By Jane Wakefield
Technology reporter, BBC News
The debate about how to get women more involved in gaming is a perennial one and one on which there is pretty wide agreement that not enough is being done.
The Frag Dolls help women gamers feel at home
There is, the argument goes, a failing at the heart of the gaming industry to engage women. But, as women increasingly make up the numbers in gaming statistics, there is also a growing realisation that there is a lot of money to be made from this burgeoning market.
Women now account for around a third of UK gamers, so it is time to stop talking about women in gaming as if they lived in a separate universe?
"I wish it no longer had to be talked about as a separate entity but unfortunately it is the case that games still aren't designed or marketed towards women and that has to be dealt with," said Kirsten Kearney.
Ms Kearney knows what she is talking about. As well as being a games industry journalist she is also a Frag Doll - a small group of women selected by video games firm Ubisoft specifically to promote women gamers.
There is still a perception, she said, that women who play male-dominated games are going to be ignored, shouted down or chatted up by men they will be playing against.
"There is a preconceived notion that you will feel out of place but that isn't borne out by women who are actually playing games," she said.
As well as appearing at events such as this weekend's World Series of Video Games at London's Trocadero, The Frag Dolls run a website aimed at being a friendly first-stop for women wanting to get more involved in games.
Women can play games, chat in the forums or take part in Frag Doll Friday, a increasingly popular event where women are invited to play a certain game together.
Thirty-something women are the first generation of women to have grown up with video games.
"I started off playing Pong 25 years ago, then I had a GamesBoy and played SuperMario. There are plenty of girls who did this but when you ask if they are gamers they say no," said Ms Kearney.
If that generation was somehow lost along the way, there is plenty of evidence that young girls today are keen gamers.
Princess Fashion Boutique, a game designed by Buena Vista Games and aimed at girls aged six to 11, has held the number one position in the Children's PC chart from May 2004 until July 2006.
Sony has cottoned on to this new market and is due to bring out pink PlayStations to appeal specifically to young girls.
"Some adult women gamers are offended by that but I would say it is just one attempt to bring girls into gaming," said Ms Kearney.
"But pink is not enough. There needs to be changes across the board. So, for example, if I go to choose a character to play as and they are all male then I am going to think this isn't aimed at me," she said.
Playing a desperate housewife could entice women gamers
There is evidence to suggest that, despite the obstacles, young girls carry on playing games.
Research done by gaming firm Electronic Arts' found that 40% of teenage girls played video games but, crucially, they seem to lose interest within a year.
For teenage girls, at a complex stage of development, it may simply be that real life takes over.
Games such as The Sims and Second Life are increasingly offering a bridge between the virtual and real worlds which could be enough to hold girls' interest.
The emphasis on community and building things rather than traditional shoot-em-ups is appealing to females, as is the sense of creating a character who can live out real-life fantasies.
"My sister loves Second Life. She bought herself the biggest wedding dress and wears it all the time she is playing," said Ms Kearney.
Women are beginning to carve out their own niche in the gaming industry. Nintendo's Nintendogs and Brain Training games for the Nintendo DS have been hugely popular with women.
Buena Vista Games is trying to find ways of uniting the gaming world and the daily life of women by turning to TV shows for inspiration.
Its Desperate Housewives game is aimed, if not exactly at desperate housewives, then certainly at women of a particular age who were fans of the US TV drama.
It will hit the stores next month, just in time to make it into women's Christmas stockings.
"Players will be able to move into Wisteria Lane and uncover secrets about other housewives as well as solving mysteries about themselves," explained Shan Savage, Buena Vista Games senior marketing manager.
"There has been a lot of stigma attached to gaming. It has been the preserve of geeky types sitting in their bedrooms but now there is more of a social aspect to gaming and women respond to that," she said.
EA's chief executive, David Gartner admitted at a recent gaming conference that his company could increase sales by a billion dollars if it cracked the problem of how to get women more involved in games.
That should be incentive enough for video games makers - and if they build it, then surely women will come.
Are you a female gamer? Do you think the games industry is ignoring you?
