While writing about the warp zone hacking in my last post, I mentioned offhandedly how I lost interest in video games in the 90s. I wanted to talk a little more about that because I’ve noticed this pattern in a lot of women.

I had never considered a pattern might exist until I discovered my friend Shawna’s story matched mine very similarly. I asked around and heard similar things—girls seem to have plenty of interest in video games, and then at some age or another, while still young, the interest peters out.

It’s not a universal trait by any means, but it’s a noticeable pattern. Someone pointed me to a nice list of points of privilege that lead to becoming a geek, and my attention focused on the fifth bullet point in particular (emphasis mine):

If we were girls, no brothers. (A study in the early 90s showed that in households with both boy and girl children, a computer or video game console was likely to end up in the boy’s room, with all the usual sibling territoriality that entails. My straw poll in a women’s meetup at the Game Developer’s Conference some years back showed only about a third of the women in the room had brothers….)

Shawna and I both had younger brothers, and more especially I had older cousins I spent time with. I haven’t conducted any studies, so I can only relate my personal experiences on the subject. It seems like several things happened right around the same time which caused me to become an outsider to video games early on. From my point of view, I saw the following trends push me out as the 90s wore on and became the 2000s.

  • Game consoles became more varied, competitive, and expensive. As a member of a family having trouble making ends meet as it was, Nintendo’s waning dominance meant other consoles competed for the market, and in turn, competed for our own dollar. After the Super Nintendo, we didn’t buy a new console for perhaps a decade.
  • Games themselves introduced game play styles requiring more dedication in terms of time. As the id Software–style first-person shooter proliferated, along with fighting games with extensive “move lists” and 3D games requiring more elaborate controls, games began to demand new and more challenging skills. This led them to become less accessible to inexperienced or new players, favoring those who had time to practice and develop those specific skills. Without the same amount of practice, I could never hope to provide meaningful competition or cooperation in Goldeneye or Halo later on.
  • At the same time, games could further evolve their graphics, character development, game play mechanics (competitive versus cooperative, for example), and so on, which allowed the games to target ever more specific demographics. Violence grew to be a salient trend. Protagonists could become more distinctively male. I imagine these trends tracked closely with the type of person making this generation of game. To me, this meant it was harder to find games that held my attention, and it was hard to find people with whom to play.
  • The shift in demographic manifested itself in the result of the study mentioned above: Boys came to dominate console time. If the boy said, “You can play when my turn is over,” his turn would last far longer than yours. That fed into a feedback cycle where girls got less play time altogether, fell behind in terms of ability, lost interest in waiting, and found other things to do. This particular issue didn’t affect me quite as much, given the first point affecting me more, but I’ve heard it in multiple anecdotes from friends who were better off.

I imagine age plays a major role in what I experienced. Some girls grew up among first-person shooters and may have developed a fluency with them that I can’t imagine. “Casual games” have made something a resurgence, as making games for tablets, phones, and computers have become more accessible. So this problem might not even be a problem anymore, but I imagine it’s still left a troubling gap, and it’s definitely affected me (and probably a wider generation of disaffected women out there).