Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Games for Girls...

...and by girls, I mean women. Specifically me.

(Image of Torus Trooper -- a game I've never even heard of -- from yotophoto. CC License).

I've been trying to learn about games lately. Inspired by all this blog talk about simulations and immersive learning and Second Life and World of Warcraft. Apparently, I've been missing something that may be crucial to my job.

I've been reading "Everything Bad is Good for You" by Steven Johnson. This week I listened to Brent Shlenker's recent podcast with David Williamson Shaffer author of "How Computer Games Help Children Learn". I participated in the eLearning Guild online presentation of their 360 Report on Immersive Learning Simulations hosted by Steve Wexler and Mark Oehlert.

One of the piece of research that stuck out to me was the obvious gender gap. Men use games a lot more than women. There was little age gap -- "digital native" or not -- men use games more.

This gender gap is striking to me, too, in terms of who is talking about games/immersive learning and instructional design. Mostly men.

Wendy Wickham has blogged on her most recent gaming experiences, but she writes like an outsider peering into a foreign land. I'm right with you. See Playing Games: Big Mutha Trucker and Playing Games: Gauntlet.

Which brings me back to me. I now feel the need to chronicle my own experience in the world of games.

Step back in time to the late 70's/early 80's. Sitting with a group of friends on Mark's floor on a Saturday afternoon. Watching the boys play PONG. It was so exciting to watch that little blip go back and forth across the screen. I probably played a few times, but it wasn't my thing. The way that tennis wasn't my thing. All that hand-eye coordination.

7th grade -- 1981. Saturday afternoon after swim practice at a fast food joint. It may have been McDonald's. Watching Brad Woehl play Space Invaders. I like to watch, I guess.

This is the same era in which the boys would mysteriously disappear for entire afternoons into dark rooms to play D&D. They had these cryptic grid maps and would talk about their characters. Again, not my thing. (Which is not to say that I don't like fantasy or dragons. Hey, I probably read Lord of the Rings at least ten times before I was 13. That, AND I played Bilbo in my 6th grade school play).

Fast forward about 16 years. It's 1997 and my now-husband turns me onto Myst. Once he showed me the basics for moving around and got me thinking about problem-solving in the right way, I was hooked. Immersed. Addicted. I got great pleasure out of that game and still like to quote from it..."the blue pages!"

New Year's 1998-99. 25 of us partied like it was 1999 in a rented mansion in Vermont. One of the guys brought up his Nintendo 64 along with games like Turok and James Bond. Now, these were creative hipsters from NYC who worked for cool companies like MTV and Nickelodeon. The played a lot of games. The ladies got a tutorial and took over. We had a blast, but we were mostly shooting floors and running into walls.

Soon after that, we got our own Nintendo. I really got into Turok and was surprised at how much joy I got out of killing dinosaurs. I liked playing with other people, but I would get killed pretty easily. The solo quest was fun, although I didn't get too deep in the game before it just got too hard. Zelda was even more fun, but again, I couldn't get past those witches and I gave up.

The CTO of my company recently had everyone download a trial version of WOW so we could play during lunch. Of course, my laptop doesn't have the right video card so I just watched over some guy's shoulder.

So now, here I am with young kids. Who's got the time? I'd much rather pass out than stay up until the wee hours wandering around Second Life or playing World of Warcraft.

I'm a female instructional designer in my late 30's. What should I do? Try to immerse myself into gaming because that's what everyone says is going to happen. Or just hire a 13 year old, like Karl Kapp suggests?

Or, perhaps I should get a Wii. According to David Williams Shaffer,

Wii’s are opening up a whole new market of gamers–I’ve had several colleagues
who say their spouses NEVER played games with them until the Wii.

(And I assume by "spouses" he means wives...)

One thing is definitely changing all of this, and that's my kids. My almost 4-year old son and 2-year old daughter are home all day with their dad, who used to play non-graphical games on his Commodore 64. (Now he says he'd be really into WOW if were in his 20s and didn't have kids). So these two kids are definitely digital natives. And it's not just the Elmo keyboard-o-rama game.

The other evening I came home and played Scooby Doo games for an hour before dinner. And I liked it. Our favorite was Mayan Mahem. Sort of Myst-like puzzles, although I'm definitely out of practice from that way of thinking....

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