I've always enjoyed gaming, and girls don't necessarily need to be enticed into it with sparkly pink consoles and games full of fluffy animals -although I will make an exception for Viva Pinata when it arrives! Sometimes there's nothing more satisfying than bashing zombies around the head with frying pans, racing fast cars and stomping around as giant robots.
My friends who play games (we are in our 40's) want a purpose to the game beyond just shoot'em up and run. We like puzzles, plots and a reason for doing the things the game asks of you. Games like the Zelda series, the Sims and (believe it or not) Ratchet and Clank and Zak and Daxter are the kind of games we play consistently. We don't see the point to games like Grand Theft Auto.
Kate Kelly, Deering, NH USA
Teaching in a girls' school in Japan, I find that the majority of teenage Japanese girls game, and that it's considered perfectly natural. There are plenty of games over here geared towards women, and plenty of action games that allow the player to choose a heroine rather than a hero. The "pink playstation" and the death of games in English that appeal to women seems to be more an element of western gender stereotypes than a true reflection of female gaming and desire to game.
I hae been playing PlayStation games since 1996 - Tomb Raider and the "survival horror" genres being my favourites.
wedzx, menai bridge, north wales
I have played computer games since I can remember. First machine was a ZX Spectrum +2. Games have come a long way since then. A pink PlayStation would not encourage me to play it. At 25 I feel that would probably be more suited to the young, 'girlie girl' generation. Good, affordable games are all you need to encourage women to game, not housewife simulations. I can't think of anything worse!
Fiona Merrifield, Preston, Lancashire
I am a girl gamer. I grew up in the age of the Gameboy and the Nintendo. Now, pushing 30, I still count myself as a gamer.
I play in =PINK=, an all girl clan on the game Battlefield 2. Some of us (myself included) are mothers, and one of my friend's daughters even plays in our clan! We have practice twice a week, and play against other clans for bragging rights.
I feel that not enough is being done to ensure games are geared towards girls. A great start would be to ensure I can play as a female character. In Battlefield 2, for example, I can only be a guy. It would be nice to be able to choose to play as a girl. Girls are finally getting recognition and respect in the real military, why not in a game based on the real military?!
I don't find that I get hit on in this male oriented game. I play in a group, with other girls, on the =PINK= rented server. While the server is open to everyone who wants to play on it, we retain the rights to kick off any player who is being sexist or just plain rude. To my knowledge, we've only had to do this once or twice.
I would be happy to speak with someone interested in doing a more in-depth story on girl gamers.
PS As an adult girl gamer, a pink Playstation wouldn't fit into my 'grown-up' decor, but if I had a daughter, I might consider getting her one, if she wanted.
Beth Scofield, Ilminster, Somerset, UK
I'm a 39 year old female gamer and have been playing games since they were first available.
I don't want pink consoles, I don't want fluffy wuffy games that make me feel cuddly, I want excitement and more importantly games which are innovative and fun.
The games industry has grown stale releasing raft after raft of sequels where they think going for realism is what people are craving for. Whilst I like the look of new HD gaming I still want fun.
The same games industry could get more women playing if they included better options to play as a woman in their games, after all who wants to play a hero all the time. Bring on the heroines. Some games are still released without any playable female characters even in story mode parts.
Finally, get rid of the Frag Dolls, they are just a gimmick. Pre-engineered by a gaming company.
Alyson Johnson, Newcastle upon Tyne
If the gaming market wants to engage women, they simply need to put more thought into titles, beyond shoot 'em ups. Games like the Sims show that the market is there for women who do want to buy and spend time playing computer games. The Sims brings out an expansion pack every six months, so clearly women do not simply lose interest. The games market has only itself t!
o blame if they lose their customers. Perhaps an obvious idea would be to employ more women in the gaming industry?
As far as the response from male gamers, if I were playing online I would never choose any name which would identify me as female, because you do get hassled and it would be assumed you were an inferior player. Of course, whenever I use a gender-neutral name, everyone assumes you are male.
Clare, London, UK
Being a thirty-something woman, whenever I buy a game, the shop-assistant wills automatically grab the gift-wrapping assuming it's for my kids. When I tell them "don't bother, it's for myself" most of them are flabberghasted.
