The UT-Austin online scholarly journal of television criticism Flow earlier this month came out with a special video games issue which included a number of interesting pieces. One essay in particular which caught my eye was by independent scholar Suzanne Freyjadis-Chuberka, entitled "Getting Girls to Play: The Broadening of the Video Game Market."
We have been doing some internal research here at C3 about the girl gamers sector, so I was interested in reading Suzanne's take. In particular, she writes about her own performances with Guitar Hero. She starts with the premise that "a system has been in place that creates barriers to the inclusion of women and girls from being seen as 'typical' game players by the industry. This has led to a small number of women and girls playing immersive video games," and notes that most games force these women to see the world as heterosexual men would. Socially, she posits that most women come to games through male acquaintances traditionally as well.
However, she has found that games like Guitar Hero have created a new space in which traditional non-gamers can engage with games that appeal to others outside of the core "gamer" crowd. She notes that "two of the six playable characters in Guitar Hero are female and three of the nine playable characters are female in Guitar Hero II.
From there, Suzanne's piece develops into three short interviews with publicly active girl gamers, including Morgan Romine from the Frag Dolls, Amber Dalton from the PMS Clan, and Jennie Lees from Clan UK. Her goal is not to ask for explicitly political rhetoric about these games and what they offer to female players but to quiz these "celebrity" girl gamers about their own relationship with Guitar Hero.
I've written several times about these groups as "surplus audiences," outside the target demographic yet potentially very profitable. After all, while targeting a demographic may deliver a particular audience for market share, marketing, and/or advertising deals, it does not mean that it is "natural" for this to be the market or even the only major market for an industry. Back in November, I wrote about DC Comics targeting teenage girls with new comic lines. I wrote:
It reminds me of the plight of video gamer girls. The problem is not interest but a lack of products that successfully market to this surplus audience. DC Comics is hoping to correct this, according to the article, by targeting teenage girls in particular. According to the article, in May 2007, DC plans to introduce a line of graphic novels which will target young adult female readers. The new DC division will be called Minx, and it will have six titles that will be less than 10 bucks apiece.
The first-person perspective and various interviews provided by Suzanne in this special issue helps expand our understanding of girl gamers through this study of Guitar Hero in particular and highlights even further the need to tap into these surplus audiences.