PAX Panel: How To Get Your Girlfriend Into GamingS Just for the record, readers, I'm here as a Plebeian (and I heart that word) – with a normal three-day pass I paid for with my own hard-earned money. I'm also hanging out with three friends and am subject to what they want to do, not what I want to cover. I have not once pulled rank as a Kotaku correspondent to score free shit or get into crowded events (okay, maybe once, but that was for The Conduit, which you can read about tomorrow). You want PAX press coverage, you keep an eye out for Crecente's posts – he's the one with the official yellow pass. You want to know what you would go through if you were here at PAX, you read my stuff. Because I am you. Now – onto another girl-centric panel; I've got a theme going, in case you can't tell. This little feminist number features advice from real girl gamers directed at guy gamers who are still stuck with crabby girlfriends that can't understand the "no, I can't go out tonight, I'm in the middle of a raid" excuse. As panels go, this was one of the better ones because most of the questions were asked by the audience (and the sound quality in the room didn't blow). It was also one of the longer panels because people really got into the topic (also a plus). So if you can't be arsed to scroll down through this long (and paraphrased) transcription, here's a summary: 1) Give your girl a game that's tailored to her interests; don't force her to play a game just because you like it. 2) Play co-op, not competitive. Some girls are unnerved by 13-year-old trash-talkers. 3) Don't force her to identify herself as a gamer; it's enough that she's playing a game. 4) Spend as much time doing what she wants to do in her life as you expect her to spend time gaming with you (basic rule of relationships). 5) Don't act like an asshole while you're gaming – it makes games into the enemy. 6) Don't belittle her choices of game; maybe she likes Barbie's Horse Adventure. 7) Let her backseat game you and don't argue with what she tells you to do; if she tells you to make Master Chief jump to his death, just do it – it'll be fun for her and get her one step closer to trying it herself. (That's my own personal rule.) The panelists (from the program, so any misspellings aren't my fault): Christa Phillips (Xbox Live Community Manager) Jane Pinckard (Editor-in-Chief, GameGirlAdvance) Cori Roberts (Editor, Gameinatrix) Shelby Wills (Producer, Pipeworks Software) Nicole Tanner (Director of PR & Marketing, Foundation 9 Entertainment)Introductions Shelby: Started gaming with Oregon Trail and King's Quest 6. Got into gaming via osmosis – mom was a CPA with a computer in the days when computers were rare. Christa: Started with Space Invaders on Atari and King's Quest 2. Jane: Got started with Commodore 64, playing Load Runner and making impossible levels that can't be beat. Cori: Likens first gaming experience to first crush. Pitfall Harry was her first "boy". Nicole: Had the coolest grandma ever that bought the Atari 2600 to lure her grandchildren over. Q: What are some of the barriers to entry for non-gamers and what can we do about them? Christa: A big one is gamers acting like jerks when they play games. You throw the controller, act like a dick, and ignore company. The game becomes the enemy – like football. Cori: People try to force other people to like specifically what they like. Girlfriends may not be into Halo, but they might like something else; so don't force Halo on them and expect them to love gaming. Jane: Starting a non-gamer with something totally unfamiliar is bad. Final Fantasy will overwhelm a noob, but if they like soccer, they can identify with FIFA Street and get into it that way. Shelby: People don't know that there are games out there for them. They might think Halo and GTA are the only games ever. You can't force it. Show ‘em what's out there, let them try it. It's about exposure. Q from the floor: My wife plays puzzle games with me, but she gets pissed if I beat her. And if I let her win, she acts like a dick. What should I do? Jane: Do you need to play versus? Because there are good co-op games out there… Cori: There are some XBLA games that are co-op. Shelby: Try Boom Blox. Nicole: My husband and I had a huge thing going with Puzzle Fighter. 