I've been playing games for over 15 years now and still enjoy every minute of it. I do tend to play somewhat less violent or aggressive games; preferring adventure games and RPG's over wargames or FirstPersonShooters. I am not into what is typically perceived as 'female' games such as The Sims/Barbie/Desperate Housewives.
Regarding Pink Nintendo DS's or PlayStations: I wouldn't buy one for myself, or for my daughter if I had one, but I do think it helps lower the threshold for little girls to see playing games as an acceptable pass-time.
Astrid, Eindhoven, Netherlands
Its not the colour that counts, its the content. Its the crass assumption that all girls like pink (Oh how some of us loath it!) that gets me.
All toy shops are full of pink stuff and nothing else, aimed at Girly Girls who like pink fluffy toys and grow up to be useless decorations who cant change a light bulb. Girls who like gaming are unlikely to be girly girls.
They are likely to be practical and technology savvy and to like a challenge. I think they'll be embarrassed to be seen with a pink playstation or at the very least annoyed there is no colour choice. Get real Sony. Why dont you ask them what interests them? Simple. Make games for real women.
Maria, London, UK
A lot of women I think are put off by the teenage male crowd that play games - the image of the typical gamer as a spotty, pale, sex obsessed youth is not a great one for the industry!
Claire, Oxford, UK
I'm a female gamer, but sadly because I just want to game peacefully, I end up playing male characters. I find that if other players think you're male, they don't hit on you, which actually makes gaming more uncomfortable and less enjoyable!
But currently, Eve Online, Guild Wars, these are two of my favourites.
Lisa Lyons, Cambridge, UK
I would like to see more sites like this Frag Dolls - i never even knew it existed and i am an avid gamer myself - attending LANs and the likes. More advertising i think for female gamers websites and more community is needed between us girls when fragging away!
Elizabeth Styles, Aberdeen, Scotland
I am a man and I would say that women are sensible not to get involved in gaming. It takes up too much time and there are plenty of more important things to do in the real world.
The word gaming has recently become a euphemism for on-line gambling. I hope women are sensible enough to keep away from that too.
Geoff Payne, London, England
Most games are designed by men and men don't really know what a woman wants from a game. Why don't women start coding their own games instead of moaning about it, there's nothing stopping them.
Andy, Lytham, England
Yes I am an avid female gamer.
Maybe the pink type may appeal to kids but not the rest of us really.
The Sims type family games bore me, I have tried them, even making them die to get some action...but to no avail. World Of Warcraft is right up my street, play and help each other, sort out puzzles, advance your charactor and fight....great fun!
I also play civilization online.
I know I'm not the best but hey, it's a game and I have fun trying!
Mags, Oxford, UK
Women buy more magazines than men so why not a gaming mag for women? If the industry stopped targeting men between the ages of 18-25 with their advertising and made it more unisex, then maybe that would go someway to solving the problem.
Personally, I think there are more women playing games than some people would think. And they are playing very good to.
And it is not just about easy games, they play also Counter Strike, Warcraft, Entropia and others. For example, I play World of Warcraft for one year and I am a "pro-player" as my guildies would say.
And by the way, games industry mustn't target just teenagers segment...because many "addicted" players are over 20 years old.
And usually women dont have to be encouraged to play games, they just have to reach near the console or computer.
Make a game based on celebrity gossip on-line and you will have a winner.
I play PlayStation games occasionally and I hate the way that games only offer a few female characters, all of whom seem to be dressed like prostitutes.
Ms B, Oxford
Is a pink PlayStation an incentive or an insult? What needs to be done to encourage women to play games?
In order to encourage women to game, it might be best to show them that not all games are about the sex image. The more content, easter eggs, and better graphics that a game has, the more appeal over all. It's fun to play through a game more than once and each time have a different out come or route.
Bess, Missoula, Montana USA
I've been gaming since I was a girl although I actually prefer gaming with someone else- either two player games or as a partner on a more elaborate game. My husband is great at manipulating characters on screen and fight sequences but often lacks an overview and problem solving skills whereas I am the opposite so we have developed a passion for playing games together, using both our natural skills. It means he can enjoy the adventure and puzzle solving games that he normally would get stuck on and I get to enjoy the action games that I find frustrating to move about in. I'm fearful of saying that this reflects a gender split but perhaps it reflects the way that we complement each other.
