No Boys Allowed

By Tanaka, Jennifer | Newsweek, October 28, 1996 | Go to article overview

No Boys Allowed


Tanaka, Jennifer, Newsweek


Girls like to play on computers as much as boys do but there is very little software designed just for them. Finally, that's beginning to change.

JEFF RAUN WORRIED ABOUT what new software to buy his 10-year-old daughter, Morgan. "She was still playing Freddi Fish," he says, referring to an adventure game she's outgrown. But when Raun brought home a new CD-ROM called Let's Talk About ME! by Girl Games Inc., Morgan was ecstatic. The program--a digital Kaboodles kit of activities like a diary, interactive horoscopes and self-tabulating personality quizzes-seemed to be designed just for thoughtful, fifth-grade girls like her. Morgan especially liked the "panic button," a feature that makes her secret diary entries invisible with a click of the mouse. Which is great, she explains, just in case her 14-year-old brother, Christian, tries to sneak a peek.

After years of mindful neglect, the computer-software industry is finally paying attention to girls. This fall a handful of companies are releasing PC games and multimedia entertainment products aimed specifically at females 8 and older, the rough equivalent to the Nintendo crowd. It's a huge untapped market. According to one estimate, by the end of this year, 6 million U.S. households with girls 8 to 18 will be equipped with multimedia PCs. Big companies like Philips Media and Mattel figure that there's money to be made giving those girls something fun to do on all those computers. Smaller companies like Girl Games and Her Interactive are using the business opportunity to help make sure girls stay interested in technology. "It's quite obvious that this is the time when we lose them," says Girl Games president Laura Groppe. Either way, come Christmas there will be more "just for girls" software to choose from than ever before.

Until now, the pickings have been slim, largely because software designers are still mostly men. Mattel Media president Doug Glen says this is because the interactive entertainment business sprang from the computer labs at technical universities like MIT, Stanford and Cal Tech. Computer-science majors, who were then almost exclusively male, made games for themselves in their free time. "So they made boy toys," says Glen, who himself went to MIT and then to work at Sega and LucasArts.

Back then, in the late '60s and early '70s, programmers created what are by today's standards primitive science-fiction adventures, sports simulations, "wizards and warriors" role-playing games. Today those same games-only now with 8-D graphics and stereo sound-make up the vast majority of available entertainment software. "Which," says Glen, "is perfect for the boys market." Years of research into gender differences in play patterns show that boys, in general, like competitive win-lose situations, high scores and body counts. it's almost the opposite for girls.

It's no wonder, then, that parents can't find anything for their daughters when they go software shopping. In fact Mattel's research shows that for every four software programs parents buy for sons, they buy only one for daughters-even though girls and boys ages 6 to 10 spend the same amount of hours on computers. …

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