Female Gamers: Do Looks Matter?

By Adam Ma on July 16, 2010, 6:01PM EDT

Doubting the popularity of games like Samurai Warriors is a little silly. There's just something about taking on an entire army of faceless enemies that everyone can identify with. In a recent interview with Samurai Heroes producer Hiroyuki Kobayashi, he explained some of the reasons for their series' large success, and about halfway through there was a statement that made me shake my head. In short, it was the proclamation that the reason his game was so popular amongst women was because of the character design, and choice to minimize the violence. That most women are also turned off from big, burly hulk-type characters. It seems like a very typical Japanese statement, a broad sweeping generalization that must only apply to a foreign culture. Or perhaps he's just wrong in general.

How to capture the female gamer is something that gaming communities love to discuss and many girl gamers are quick to agree that preconceived notions of female interests are wrong. It's the same as making the assumption that boys should play with trucks and girls with horses. Why anyone enjoys playing any game is really dependant on more factors than 'the main character is blue', or simply just the art design. In fact, there are plenty of games I've loved whose art has driven me absolutely batty. Windwaker is a fantastic example of a game that didn't move me visually, but gameplay wise was an absolute blast. How many games have attempted to push graphics first and foremost, and fallen flat on their face?

So if forced to write a list on what I find to be the most alluring factors of a game meant to draw in girls, looks would be last. Much like how Raiden failed to draw in more females with his pretty boy looks, I can't see too many other games having the same 'physical' appeal towards female gamers. In fact, there are a lot of games that have an impressive female fan base in their own right. The Silent Hill series for example, is one widely followed by men and women for its psychological thriller experience. Even the Final Fantasy games (arguably filled with stereotypical Japanese pretty-boy types) have female followers that are more interested in the character development and world than emotional men. Final Fantasy XIII sets a perfect modern-day example for this, as main characters Snow and Hope were seen as more whiny and agitating than inspiring on any level.

Making the assertion that women don't like 'violent graphics or events' is also boggling to me considering the success of groups like Frag Dolls or Gamer Girls. Groups of women coming together to enjoy the online world of gaming, which is beyond rampant with violence. Granted many online games also contain a massive social draw to them, but few people are willing to play a game if it displeases them on any level. There are simply too many alternatives in today's age to be 'forced' into playing a type of game you may not like.

Now it's easy to say that this is just my Western perspective on things, considering I live in a culture that (in some ways) enjoys celebrating the Action Hero Meat Head. But I can't help but think that this particular developer doesn't quite understand what makes the game so grand. It's almost as if the success of their game with the female demographic is a complete accident. Or perhaps he just wanted to brag that they'd discovered some sort of secret recipe for success. How attractive male leads are somehow more worth talking about than easy to learn, high-octane action is shocking to think about.

I'd personally love to know what Basara thinks about other games that are wildly popular with girls. Kingdom Hearts for example, a game that's so character driven there are times where the gameplay may as well not exist (358/2 Days, for example). Or comparative to another action game, like Bayonetta, whose over the top character design worked hand in hand with the action . It'd be refreshing to see a developer admit it's the quality of the gameplay, depth of the characters, and (of course) how generally fun the game is that will draw in female gamers. Emo hair and 'nice guy' qualities are just small parts of a very large equation.

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