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Gear up girl gamers

On March 17, the first video game developed by a female-owned Canadian studio will be released.

On March 17, the first video game developed by a female-owned Canadian studio will be released.

With School 26 coming to Android and Apple devices, Silicon Sisters, the Vancouver-based company hopes to build on Canada's reputation as a top developer to tap into a relatively unexplored demographic — female gamers. This release comes on the heels of some intriguing research on both the psychology and benefits of girl gamers.

A joint research project between the University of Alberta's department of computing science and the faculty of education looked at a group of Grade 10 students. Using a program called ScriptEase, the participants created their own video games. Despite the males in the group having had more experience with video games, the girls not only showed as much interest in the design process, but created games that were just as good, if not better, than their male counterparts. Researchers also found the girls in the group preferred designing video games to creative writing.

In order to yolk the benefits of the creative female mind, the researchers recommended the curriculum of early computing science be redesigned to encourage more female-friendly design concepts. This will allow women to take a larger role in shaping the gaming industry, as they currently only account for 10 per cent of game designers.

For this shift to be authentic and sustainable, designers must understand why girls play and what social need video games satisfy. Last month in the Journal of Adolescent Health, a team from Brigham Young University in Utah published findings demonstrating the benefits of video games for girls is related more to social interaction and more so than for boys. The study looked at 287 families with children aged 11 to 16 in which one parent would play video games with the children. In boys, there were only marginal benefits in having a parent play along. For girls in the study, however, having a parent play along — especially a father — yielded improvements in behaviour, family connection and mental health. It's interesting to note the positive correlation only existed when families played age-appropriate games together. If the game was an M-rated game (ironically the most popular choice for the teens in the study), the correlation of the benefits towards family connection for both genders was substantially reduced.

This might explain why many female gamers are drawn to casual gaming where social interaction, co-operative play and attaining personally established goals are emphasized. That's not to say that girls can't take the guys down a peg when it comes to Call of Duty, World of Warcraft or Halo. But in order for console gaming to appeal to both genders there needs to be more games that blend social interaction and selective co-operative-competitive involvement while making big things go boom. Unfortunately, this is an uphill battle.

Tragically, the perception of a male-dominated gaming industry is not completely unfounded. While close to 40 per cent of North American gamers are female, this includes casual games, such as online games through social media like Facebook. The console gaming industry is still tailored and marketed towards a traditional, outdated male psychology.

Female gamers have a unique perspective both in what and how they play. And with more women at the helm in the industry, we might finally have an aggressive move away from the mainstream development models.

As the gap is bridged between casual gaming and console gaming in respect to appealing to a broader gender range, Canada, through the help of trailblazers like Silicon Sisters Interactive, stands poised to embrace true ingenuity that will breathe a breath of fresh air into console gaming.

When he's not teaching junior high, St. Albert Catholic High School alumnus Derek Mitchell spends his free time connected to a video game console.

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