When we think of video games, we generally think of boys—or young slacker men—shooting ‘em up, mowing ‘em over, and gawking at the curvaceous cartoony women gracing the screen for hours on end. In fact, researchers from the Stanford University School of Medicine have shown that the part of the brain that generates rewarding feelings is more activated in men than women during video game play. If the man (or boy) in your life is “hooked” on gaming, this probably explains why. However, women are increasingly drawn to video games, although generally of a different sort known as casual games.
As reported in the New York Times, a recent Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) study found that 65 percent of women in the 25-34 age bracket play video games. The key factor involved with these findings is the increasing popularity of casual games. Casual games typically are played on a personal computer or online, although they now are trending on game consoles and smart phones as well. The typical casual gamer is older and more predominantly female.
Microsoft’s Solitaire was likely the first known casual game. Similarly, Tetris was originally bundled on the Game Boy and its popularity made Nintendo’s portable gaming system a success. Bejeweled is a current casual game played widely on smart phones and on Facebook. In fact, Facebook hosts a number of casual games that have become a firestorm of mostly female casual players; Farmville alone has over 63,000,000 active users every month.
Women gamers are also increasingly drawn toward adventure and hidden object games, generally played on PCs and consoles. Many of these games are much like an interactive mystery novel that involves exploring spooky settings, gathering inventory of useful items to manipulate in order to escape from jams, and solving cryptic puzzles. These games are usually non-violent and feature interesting characters, intriguing storylines, and excellent graphic artwork. Engaging examples of these games include Benoit Sokal’s Syberia with its amazing, lush graphics and mesmerizing story; and the point-and-click Carol Reed Adventure series that take place in Sweden with actual local photography used as backdrops and real people (not models or graphics) as characters. These casual adventure games are deceptively serene as evil lurks around every shady corner.
While casual games are not exclusively women’s domain, they are the backbone of increased gaming popularity from this sector. And it appears that the part of the brain that generates those rewarding feelings isn’t just for men anymore.