Why girls play pink videogames? (van Reijmersdal et al., 2013)

The gender disparity in the gamer demographics is probably one of its defining characteristics. The proportion of men who game are higher than women, in a broad sense, but anecdotes and some survey data show that there are greater disparities in some genres. Men are attracted to competitive and combative videogames (e.g., FPS, RTS, MOBA) whereas women are attracted to socially interactive videogames (e.g., MMO) (references). Researchers noted that this does not reflect some fundamental reason to justify why girls don’t play videogames… it’s complicated. I’d have to bring in developmental psychologists, sociologists, and other social scientists who specialize in gender to interpret these results.

Eva van Reijmersdal (University of Amsterdam) and colleagues noted that there is not much we know about girls and videogames, especially why pink games are popular among young girls.

Abstract

Based on social role theory and uses and gratifications, this study provides insights into the popularity of so-called pink games. This study is the first to examine the roles of identification, playing time, and age in the experience of motivations while playing an online role-playing game. Drawing upon a survey among 2261 girls between10 and 17 of age, our results show that identification with characters in the game is an important process in explaining girls’ gaming motivations. In addition, identification and motivations are intensified with playing time. Although age affects identification negatively, age is not related to the most important motive in playing pink games: social interaction. This study has important theoretical and practical implications for the popularity of pink games among girls.

So… my first article is finally published in Computer in Human Behavior.There are many assumptions about girls and videogames, one of which is that girls are attracted to content concerned with traditional female gender roles, so fashion and girl stuff that I am not so familiar about. However, the authors noted this assumption has not been empirically tested. Hence, they will examine this assumption through two psychological processes and from users of a popular pink game called goSupermodel, a popular online game across 11 countries. Users are represented by supermodels where they can outfit them with fashion stuff to compete for points, so they get more fashion stuff. They can also interact with other users as well. Sidenote: it seems that the English language of the game was shutdown and a wikihow article on goSupermodel is telling me something weird going in there.

The first psychological process is identification to videogame characters. They argued that girls are attracted to pink games is because the girls identify with the gender stereotypical characters in pink games, which helps them to internalize gender roles. I’d like to remind you that the pink game the authors examined were aimed at girls between the ages of 10 and 17 (more like twelve year olds). Social role theory explains why girls would identify with prototypical/stereotypical gender characters. Individuals are socialized by many sources and agents (e.g., family, peers, media, etc.) about the social roles while growing up. For a girl, she is socialized to what amounts about being a girl and she is particularly sensitive to gender issues around early adolescence, which manifest is preferring all things girl. In addition to their real life role models like their mothers, friends, or sisters, fictional characters are important socializing agents as sources of ideal aspirations, or because they relate to them.

The second psychological process is their motivations to play that game. The authors followed the uses-and-gratifications perspective in that it posit that people are seeking some gratifications to fulfill some needs which is achieved through some means like doing some activity. So what needs does a pink game can fulfill? The authors hypothesized several motivations as predictors: fantasy, because girls can become something that is difficult in real life. Challenge, girls do not necessarily dislike challenge, but it is a motivation that would be present at a minimum. Escapism, because it helps to distract themselves from their daily lives. Social interaction, because that’s what girls were socialized for, but really it seems to rank high among girls who play videogames. Finally, interest, because girls like to know more about fashion modeling.

The authors also considered other factors that might impact motivations for pink game. One factor is age as prior research indicate that motivation for video game play differ across age. Another factor is the amount of time spent playing, the authors argued that the amount of time spent playing would impact the strength of those motivations.

Method

The authors posted their survey on the goSupermodel website.

Participants: 2261 girls between the ages of 10 and 17, the average age is 12.93 (SD=1.57). 40.3% of the participants were in primary school.

Measures

Identification: 4 items on a 7-point agreement scale. Some example items: “I recognize myself in my model”.

Motivations: 16 items on a 7-point agreement scale. Some example for items for each motivation subscale: Challenge “To be the most famous model”; Interest: “Because I want to know what is important for being a model”; Social interaction: “to make friends”; Escapism “To take my mind of my usual concerns”.

Other variables: participants rated how long they played the game on a 4-point scale, from less than three months to more than 12 months. They rated how frequently they play the game on a 4-point scale, from less than once in a month to almost daily.

Results

The authors conducted structural equation modeling and the statistical model is quite interesting, but I will simply read out their hypothesized results.

The girls do identify, on average, with their fashion character, albeit weakly. The strength of their identification was dependent on the girl’s age and the amount of time spent playing the game. So, older girls and girls who spent less time on the game identified less with their game characters than younger girls and girls who spent more time on the game.

Their analysis on motivations revealed that social interaction was the strongest motivator (M=5.38, SD=1.50), followed by interest (M=4.83, SD=1.92), escapism (M=4.66, SD1.31) and then challenge (M=3.92, SD=2.01).

How do these motivations impact the amount of time spent playing? They found a negative relation between age and two motivations, challenge and interest. Older girls have lower motivation for challenge and interest in fashion modeling. They found that social interaction was strongly related to the amount of time spent playing, challenge and escapism were significant, but not as strong.

