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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
News
Mock the tweet: Ukip leader Nigel Farage and comedian Frankie Boyle
peopleIt was a polite exchange of words, as you can imagine
Life and Style
fashion
Life and Style
Britons buy more than 30 million handsets each year, keeping them for an average of 18 months
tech
Arts and Entertainment
TV Presenters Ant McPartlin and Dec Donnelly. Winners of the 'Entertainment Programme' award for 'Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway'
musicAnt and Dec confirmed as hosts of next year's Brit Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Orson Welles made Citizen Kane at 25, and battled with Hollywood film studios thereafter
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Humanities and Economics Teacher - January 2015 - Malaysia

    £18000 - £20400 per annum + Accommodation, Flights, Medical Cover: Randstad Ed...

    SEN Teaching Assistant needed for long term assignment

    £45 - £55 per day: Randstad Education Preston: We are looking for an experienc...

    Primary Teachers Required in King's Lynn

    Negotiable: Randstad Education Cambridge: Primary Teachers needed in King's Ly...

    Primary Teachers needed in Ely

    Negotiable: Randstad Education Cambridge: Primary Teacher needed in the Ely ar...

    Day In a Page

    Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

    A Syrian general speaks

    A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
    ‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

    ‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

    Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
    Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

    Fall of the Berlin Wall

    History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
    How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

    Turn your mobile phone into easy money

    There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes
    Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs:

    Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs

    "I have never regarded anything I have done in "the media" as a proper job"
    Lyricist Richard Thomas shares his 11-step recipe for creating a hit West End musical

    11-step recipe for creating a West End hit

    Richard Thomas, the lyricist behind the Jerry Springer and Anna Nicole Smith operas, explains how Bob Dylan, 'Breaking Bad' and even Noam Chomsky inspired his songbook for the new musical 'Made in Dagenham'
    Tonke Dragt's The Letter for the King has finally been translated into English ... 50 years on

    Buried treasure: The Letter for the King

    The coming-of-age tale about a boy and his mission to save a mythical kingdom has sold a million copies since it was written by an eccentric Dutchwoman in 1962. Yet until last year, no one had read it in English
    Can instilling a sense of entrepreneurship in pupils have a positive effect on their learning?

    The school that means business

    Richard Garner heads to Lancashire, where developing the 'dragons' of the future is also helping one community academy to achieve its educational goals
    10 best tablets

    The world in your pocket: 10 best tablets

    They’re thin, they’re light, you can use them for work on the move or keeping entertained
    Lutz Pfannenstiel: The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents

    Lutz Pfannenstiel interview

    The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents
    Pete Jenson: Popular Jürgen Klopp can reignite Borussia Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern Munich

    Pete Jenson's a Different League

    Popular Klopp can reignite Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern
    John Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

    Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

    The use of the British hostage demonstrates once again the militants' skill and originality in conducting a propaganda war, says Patrick Cockburn
    The killer instinct: The man who helps students spot potential murderers

    The killer instinct

    Phil Chalmers travels the US warning students how to spot possible future murderers, but can his contentious methods really stop the bloodshed?
    Clothing the gap: A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd

    Clothing the gap

    A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd
    Fall of the Berlin Wall: Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain

    The Fall of the Berlin Wall

    Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain