The first two Nintendo DS games designed specifically for female gamers were unveiled today, as The Game Factory announced that Zenses Ocean and Zenses Rainforest will ship in October.
While the new-game announcement was interesting, The Game Factory’s press release brings up a more intriguing topic: whether videogames can really be designed for one gender over another. The Game Factory certainly thinks so, but in my mind, I have serious concerns about the role of sexism and stereotyping during the development of both Zenses Ocean and Zenses Rainforest.
Zenses Ocean and Zenses Rainforest will “allow players to escape from the stress of daily life while challenging the mind, body and spirit through relaxing puzzle games, soothing ambient sounds and authentic rainforest and oceanic visuals.” Apparently, that’s what female gamers want. At least, so says The Game Factory.
“We’re very excited to bring Zenses to the growing number of women who are increasingly embracing casual gaming,” said Henrik Mathiasen, CEO of The Game Factory. “We have spent a lot of time and resources to analyze the motivations, requirements and expectations of the female casual gamers. Zenses is the first Nintendo DS title developed specifically for the female audience. With Zenses, we are creating a brand new gaming experience based on intelligent, addictive gameplay wrapped around appealing visuals and soothing music.”
Not that they’re stereotyping or anything…. Who among us hasn’t been whooped-up on by a merciless Halo 3 or Unreal Tournament player who also happens to be female? I’m sorry, but there ain’t no soothing music in those games, folks.
The Game Factory created the Zenses games “in response to the growth of the casual games industry, which … has grown from a $200-300 million industry in 2005 to more than 10 times that amount today. The rise in popularity of casual games is also marked by the rise in sales of the Nintendo DS handheld and the Wii console, which were in February 2008 the No. 1 and 2 selling game systems according to the market research firm The NPD Group, Inc.”
So male gamers can’t possibly be casual gamers? That’s what the conclusion seems to be here.
One has has to wonder whether the Zenses name itself was meant to be a play on “Zen senses” or a weird spelling of “menses.” Not to be crass or anything, just pointing it out.
Not to be unfair, the games themselves sound interesting: “In Zenses Ocean, players relax themselves playing puzzle games inspired by the movements of the tide, rippling water, riffs and corals, beach vegetation and sea life. An indulgent, soothing experience, Zenses Ocean includes high quality visuals and ambient sounds inspired by the natural sounds of the sea. Subliminal addictive puzzles such as Hot Spot, Shell Twirl, Turtle Turn, Pearl Diver and Wave Breaker were created to give players an escape from the stress of every day life.
Meanwhile, “Zenses Rainforest allows players to explore the Amazon while playing games infused with rain drops, exotic flowers, waterfalls and giant trees. This refreshing experience encourages players to recharge their batteries while playing puzzle games such as Sapphire Wheel, Mirror Maze, Stack Jack and Bumble Breaker.”
No matter how you slice it, companies are scrambling to tap into the oh-so-desirable casual gaming market, but exactly how they’re doing so is scatter shot, at best. This latest attempt, a company claiming it has designed a game with pretty pictures and soothing sounds specifically so it will appeal to female gamers, seems a bit suspect, to say the least, not to mention a bit sexist.
The true irony in all this, though? One of the company’s executives is female.
I understand the need to distinguish yourself from the competition and separate your games from others, but this is one marketing tactic that doesn’t seem very well thought out.
— Jonas Allen