6 hour battle to beat him – but it was rewarding. Don't just let her win. Q: What are ideal games for introducing noobs? Cori: Played Nintendogs at a Laundromat and a crowd of non-gamer women gathered around her to watch. The next week, they had each bought a DS for themselves. Shelby: A few years ago, that question was a lot harder to answer. With the Wii and the DS, Nintendo basically is the answer. We got a Wii for Christmas a couple of years ago. The kids started playing the adults gathered around, even the anti-games ones. Pretty soon, they all wanted to play Wii Sports. My dad destroyed everyone in Bowling and Boxing. My mom did the same in Brain Age and then gave it to her mother. Jane: Licenses are actually important. Name recognition can hook people. If Barbie is the girl's thing, get her the damn Horse Adventure even if you hate it. A lot of girls got into games because of Tomb Raider because it had a main girl in it. Q from the floor: My girlfriend only plays Mario games. How can I get her to try something else? Nicole: Sounds like she's a platformer. Try Ratchet & Clank. Insomniac is really great because they've perfected the difficulty such that it's not too hard or too easy. Cori: Then you can move on to Prince of Persia. Jane: My sister got into Ico. She got emotionally engaged in the story and it's just such a pretty game. Plus the controls are simple. Q from the floor: Sixty-five percent of internet casual gamers are women. Is casual internet gaming the way to get people to cross over? Cori: You're assuming those gamers don't play everything else. Nicole: A lot of that has to do with access to the games. You can go to Pogo.com and play everything for free. Price is a barrier to access. It definitely is a starting point, especially with the iPhone and stuff. But what you need to do is show them a similar game on a console (Bejeweled on XBLA). And then ease them into Puzzle Fighter, etc. Christa: Women in particular are intimidated to make the jump to consoles. They think of the console as a guy's thing or a kid's thing. Show them the other features (download movies, etc.) because then it justifies them spending money on it. Once you teach them that the console isn't the enemy, then they'll try it out. Q from the floor: I'm a gamer, my fiancé is a gamer, my roommate's a gamer – his girlfriend is not. Rock Band is the one thing that she's kind of gotten into. But she really hates that we're into games; it's like racism – she's disgusted. Jane: Some people are just "gamist." Shelby: She might be an EverQuest widow. Look at how much you're playing and make sure you're not prioritizing games over her. Christa?: Play when she's not home. Guy: That feels kind of dirty. Nicole: If she likes to go shopping, take her shopping. Spend as much time doing what she wants to do as what he wants to do – Relationship 101. Q from the floor: My wife thinks of herself as a non-gamer. But she spends all this time playing solitaire. How do I get her to stop being a solo-gamer and get her to branch out from solitaire? Cori: There are people that only play Halo. If she wants to play just solitaire, then let her play. Christa: You don't need to get her to identify herself as a gamer. If she's happy playing solitaire, why try and force her to try something else? Guy: I'd like to share games that I like with her. Not Gears of War, or anything, but like LittleBigPlanet or something… (Something about Catan.) Shelby: Casual games might be the next step for her. But you can't force it. Try a smaller step than LittleBigPlanet. Jane: If she doesn't like versus online, start an asynchronous game with her on FaceBook. Guy: Can you make a Jane Austen game? Because then she'd be all about it. Jane: I'm working on it. Q from the floor (and it's a girl!): I am a girlfriend who games and my fiancé got me into it because he bought me my own console. I think it's great to give a girl baby step, but don't underestimate them. I got straight into FPS games. Going online is extremely intimidating. Especially when you've got strangers yelling at you all the time. What advice would you give to anyone who wants to go online and fight the intimidation? Christa: Join GamerChicks. If your girlfriend/wife is afraid of jumping online thanks to 13-year-old assholes, train with her, go into games with her. Hook her up with other girl gamers so her sisters can help her if she's getting abused online. Nicole: There are some great online MMOs based around casual gaming like Puzzle Pirates. Everyone is super-nice on there and you don't get trash-talking. Shelby: It's true, not everyone starts with the casual games. There's some huge percentage of women gamers on World of Warcraft, so you never know which game will do it for a girl. Q from the floor: My wife plays games, but doesn't call herself a gamer. Is there