How do these motivations impact girls identification with their fashion model game characters? Interest, escapism, challenge and social interaction were significantly related to girls’ identification with fashion model game characters.

Discussion

The take home message is that among goSupermodel players, girls identify with the fashion model game characters based on their motivations of interest in modeling, challenge, social interaction and escapism. However, older girls identify less with their characters and have lesser motivation on challenge and interest. Nevertheless, these motivations and identification with their character are associated with their time spent in the game.

The authors drew some conclusions about the role of identification in their study. The first is that girls do not identify as strongly with their fashion model game characters in contrast to prior studies with boys. However, I must note that the structural sophistication of the characters between goSupermodel and the typical videogame male characters are quite different. This is pure speculation because I lack any exposure of the game, and I judge it from a google image search.  The typical videogame characters would have some personality, visual depth (3D), voice and animated movements. The fashion characters seem to have just one pose, it’s 2D and possibly static. Thus, I argue that there is an equivalency problem in comparing identification levels in this study and others. It is possible that girls would identify as strongly as the boys if game developers put in the same effort in developing female characters or something like that.

The authors did not elaborate much about the relation between age and identification, but I make some speculation in relation to my earlier argument. The relation between identification and age is dependent on the developmental “fit” between the videogame character and the individual. Children do easily identify with cartoony characters, but as they mature, their identification with character grow more complex. Thus, they identify with more realistic and less cartoony characters with greater depth in personality. This makes way for a future study in how girls with a strong interest in fashion, or feminine self-image would continue their game play in other “older” games or virtual world, such as transitioning from gosupermodel to Second Life? On the other hand, we should ask developmental psychologists about girls’ trajectories on interests, how do girls’ interests change? Do girls’ interest in fashion change? The study’s results  show a decrease with older girls, so it means that whatever girls that worked with younger girls may not be effective with older girls, so what would interest them? A tentative answer may be romance games.

The authors drew some conclusions about the motivations for videogame play among girls from the uses-and-gratification perspective in which the motivations sought were fulfilled by playing that pink game. I’ve got other perspectives in mind though. One perspective is the need for gender socialization, perhaps they were seeking media that helps them to learn what it means to being a girl. So, it makes way for another study in how pink games might socialize traditional femininity among girls or whatever the traditional gender-typed content might be more attractive to girls who conform to traditional gender norms than those who are less conforming or not. The authors do acknowledge that these games might restrict girls to feminine stereotypes, but the social aspect of the game afford girls to create and remix the content. This would help the players to be creative, cope with social challenges and social engage with others.

A limitation of this study is that the authors examined one videogame, a browser-based game no less, as a way to examine pink games. But, this is justified in that they went to the most popular one and they are examining a not-so developed aspect of videogames. On a final note, I recall that there were past attempts to create videogames for girls, made by women, and did not pan out. A wikipedia article provided a clue, but I believe a book chapter on that subject provided greater details. Can’t seem to recall which book.

van Reijmersdal, E. A., Jansz, J., Peters, O., & van Noort, G. (2013). Why girls go pink: Game character identification and game-players’ motivations. Computers in Human Behavior, 29 (6), 2640-2649. DOI:10.1016/j.chb.2013.06.046

2 thoughts on “Why girls play pink videogames? (van Reijmersdal et al., 2013)

  1. I thought this was an interesting read being a female gamer. All the games that I’ve ever played be it on the GameBoy, N64, PC, and the Play Station consoles were due to my brother and his friends. They would come over every weekend and hog the TV for hours as they laughed, screamed, and trash talked. And because I had no sisters and they had no female friends, I felt that to be “cool” – I needed to learn how to play video games. I started with Pokemon and I always wished I could’ve been Misty – never happened. Then I moved onto Mario Party and Mario Kart – all very cute games (Peach and Toad). When I got comfortable, I started playing Counterstrike… which led to City of Heroes. That was my first MMO and the only MMO that I was hooked on. Why? It was the first game where I could spend hours deciding how my “super hero” would look like. And as I entered high school and boys were at the top of my list- I found that “video games” was the best way to engage them in conversations. They felt comfortable talking to me about it. But gradually, I just realized that I enjoyed playing and being better than my brother and his friends. So I think that a big part of it is, the social pressures around the female gamer that decides whether “pink games” are the ones she’s more interested in. If I ever played any “pink games” I can’t imagine how embarrassing that would’ve been because from my perspective at the time, I needed to play what the boys were playing, not the girls.

  2. Actually it’s what most people think,, that girls like cooking papas games at http://papasgames.us/ or pink dress up games and pony games… I disagree, I think this only applies to little ones. My sister (21 years old) plays World of Warcraft and now porting to Elder Scrolls Online, some of my friends (girls) play Need for Speed games and one of my friends even play old Wizardry RPG games. Basically, what I’m trying to say is that I never met a girl (14+) that would say “omg so cute” towards “pink games” or dress ups..

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