Sexism and sweeping generalisations alert. Asked to comment on the rise of gadgets — and specifically gaming — for girls on the beeb on Monday, I identified three trends:
1. Build it (in pink) and they will come
As a confirmed feminist, I was sceptical about the appeal of brightly coloured goodies to the fairer sex. Turns out that the stereotype isn’t far wrong. In a straw poll of women, taken very unscientifically over the weekend (i.e. in the pub), my wife was the only dissenting voice. The rest quite happily admitted that they would be more likely to buy a device if it was pink.
This unscientific research is backed by (some) empirical evidence. Anyone remember the clamour for the first pink iPods?
2. Content is Queen
Button mashing first-person shooters (generally) only appeal to young(ish) men. Shoot ’em ups, beat ’em ups, and sports games were never going to get girls on to consoles. For that we needed games about dancing, singing, and looking after pets. I wish I were joking, but however much this might follow Victorian expectations about female identity and personality, simple fact is that you are far more likely to see women playing Dance Dance Revolution or Singstar than Far Cry or Halo.
This applies to the general function of gadgets, as well as the content of games. The following responses seem to be typical: iPod? ‘Great’. Blackberry? ‘Useful’. High Definition TV ‘Why?’. Men care more about the bits and bytes; the stats that say I have more inches/pixels/megabytes than you do. They want a bit more information about what’s going on under the hood, even if they don’t really understand it. Women just want something that fulfils a function and fulfils it well.
3. Make it Friendly
The interface is vital in making gadgets appeal to women, and that doesn’t just mean ensuring that it is well designed (or ‘simple’ if you are looking to take offence). Anecdotal evidence suggests that active interfaces that are closer to real-world activities appeal more to women. The obvious example is gaming, with the introduction of cameras, microphones and motion sensing. But you could also argue that this applies to the scroll wheel on an iPod, which is more like leafing through a stack of CDs than the prior button-based interfaces.
Just to make sure I’m not misunderstood here, I’m not saying that women don’t like or can’t use gadgets. US sales figures show that technology buyers are split roughly 50/50 between men and women. There are plenty of technology literate female gadget lovers (witness the success of the shinyshiny blog), and plenty of female gamers who love the more violent or sport based games. But to appeal to the majority rather than the minority, these are the criteria that manufacturers seem to be applying.