I recently watched a youtube video that looked at the changes in video games labeled as being for girls over a time period of 20 or so years and it got me thinking. When I was a kind almost all of my female friends played video games in some form. Some only had point and click games on their family PC, others had access to multiple consoles. But almost everyone occasionally played video games. As we got older, this seemed to change. A lot of my female friends just sorta stopped gaming at some point.
This got me thinking about transitional games. Games that aren’t necessarily for young children but aren’t the hardcore games often aimed at adults. I’m talking about the games that make you evolve from casual kid gamer into a lifelong gamer. And thinking back on it, there weren’t that many games that filled that role at that specific point in time. Especially not ones marketed towards girls or women. I myself stopped playing video games for a few years because I felt they were too childlike or too lacked story.
The game that truly got me back into games turned out to be Final Fantasy X. I can’t even remember why I bought a PS2, but I think I just missed having a console or played at a friend’s house or something. It was released in 2001 and knowing me I probably picked it up a while later, so I was probably 11 or 12 years old at the time.
What was it about that game that resonated with me at that specific age?
Firstly, it had an engaging story. No, I’m not talking about the love story, I hated that part of the plot. But there was something about it that constantly made me chase the next plot point.
Secondly, it incentivised levelling. The grid you use to level up and unlock new stat boosts or abilities in FFX is very engaging in that it lets you shape your character. Instead of just boosting your stats, it makes you feel like you’re truly customising your characters. Same with the equipment, you can craft a lot of things in this game and allow for specific setups or themes in your arsenal.
Thirdly, it was an ensemble cast. Sure, you’ll get to hear Tidus’ voice until your ears fall off, but all characters are seen as important. This enabled me to get more engaged in the story since I was able to relate to the different characters at different stages of the game.
Fourthly, it also happens to be a game that portrays female friendship decently well and in a non-patronising kind of way. A lot of the image sold to girls at that age focuses on being bubbly, pink, some sort of girl power troupe, and never ever dealing with complicated things. It is a very shallow presentation of friendship and it was never one that resonated with me. This was at the point in time when everyone seemed to love the Olsen twins. Just the idea that female friends can have very different outlooks on life, argue, and develop friendships without a magical bonding moment but because they get to know each other was borderline revolutionary. Oh, and it also portrays friendships between men and women. Between people of different religions and races, etc.
Fifthly, the game is visually appealing. It has a large variety of settings, creatures, and characters.
Lastly, it required some goddamn skill. Some of the fights in that game are really challenging, require trial and error, and some real strategy. You’d be surprised to learn that those were all mechanics almost always missing from games “designed for girls”. In other words, it felt like a real and rather challenging video game.