For us it's a social activity unlike watching and consumming TV or films- are we alone in gaming like this? Do things always have to be polarized?
Jenny Jones, Bristol
There are already plenty of games which appeal to females equally as males. My wife plays a Warrior (Main Tank) in World of Warcraft, and is excellent in that role. In WoW people generally don't care if you are a male or female player, the only care is that you can carry out your function within a group properly.
A pink playstation seems a bit of an insult to women in my view.
bill , Canterbury
I don't think its ignoring women particularly. In its early days the games market was driven by geeks (more or less male), and a couple of years ago was considered to go 'mainstream' by appealing to a wider audience (including a wider female share).
Nintendo seemed to be the first to publicly recognize that the current video game market was only a fraction of the potential, and have also been the first to capitalize on this by attracting female gamers to the DS. Nintendo has perhaps the least distance to move, as their brand is associated with innocence fun and the younger audience.
So in a way, this article is a bit behind the curve. If there is profit to be made, then the big companies will pursue it - but I'm confused by the attitude that its important that women be gamers.
I am a female gamer, and have played since I was in my teens. (I am one of the thirty-somethings that apparently got missed out!) Personally I regard a pink Playstation as a bit of an insult - do Sony really think this is attractive? And also, what a stereotype! Still, at least they're trying, I suppose. If the games companies want to encourage more women to play games, maybe they should make fewer shoot 'em ups and put a bit more strategy into some of their games.
Juliet Kavanagh, London, UK
There are many excellent female gamers out there playing 'Guild Wars', and it is not unusual to be the only male player in a team of eight. Perhaps it's the opportunity to work co-operatively in teams and to chat and dicusss tactics that makes this game so very popular with female gamers?
I'm a female late-20s gamer, and I find the idea of a pink playstation very insulting! But then I may not be the typical female gamer, as games like Second Life and The Simms hold no interest for me, but I am an avid World of Warcraft gamer.
Most of the women gamers I know (myself included) all played video games as kids, lost interest over time, and only got back into gaming because their husbands or boyfriends play. None of the single girls I know own video game consoles - while most of the men do.
With all of the online and interactive gaming available now, I think the Frag Doll's community is an idea key to winning over the women who were childhood gamers. If the gaming giants can come up with a way to give women's gaming communities the trendy, social appeal of a book club or knitting group, then they'll get their customers back.
A pink playstation is a cute idea, but it's hardly the way to win over new or former female gamers - the content of the games needs to be geared toward women. Because, really, who can gab with the girls while playing Halo?
Lisa, Oregon - USA
As a 45 year old mum I play games and always have done. The Playstation in this house actually belongs to hubby and me not the kids.
I've played every thing from Lego Trains (good for small boys too) to Age of Empires etc I'm still the best tactician in the house. I play with the family (getting better at FIFA - if it goes to penalties I win!) and given time I will spend hours ruling ancient Greece.
I think if less women game it a time thing or access to the systems. I'm fortunate to have access to three computers and 3 televisions so we can all do our own thing, otherwise homework would take priority over the Battle of Helms Deep.
Linda, Berks UK
I know plenty of girls who don't like 'girly' games like Sims or Hello Kitty Roller Rescue and I know plenty of guys who don't play Gran Turismo or the umpteenth version of FIFA.
I have been playing games for as long as I can remember, I've played every Nintendo console since the Nintendo Game and Watch and I also have a PS2 with a variety of games (Final Fantasy, Drakengard, heck even Eye Toy Kinetic).
I don't like car racing games (although I could whoop your ass in Mario Kart), I severely dislike fighting games (but don't mess with my Pikachu in Super Smash Bros) and I wouldn't be caught dead with a sports game (although you should beware my backhand in Mario tennis).
The point is, it doesn't matter whether a game is aimed at men or women, the point is that the industry should forget trying all kinds of gimmicks to sell their wares and instead focus on giving us (men and woman gamers) quality games instead of poorly made games that should be shunned by all of us.