still a stigma amongst women to identify? Cori: Definitely. Some of the looks I get when I say I'm a gamer… Guy: How can we get rid of it? All: Time. Nicole: For the longest time, it was just kids in basements that played games. It's not necessary to adopt the gamer label – playing the game is what counts, not identifying as a gamer. Cori: Send her to GamerChicks. I have friends that guilt me for playing, but I stand up for myself and if she can learn to do that, it'll make her feel less ashamed. Christa: Bring her to PAX next year. Success Story from the floor: I bought Champions of Norrath and had to get three more controllers because all my racing gamer friends wanted to get into it. I wound up making different characters for different games and it was like I was cheating on one of them if I played with someone else ("I thought we were playing my game!") Jane: Yeah, it's the co-op games that really attract people. Playing as a group is really healthy. Christa: Give non-gamers an excuse to play. Like gaming for charity – "I'm curing breast cancer!" A lot of girls are looking for an excuse to game, but they don't want to be bad at it and they don't want to get made fun of. Cori: Get girls to talk to each other about gaming. Q from the floor: My girlfriend games, but isn't really into it. And she's not here because she's out of the country… but she said only nerds would go to PAX anyway. How can I get her to come to PAX next year? Shelby Jane?: Tell her to come check out the "freak show." You've got pictures to back it up. Tell her "you've got to see some of this stuff." And everybody likes free stuff… Q from the floor: My fiancé is really trying hard to get into gaming. She came with me to PAX (waves at her), but she has a problem with the controls. And she's an action-oriented martial artist, so she wants to do something like that, but gets frustrated. What can I do? Cori: Do you have a Wii? Get Red Steel. Jane: She's totally not alone. The Wii control scheme is what people want because it's simple to play. Cori: Just cut people. That's what I did. Shelby: There are a lot of games that don't use all the buttons – look for those. Christa: Practice by yourself and get used to the controls. Eventually you'll get the hang of it. Q from the floor: What are your opinions on games focused towards girls? Like misogynist games like Fat Princess or demeaning games like Bratz? Cori: I look around and I see little girls playing on their pink DS lites – I hate pink. And I look at their mothers and they are not gamers, so I realize they won't buy their little girl something that doesn't look girl-appropriate. I'm not opposed to the girly stuff because who knows what that girl will grow up to play? Nicole: Making games just for girls is not the answer. Make games for everybody. The Sims wasn't made for women, but it appealed to them. A company that aims specifically at women is going to fail. Christa: Actually, Fashion Barbie games totally sell. I'm going to buy the Tinkerbell game for my pink DS (me too, me too!). Sexism is rampant, but games aren't the cause – they're a symptom. So bring on the sexist games, I'll play Imagine Figure Skating. Shelby: A lot of games are great and parents need to go out there and find them instead of assuming all of them are either Barbie, or violent. Q from the floor: Cute games sometimes turn out competitive and that can be a barrier (i.e. Bomberman). Is that a gender issue? Jane: No. Some of those games have co-op modes because people like co-op modes. People get sick of getting shot at, so it's not a girl thing. It's a comfort level thing. I suck at Bomberman – but I can be comfortable with it. Comment from the floor: I've seen girlfriends convert just because they play with other girls who game. Q from the floor: My mom had breast cancer and suffered nerve damage, but she kicked my ass at Boom Blox. These games are based on other games (like hunting or bowling). Do you think that more intuitive controls are helping people get into it or the game behind the game? Cori: It's the intuitive controls. The Wiimote looks like a TV remote, so she'll pick it up and play. Christa: I think it's about content. Viva Piñata won my mother over because it's about caretaking and that's what moms do. She gets it, so she plays it. Q from the floor (and it's another girl!): There's trouble with trying to get back into a game after hiatus. The stigma of sucking at something is so bad – it's focused on my gender. I suck because I'm a girl, not because I suck, is what they think. It makes me want to