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Biology and Gaming: Why Women Don't Play Games

Human Behavior

Humans have various complex survival behaviors and particularly men and women have different survival mechanisms designed around our particularly strange (as far as other animals are concerned) lifestyle. One of these mechanisms is hunting behavior. Meat was (and still is!) one of our main sources of food in prehistory (take a good look at your own teeth and check out the incisors, these are not for chewing cud). Unfortunately meat doesn't grow in the ground, and it tries not to be eaten, so humans (in particular men) developed hunting skills: These include throwing things (ballistic skills) aiming sharp objects at things, running down animals, navigating the land, making hunting tools, setting traps, spotting hidden "game" (interesting word): in short a whole range of hand-eye, spatial and coordination skills. When men use these skills they are rewarded with sensations of pleasure (our chemical AI at work). Another pleasurable activity is working in a group of men to hunt. There is a considerable degree of pleasure derived from participating in a team hunt or its modern equivalent (sports, corporation, platoon). Spectator sports are so popular with men (even though there is no physical activity) because of the pleasure associated with the illusion of being with a team (online-games also give the same kick). It's hard for women to understand the pleasure men get from hunting activities and hunting socialization because they themselves are not chemically rewarded for these things. For men, the pleasure is not associated with being in a group (unlike women), it's in participating in a group objective. Action games are written to give that sensation of both hunting and being in a team. This is much of the reason why women are not as numerous in computer games. Men derive pleasure from games that "flip their switch" because these games are designed by men. And it is such a strong kick that a lot of men prefer action games to a bunch of other activities. Sometimes it can be better than sex. Well, maybe not, but pretty damn close.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view) there are very few ways that men can (legally) get their hunting kick in modern society. There are few avenues for men to exercise that instinctive behavior safely and without consequence. We don't have to kill our food, we don't fight wars that often (when we do it's usually too terrifying to enjoy) and we generally don't work with our hands. Sports are the most common way men exercise this urge, but it's an abstraction of hunting, and largely a social activity. There are all kinds complications involved in playing organized sports, and plus it's damn tiring. Computer games, in particular, action computer games are the safe substitute for hunting/combat, and instead of abstracting a hunting atmosphere like sports, they simulate it directly without much fuss or things getting in the way of the action. Plus there is the added bonus that you don’t have to be in shape and you can drink beer while your doing it. Men are born with these instincts, and we itch to use them. Games allow us to use them without bringing civilization to its knees. But once again, these games are designed to please men.

Some people might object to this argument in the wake of the debate over the role of action games in recent tragedies. I am not making a political statement, this feature of male psychology is a fact, and there is no need to refer to a mound of studies or other credentials to support it. Anyone who knows anything about people knows this is true: Men are pre-disposed to aggressive behavior, and our games reflect this. Some men crave this action more than others, but most of us love it. We just learn to live with it.

The Medium is The Message

  Where are the Girls?
  The Biological Roots of Gaming
  Hairless Monkeys
  Human Behavior
  The Medium is The Message
  What do Women Want?
  Games for Women

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