Gender specific complexity

I had a conversation this week with a game designer who targets her games specifically toward female players. The underlying premise of her game design approach is based on studies showing that, on average, girls and women are better at keeping track of large numbers of objects, whereas, on average, boys and men are better at keeping track of moving objects.

Much current game design privileges the latter skill, hence the common perception that boys are better than girls at playing computer games. Her argument is that alternate game mechanics based on “discovering things”, rather than “shooting things”, would be more interesting and fun for female players.

I suggested that this disparity might also explain some other cultural phenomena. For example, on average, boys seem to enjoy action films more than girls, whereas girls seem to enjoy romantic comedies more than boys. Perhaps, I said, this is because action films require an interest in following moving targets. A romance, in contrast, does not usually involve lots of objects flying around on the screen. But taken as a whole, it involves a much greater degree of complexity.

For example, to properly follow a Transformers film, you must be motivated to observe and understand the movements and locations of a large number of flying robots. But to properly follow “Pride and Prejudice”, you need to be motivated, and able, to observe and understand far more salient details than will ever be found in an action film.

To my game designer acquaintance this seemed like a plausible theory. Of course it has no scientific validity until somebody does a well designed controlled study. I wonder who would fund such a study?

One Response to “Gender specific complexity”

  1. PhilH says:

    Lego and Nintendo are two possible funders that come to mind.

    However, the studies have already been done! Since the male tendency to watch things that move more is apparently broadly accepted, I looked for studies about girls remembering more things, and after some papers from the 90s, there is even a met-analysis:

    Voyer, Postma, Brake, McGinley
    Gender differences in object location memory: A meta-analysis

    From the abstract: “Object identity memory task showed significant gender differences that were homogeneous and in favor of women. For the object location memory tasks, effect sizes had to be partitioned by age (younger than 13, between 13 and 18, older than 18), object type (common, uncommon, gender neutral, geometric, masculine, feminine), scoring method (accuracy, time, distance), and type of measure (recall, recognition) to achieve homogeneity”

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