The Girl Gamer Perspective: Marketing Messages Miss The Target

Julia is our gaming expert on the Youth Advisory Board, and as a girl gamer, she’s frustrated that so many of the video games she enjoys are rarely presented as being female-friendly. She may never have picked up Skyrim, which quickly became one of her favorites, if she hadn’t heard from other girl gamers that it had some great features because the game was only marketed to guys. She explains below…

(For the industry perspective, check out Reaching The Female Gamer By Ignoring Stereotypes from Jen Shanley, industry veteran and CEO of Zwirlz.)

To contact Julia or other members of the Youth Advisory Board, send an email to youthadvisoryboard @ or simply leave a note in the comments…

The Girl Gamer Perspective: Marketing Messages Miss The Target

Intense Girl GamerGamers are usually portrayed as members of a few different categories: socially awkward oddballs, nerdy teenage boys, or chubby immature adults living in their parents’ basements. However, there is one stereotype that applies to all gamers: “real gamers” are always male. Marketers seem to have adopted these stereotypes, believing that that women don’t play games very much, and even those who do aren’t “hardcore” gamers. In their opinions, women are only interested in games that involve fashion, pop songs, puppies, or, of course, weight loss.

However, women actually constitute 42% of American gamers. Although many in the marketing world assume that these women are only interested in casual games (like “Bejeweled,” “Mariokart,” and “The Sims”) or games that specifically target a female audience (like Barbie games for little girls or exercise games for grown women), in reality 44% of female gamers prefer genres other than casual, exercise, or music.

Many girls, myself included, love games like “Final Fantasy” that revolve around character development and a great plot instead of just focusing on combat. Such games allow the player to alter the character’s personality and direct the plot through the decisions they make. I find these elements particularly appealing. Some other games that fall into this category are “Fallout 3,” “Dragon Age,” the “Fable” games, and the “Elder Scrolls” series. As part of the deep character customization system built into these games, players can choose nearly every aspect of their character, from looks to attitude to gender.

Unfortunately, other than “Fable 3,” which wins some points for depicting a female lead on the website (though absent from the cover art for the game itself), most games never feature the female version of the protagonist online, in commercials, or on billboards. When I looked at the website for the “Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim,” I couldn’t find one picture that featured a protagonist other than the burly male warrior who appears in every single piece of marketing for the game. Yet, “Skyrim” is one of the most engrossing and entertaining games I’ve ever played. When I first saw a billboard for the game, I never would have guessed that it would appeal to me. A similar game series called “Dragon Age” definitely appeals to women; it even lets you date the handsome male NPCs, and feels almost like an interactive novel. However, the marketing for “Dragon Age” is similar to that for “Skyrim” — you wouldn’t guess that you can select your character’s gender.

Advertising that only focuses on combat, and always features an intimidating warrior who looks like a medieval version of The Hulk doesn’t make “Skyrim,” or any other game, appealing to women. When I first played “Skyrim,” I was immediately struck by how realistic the world is, and I’m still hooked on it. Players can meet many different characters, engage in a variety of activities aside from slaying dragons, and affect the outcome of the game through their actions. It probably goes without saying that I think many girls who don’t have previous gaming experience would enjoy this title if they gave it a chance.

Plenty of women play these types of games and others that game makers and marketers tend to believe are “boys only” territory — “Left for Dead” is yet another good example — but marketers and the media don’t seem to acknowledge this. Furthermore, even in the gaming world, there are many negative stereotypes about female gamers, that they’re weak and incapable of beating men. This doesn’t really happen much outside of multi-player, but it’s not rare in online shooters. I’ve had boys ask me if I’m really a girl and other rude questions. I also think that many girls don’t feel comfortable telling others that they like playing video games because it’s perceived as nerdy or weird. Other students in my classes probably wouldn’t guess that gaming is one of my hobbies, and while some girl gamers talk about what games they like, I know plenty who prefer to keep their hobby a secret.

I think this is partially because marketers are still convinced that girls only like games that are pretty and pink or casual games, which are easier to pick up. Unfortunately, the game industry is currently dominated by executives who don’t see a need to develop games for or market to women — except, of course, to create products that fit into their preconceived notions of the types of games women should be playing. The game industry is blatantly disregarding a huge segment of the market that they clearly should acknowledge. I hope that eventually the game industry will get over its prejudice towards female gamers, because it will help combat negative stereotypes and perhaps help girls feel more confident about pursuing their own interests, even if they’re geeky, and inspire others to try video games for the first time.

About Julia

JuliaJulia is a freshman in high school in Claremont California. A self proclaimed Otaku (anime obsessive person) she strives to complete her immersion into the world of Japanese pop culture. In between school and homework she watches the latest Japanese anime on the internet, reads manga, plays video games, and practices Japanese. Though she is not a fabulous writer by nature, Julia does enjoy writing fan fiction related to said interests and occasionally immersing herself in online role-play sessions. In addition, she loves mashing up anime and game clips into anime music videos which she posts on YouTube, participating in her school’s debate team in novice LD, and of course reading. Julia is incredibly excited to be on the Youth Advisory Board, and able to express her opinions, which she has plenty of.


  1. Amy Jussel, Shaping Youth

    Excellent post, Julia. So glad you reiterated that advertisers/marketers are missing out on girl gamers who prefer in depth plot points and character development rather than either ‘fluff-n-stuff’ OR heavy-handed ‘combat’ style depictions of power/control/violence (often laced with misogynistic degradation to boot.)

    You might want to take a look at Professor Sara Grimes blog, as she’s an avid girl gamer and always has a sidebar full of interesting insights on ‘what she’s playing now’ (for her research etc) and some strong editorial content on the misfires and misguided media attempts by some of the marketing pros trying to ‘go after’ girl gamers.

    She’s on our Shaping Youth advisory board (media and marketing’s impact on kids) and her site is located here:

    p.s. If you’d ever like to guest post (or crosspost) EXC content like this on our site, we’re overhauling in expansion mode right now and looking for new writers ‘in the trenches’ for the youth advisory board too… You can reach me on Twitter @ShapingYouth or via email above!

    Thanks again for a great post…

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