Girls snared by the Net

They're not interested in violent computer games, says Jack O'Sullivan, but they know it's good to talk on-line

I'M being told a great adventure story by an 11 year old girl. "OK, there are these two kids exploring a cave," she explains breathlessly. "Then the girl drops down a hole and the man has to save her. There are rats and bats and piranhas which he has to get past to reach her. And there's a detonator that you have to blow up." My narrator knows her story well, because it's a game she has played for months on her home computer. And she is proud of her abilities - the girl is always saved. But her story-telling is tinged with disappointment. "I play the man because the girl doesn't really have a role. I sometimes wish that the man got lost instead and the girl had to find him. It would be better."

The speaker is Udy Onwochei, 11, from Peckham Park Primary School in south London. Her tale is typical of a medium whose technology may be a modern, but which got stuck culturally somewhere around the early James Bond films.

"It's not fair," adds Udy's friend Wumi Oni, 10. "I've got a game where this man is being attacked by crabs. If you don't shoot them, they crawl over your face and then you die. But they should put a woman in instead of a man." Naomi Gordon, 10, nods in agreement: "It's really sad, because girls like playing girls and girls can be explorers just like boys."

So what is the games world doing to assuage this discontent? Not much. Barbie computer games have recently been targeted at six to eight year olds, but they are sneered at by my older interviewees. Then there is Lara Croft, star of Tomb Raider, the adventure story of a female explorer. She plays a James Bond character in a D-cup, an action Barbie babe for fevered male imaginations. (She still has more male than female players). Nonetheless, when she pulls out her M16 and Uzi to kill a few wolves, many girls are thrilled to see a heroine protecting herself with not a male rescuer in sight. New products created by Girl Games have also tried to lure girls on to computers with games such as how to win a date with your perfect guy. Additionally, a new company called Purple Moon is marketing "girls adventure" software, with plots dealing with social and emotional issues.

Yet, despite these changes, most big games' manufacturers remain wedded to macho beef past its sell-by date. So girls still struggle with a medium in which they are often represented as passive. They have to be extraordinarily resourceful, says Kate Baggott, a youth media analyst at the New Paradigm Learning Corporation. "Girls have to go through mental gymnastics to change the victim position of the females who are being rescued and decrease the heroic proportions of the male characters. So they'll say 'I'm sleeping, but he works for me and I'm controlling him through telepathy to get him through all those barriers'."

So why do girls bother? For many it's just about fun - if the boy's game is the only one in town, they will play it. But for others it's almost a feminist statement, not that they would use that phrase. "We like acting boyish and independent," says Wumi. "We want to be loud and bold, instead of being girlie and quiet and shy." At which point she goes into raptures about fight games. "I like where you have two different people fighting each other and you have lots of different weapons to kill with." In short, girls want to prove to the boys that they can achieve in their terms.

Some of the other girls talk about how the staple male diet of computer games often leaves them cold. Here's Ayse on car racing games: "All you do is race and go through tunnels. It's so boring."

The girls also have to fight to get time on the computer.

"My brother has action man games," says Jade Whittock-Kent, 10. " I think it's quite good, but when my brother comes back in the room he says, 'Stop, it's only for boys'. I just walk away and watch TV or do my homework." And that's the danger - that girls will just walk away. The failure of games suppliers to meet female needs runs the risk of putting them off the most important technology of the next century.

Elizabeth McGrath, 15, from Oxford is typical of how older girls become disillusioned. "My friends are less interested now than they were a few years ago. When you were younger you did things the boys did, like play football, because otherwise the boys would tease you and say you couldn't do it. But when you're older you don't have to prove yourself so much like that. Also taste changes. I think my friends feel that they need more stimulation than a computer game can offer. A lot will read or watch a film rather than play computer games that can be very repetitive."

So is this the future - girls finally turned off computer entertainment because Barbie and Lara Croft are not interesting enough? Perhaps not. A new book, Growing Up Digital - the Rise of the Net Generation (McGraw- Hill) by Don Tapscott, suggests that girls are in fact poised to reverse the domination of computers by their male founders. "The computer," he says, "is changing from being a personal stand alone device for information management into becoming a communications medium, which suits girls at an earlier stage of life than boys." He is talking, in short, about on- line computers, e-mail, the internet and the capacity that computers now have for fostering cooperation and not simply competition. Once girls can have access to the Internet they will, Tapscott says, be free of the male-orientated games to which they are currently subjected.