The companies involved in the gaming industry are thinking way too hard. A Desperate Housewives game? Please. We don't need "girly" games.
We play the same games as the boys do. We like strategy games and action games and shooters. Don't insult our intelligence.
Here's what the games industry can do to bring in more of the ladies: give us real women characters. Don't give us the sassy vixen who speaks in constant double entendres, or the blushing damsel who needs rescuing. Don't make us wear body armor that covers less than a bathing suit. Don't make us play the sidekick; give us a real heroine. We want to be what we are: brave, clever, and every bit as capable as a man.
Larkin, San Francisco, USA
I've been playing video and computer games since I was about 8,(now 29) when my parents bought an Atari. I loved games like Pacman, Gauntlet, Donkey Kong and Frostbite. I got into PC games later on and have had various consoles (Mega Drive, PS1, XBox). I like playing many kinds of games, especially RPG's, platformers, action and strategy.
A quick sample of the games I own and play would be The Settlers (all of the many editions), The Sims, Tomb Raider (again, all of them), Lego Star Wars (great fun), Broken Sword (yep, again, all of them), Prince of Persia trilogy and The Simpsons Hit and Run. I never had any sexist comments about being a female gamer.
In fact, most of the guys I know and knew in the past found it kinda cool that a girl (shock, horror!) new about such things...and (as a kick in the ego) quite often beat them on the arcade games.:-)
Joanna, Chelmsford, UK
Wow, what a complete lack of progression.
What is this saying? Girl gamers you can game, but you game over *there*. See, we've made pretty pink consoles especially for you! And we know those ordinary games scare you gals, so we've created a bunch of nice little feminine games for you. You're now included!
As a woman gamer, I really don't need to hear that I'll be enticed by that sort of rubbish.
How about creating some strong female leads in the games we already love. Metroid Prime is a great example. And Samus doesn't wear an apron, does she?
I am a female gamer and have been ever since I was very young and played on my grandparents old ATARI console.
I don't see how pink Playstations could be offensive, they can be viewed as very masculine looking machines and this is a great way to make them more attractive to younger girls.
With regard to games, I honestly will play any kind of game that interests me, regardless of whether it is marketed towards men, women, young or old! It's not the marketing that makes me want to play a game, it's the games themselves.
Claire Hearn, London, UK
I enjoy playing games on my PC and PS2 but I find many of the games are male or child orientated or just too violent.
Karen Ross, Glasgow
There are plenty of games out there that suit all types. Fighting may be in the majority of games but there are also plenty of building types.
I don't feel ignored as a female gamer.
Rachel, Hampshire UK
The games industry is a more male orientated market, however a lot of my friends and myself enjoy playing these games. Although I have to say the Myst Games were my favourite, but I heard a rumour that there isn't going to be any more!
A pink Playstation is kind of lame, although it's good as a fashion accessory it doesn't help if there aren't any pink girly games to go with it!
Sarah, Darlington, England
Firstly I am a male gamer not a female gamer, but I do think (playing a very wide variety of games) that there aren't many games console or PC aimed at the female gamer, the Sims is popular amongst both sexes and I know a few women who like playing the GTA and other games that seem more aimed to males, but there should be more games aimed at the female gamer but doesn't mean that they are just pretty and pink.
J Soutter, Bideford
Why on earth should women have to play games anyway? You talk about it like it's some kind of terrible social problem.
Besides, we have much more important things to worry about, like running the country.
Stephanie Baxendale, Bristol, UK
I've been gaming all my life, and frankly most of the games I've seen that have been targeted at female gamers are...awful. I personally don't need pink and fluffy to make me play a game, what I want is glitch free coding and female characters that aren't solely there to provide eye candy, and don't spend the whole time trying to get into the male lead's underwear.
Sarah Young, Durham
I am 46 and have been playing games for years! I play PC Games and also have an Xbox 360 and use both on a regular basis.
I dont think anything pink would appeal to me but it might to teenage girls. I do think that RPGs could have better characters for women/girls but that wouldn't/doesn't stop me playing.
Dee, Solihull, West Midlands