe present an image of the various vehicles that can be built, or post images of the game in action. Would there be a loss of players who might normally be attracted to those images of maleness? Possibly, but it's also possible that concentrating on game mechanics would not only draw in those same players, but also attract players who might not be affected at all by a picture of a muscular male character or sexy female warrior.

In other words, developers, advertisers and publishers have long relied on imagery that attempts to attract one sex or the other without considering that, in all sexes and sexual orientations, there are humans who just want to play a game. The imagery means nothing to these players, and they would rather see screen shots of gameplay rather than artwork of characters that have no impact on the game. Core gaming is often representational and doesn't rely on three-dimensional characters anyway, so gameplay needs to be emphasized.

How do you think core can attract non-core players? Share your thoughts in the comments! Add Comment.
Beau covers MMORPGs for Massively, enjoys blogging on his personal site and loves social and casual gaming. He has been exploring games since '99 and has no plans to stop. For News, he explores the world of hardcore Facebook and social games. You can join him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.
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