pretend to be a guy just to get away from it. How do you deal with that? Cori: I just talk trash whether I'm losing or not. Try to enjoy the game until you re-learn how to play. Jane: Join GamerChicks. Q from the floor: I've got two little girl gamers. My wife will watch us play and get really into cheering – but we can't get her to game with us. She gets so excited she can't press buttons. And she feels so guilty when she plays a game for herself. What can I do for her? Christa: Get her a DS and Animal Crossing. So she can put it in her purse and play it on the go and there's no guilt because you don't have to do anything and you can put it down whenever. Cori: My grandmother watches me play Resident Evil 4. She'll get popcorn and she'll watch it like it's a horror movie. Jane: It's inherently fun to watch someone play. So it's okay for her just to watch. Q from the floor: I almost made my girlfriend a WoW widow and even though I recovered, I can't get my girlfriend to give games a second chance. Shelby: Game by example. Show her it's okay and that you can game and be healthy. Christa: Ask her to help you spot snipers. Chicks like flattery. If she feels like she's helping (calling her "a lucky charm" when you score a headshot), you're making it a positive experience. Jane: I'm really bad with directions. I make my boyfriend navigate for me in GTA. Have you tried less hardcore games? Guy: I'm really into RTS games, and she tried it out (Age of Empires), but she's worried about it getting too complicated. Jane: Try the DS version. It's lighter on the strategy and it's turn-based. Q from the floor: Are games where you create stuff more effective for hooking your girlfriend on games? Christa: There's something to that. My daughter spent days designing a skate track she never used. Jane: Spending two hours on building an avatar that looks like you… there's something to that. Q from the floor: My girlfriend is interested in the idea of games – she used to play Tetris like seven hours a day, but she's never moved on. She avoids competition and online socialization of any kind. Any suggestions for her? Shelby: Bejeweled? She might like that and Puzzle Quest. Jane: Zuma. Shelby: She can avoid online components in most games, so make that clear to her. Nicole: There are so many "the shit keeps falling" games (her husband's term for puzzle games), but each adds a different element so that they're all similar to Tetris, but very different. Guy: She's also scared of the controller being so big… Nicole: I have tiny hands and I can handle it. The fear comes from being unfamiliar. Christa: A lot of these games don't use all the buttons. Shelby: And you can get them on the DS or something. Christa: There are also games that are super easy. Try something more trivia oriented like Wits & Wagers or Buzz! Success story from the floor (yet another girl): My friend was totally against games, but she saw me play Halo and Fable and liked both of them. But the controls scared her. I got her Fable on the PC and now she won't stop gaming. Story of some kind from the floor: I have a friend, let's call him "Bort." Bort has a girlfriend from out of town… I used to hang out with him a lot. But now when Bort's girlfriend is in town, I go to his house to play games with her. She kicks my ass… Uh. I have a girlfriend, too. *Awkward silence* Admonishment from the floor (last girl in the line): For other girl gamers, be supportive to each other. And to the non-gamers, give games a chance! Q from the floor: I go to a school where people are too snotty and smart to play games. I've won a few over with Guitar Hero, but I'd like to share artsy games with them. Any ideas? Jane: Braid. Shelby: Yeah, people eat up the existentialism. Smart people feel good playing that game. Jane: And it deconstructs gaming – you could have deep discussions about it. Last question: My girlfriend plays a couple games and is into music. She won't really play anything besides Rock Band. I'd like to get her into core gaming so I can have more fun with her. Any suggestions? Jane: You do other things besides playing games, right? You should respect her interests as much as she respects yours… Guy: She doesn't really do a whole lot… besides watching TV. She doesn't play very many video games. (Jeez, it sounds like he doesn't like his girlfriend very much…) Cori: Look for a game that's a little bit more immersive. So you can talk about it the way you talk about TV shows. Christa: Go for something with a strong storyline. Break down the games and the barrier is gone.