Admittedly, my six case studies comprise too small of a sample to make any larger generalizations about female gaming literacy. However, these case studies can open up a dialogue that has only just begun about female gaming and learning; much like a pilot study, this small study can show implications for further research into female gaming literacies. For example, it seemed that the females in my study enjoyed playing videogames for many of the same reasons that are traditionally ascribed to male gamers. In some ways, this finding counters current marketing for girl games as well as the pink games movement such as Brenda Laurel’s now defunct Purple Moon series. These girl game series have tried to create games exclusively for females that are radically different from games that have been traditionally targeted toward more of a male audience. For example, instead of engaging in frenetic player versus player competitions to the death, players of Purple Moon games were encouraged to explore emotional mysteries. The Purple Moon game series has often been criticized by feminist scholars as promoting a static construction of gender that reifies itself (Taylor, 2006). Purple Moon researchers would research what girls wanted in games, but these games often took on exaggerated feminine qualities: an emphasis on realism over fantasy, collaboration over competition, and exploration over violence, with sophisticatedly rendered graphics that girls would perceive as pretty (Dickey, 2006). Unfortunately, after the Purple Moon games failed, unable as it was to become a commercial success, the games that rushed in to fill the girl gaming void have for the most part reified gender stereotypes in much more damaging ways. For instance, in 2009, Wired reviewed some upcoming titles for girls. This review included titles like Clique, Top Model, and My Boyfriend—titles that hardly seem to inspire girls to be strong, independent females who think for themselves (John).
However, my study seemed to indicate that while some female gamers such as Ally may have enjoyed some of the original Purple Moon games, other female gamers such as Emma may not, opting instead for games that afford more direct competition against other players like Mortal Kombat. Consequently, what seems to be missing from research into female gaming and female game design, indicating a need for further research, is that it might be possible that many females may enjoy playing video and computer games for the same reasons that are traditionally ascribed to male gamers, but they may not appear to because they lack the gaming literacies needed to realize these motivations in traditionally male genres. For example, most of the females in my cases studies indicated that they enjoyed playing WoW—or at least, like Charlene, would have enjoyed playing WoW and participating in the class more if they had possessed the gaming literacies needed to succeed in it. This finding agrees with a study conducted by Hsiu-Yuan Wang and Yi-Shun Wang (2008) in which they found that female enjoyment of and intention to play computer games was negatively affected by their sense of computer self-efficacy and the amount of anxiety they felt around computers, while computer self-efficacy and anxiety did not affect men’s intentions or enjoyment of play.
What I found to be even more interesting in the study was that all of the female participants started out with the same gaming literacies, playing videogames at a young age, usually with a sister or brother. They all played Nintendo 64 games, which came out in 1996 right around the time that these students would have been six or seven years old. However, for some reason, with the exception of Mandy, all of the females in my study stopped playing as they grew older. This finding agrees with a study done by Denise Agosto (2004) that found that “preschool children of both sexes exhibit equal interest in computer games, but that as girls mature, their gaming interest and time investments decline.” Although it is unclear from my case study research exactly when the female participants’ interests in gaming start to decline, previous research indicates that this decline is usually pronounced by adolescence, which is similar to when female’s interest usually wanes in science and math (Sax, 2001, p. 154). The fact that with the exception of Mandy, who kept current with videogames, and Emma, who mentioned playing Guitar Hero, the rest of the female students only mentioned older games, especially older Nintendo 64 games as their favorites, implies that they do not play new games and that they probably had not even played these older Nintendo 64 games recently. This finding is further illustrated by a 2008 Pew study which stated that “99% of boys and 94% of girls play videogames. Younger teen boys are the most likely to play games, followed by younger girls and older boys. Older girls are the least ‘enthusiastic’ players of videogames, though more than half of them play. Some 65% of daily gamers are male; 35% are female” (p. 4). In another study examining high school students’ computer use, it was found that boys used the computer to game 80% of the time whereas girls only used it to game 28% of the time and that early high school gaming was a much bigger predictor of late high school gaming for males than it was for females (Willoughby, 2008). So, while most of the females in my study appeared to have stopped playing new games by junior high or high school, other studies have found that male gamers usually continue to play, expanding their video and computer game literacies in the meantime. Gameplay in WoW can become fairly sophisticated
Unfortunately, because this previous research on male gaming indicates that male gamers continue to play videogames all through adolescence, male gamers also often become more sophisticated in their use of gaming literacies, and game designers have raced to catch up, designing games that are ever more sophisticated and that build upon the previous literacies gamers have already mastered in earlier games. The game designer Raph Koster (2005) discusses that increased complexity tends to occur in all genres, but that the “historical trend in games has shown that when a new genre of game is invented, it follows a trajectory where increasing complexity is added to it, until eventually the games on the market are so complex and advanced that newcomers can’t get into them—the barrier of entry is too high” (p. 136). This leaves females who stopped playing videogames hopelessly behind, forcing them to work two or three times as hard as many of their male peers to learn the literacies inherent in playing most new games.
It is not surprising then that some of the females in my study such as Charlene and Emma grew frustrated with WoW, and, in Charlene’s case, gave up playing. Feeling hopelessly lost and behind is particularly problematic for games. Good game design dictates that for a game to be enjoyable enough to be worth playing it has to be just difficult enough to present a challenge for the player but not so difficult that the player cannot accomplish the challenge and gives up in frustration. And, of course, the reverse is also true (Koster, 2005, p. 124; Bertozzi & Lee, 2007, p. 185). This careful calibration of gaming difficulty is not unlike Lev Vytgotsky’s (1986) zone of proximal development in which he postulates that students learn best when their learning is just out of reach of their comfort zone to be challenging but not so foreign to their past learning and knowledge that they cannot relate to it and create their own framework for understanding (pp. 187-188). Unfortunately, because game designers know that past gamers have already mastered certain gaming literacies in previous games, they do not want to bore them. So, to interest this audience with new games, they assume gamers have mastered certain literacies and build upon them further rather than reintroducing exactly the same game mechanics, rules, or even tutorials for play. It is no wonder then that some of the female participants in my study felt so hopelessly lost playing WoW that it seemed devoid of any pleasure or even meaning to them. For instance, Charlene wrote, “I don’t like games that are very confusing and detailed like WoW. I don’t really understand the point behind the game” and Ally added that “the directions that came with the game [explaining how to play WoW] were confusing.”