The evidence in north America is, says Baggott, that girls are not walking away from computers, just dumping the old-style games in favour of playing on-line. But that's easy there because local telephone calls are free, making on-line gaming cheap. The moral for British parents is that if you want your daughters to be computer literate like your sons you have to make sure the girls get equal time on the terminal. And then you must swallow the cost of plugging your home computer into a telephone line.

Arts & Entertainment
Ricky Gervais at a screening of 'Muppets Most Wanted' in London last month
tvRicky Gervais on the return of 'Derek' – and why he still ignores his critics
Sport
Gareth Bale dribbled from inside his own half and finished calmly late in the final to hand Real a 2-1 win at the Mestalla in Valencia
sport
Life & Style
Infant child breast-feeding with eyes closed
healthTo stop mummy having any more babies, according to scientists
Arts & Entertainment
Homer meets Lego Marge in the 25th anniversary episode of The Simpsons, set to air on 4 May
tv
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway
theatreReview: Of Mice and Men, Longacre Theatre
News
news
Life & Style
Going down: Google's ambition to build an elevator into space isn't likely to be fulfilled any time soon
techTechnology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
Arts & Entertainment
film
Sport
Vito Mannone fails to keep out Samir Nasri's late strike
sportMan City 2 Sunderland 2: Goalkeeping howler allows Man City to scrap a draw – but Premier League title is Liverpool's to lose
News
David Cameron sings a hymn during the enthronement service of The Most Rev Justin Welby as Archbishop of Canterbury, at Canterbury Cathedral last year
news
Life & Style
From long to Jong: Guy Pewsey gets the North Korean leader's look
fashionThe Independent heads to an Ealing hairdressers to try out the North Korean dictator's trademark do
Extras
indybest10 best smartphones
Arts & Entertainment
tvCreator Vince Gilligan sheds light on alternate endings
Life & Style
Google Doodle celebrates the 63rd anniversary of the Peak District National Park
tech
News
Paul Weller, aka the Modfather, performing at last year’s Isle of Wight Festival in Newport
people
Life & Style
Michael Acton Smith founded Firebox straight out of university before creating Moshi Monsters
techHe started out selling silliness with online retailer Firebox, before launching virtual creatures who took the real world by storm
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Energy Consultant – Building Management

    up to £45,000 + benefits: The Green Recruitment Company: Our Client The Green ...

    Senior Industrial Energy Consultant

    Up to £45,000 + benefits: The Green Recruitment Company: Our Client The Green ...

    Mechanical Building Services Energy Engineer

    up to £45K basic + benefits: The Green Recruitment Company: Our Client The Gr...

    Building Services Energy Engineer

    up to £45K basic + benefits: The Green Recruitment Company: Our Client The Gr...

    Day In a Page

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
    Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics

    Is sexual harassment a fact of gay life?

    Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics
    Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith: The man behind a British success story

    Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith

    Acton Smith launched a world of virtual creatures who took the real world by storm
    Kim Jong-un's haircut: The Independent heads to Ealing to try out the dictator's do

    Our journalist tries out Kim Jong-un's haircut

    The North Korean embassy in London complained when M&M Hair Academy used Kim Jong-un's image in the window. Curious, Guy Pewsey heads to the hair salon and surrenders to the clippers
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part
    Vespa rides on with launch of Primavera: Iconic Italian scooter still revving up millions of sales

    Vespa rides on with launch of the Primavera

    The Vespa has been a style icon since the 1950s and the release this month of its latest model confirms it has lost little of its lustre
    Record Store Day: Independent music shops can offer a tempting alternative to downloads

    Record Store Day celebrates independent music shops

    This Saturday sees a host of events around the country to champion the sellers of well-grooved wax
    Taunton's policy of putting philosophy at heart of its curriculum is one of secrets of its success

    Education: Secret of Taunton's success

    Taunton School, in Somerset, is one of the country's leading independent schools, says Richard Garner
    10 best smartphones

    10 best smartphones

    With a number of new smartphones on the market, we round up the best around, including some more established models
    Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

    Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

    The former Australia coach on why England must keep to Plan A, about his shock at their collapse Down Under, why he sent players home from India and the agonies of losing his job
    Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

    Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

    Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
    The pain of IVF

    The pain of IVF

    As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal