Girl Geek Week: The Story Behind “Games for Girls”

Girl Geek Week at mlvwrites.comEvery once in a while, you hear the obligatory: “Well, this would be a PERFECT game for girls…” I felt I could NOT have a Geek Girl Week and avoid the topic, so I’m going to dive in with both feet.

The truth of the matter is — neither men or women are idiots. Games “for girls” or games “for guys” can be played by either sex. Often, a game is adapted to fit the needs of a market. Business reasons, more than anything else, is what’s behind targeting a particular demographic with the idea that a particular game would sell better if it’s geared toward a particular niche. Yes, that pesky “bottom line” drives decisions and (love it or hate it) businesses need to do this in order to stay afloat. Sometimes the distinction between girl games and boy games is a lot clearer the younger you go, simply because the parents and the grandparents are normally the ones buying the games for their kids.

Almost all card games and board games have some information on them to help you figure out who it’s for. Chez Goth from Steve Jackson Games lists the number of players, playing time and recommended age groups. Here, this data doesn’t just help us figure out whether or not we want to buy a game, but it also gives us a clue that: “Hey, this game was designed for…” Does it have information on it that helps us make a decision to buy it for girls or boys or both? YES. The artwork on the box depicts cartoonish characters of both male and female goths. (The line on the back… His and Hearse… really cracks me up.) Whether or not we want to, the packaging will force us to make a subconscious decision about how we feel about a game. Doesn’t matter WHAT game it is, either.

Themes and artwork can distinguish whether or not a game is for girls or boys, and often you’ll find so-called early girly games full of fashion, horses and pastel colors. Grown women, on the other hand, play a variety of games in the crossword/Sudoku/etc. category, but there’s also a large (albeit and arguably quite invisible) demographic of female video gamers you rarely hear about. Part of this, in my opinion, is that there’s a stigma attached to playing games. The depiction of gamers as slackers who live in their parent’s basement really hurts the career-minded professional who likes to shoot up zombies every now and then. Add gender roles on top of that and you get the possibility of becoming a social outcast — just because you like to play a game. I’ve talked to MANY women gamers over the years who were afraid to bring forth their controllers, their dice, and their tables. They told me I was brave, and after experiencing some of the b.s. surrounding these stigmas myself, I can see why they thought that. Still, I yam who I yam who I yam.

[MONICA GEEK ALERT: Here’s the funny thing about that: the idea that gamers are lazy has roots in Puritanism. Ever here the expression Americans live to work and the rest of the world works to live? Yep, same thing. Study after study after study proves, though, that human beings are not mindless robots. We need time to play, to relax to increase our efficacy on the job and enrich our lives. Not to mention, more information is coming out that gaming is good for your brain — it keeps your mind active AND prevents Alzheimer’s!]

Some adult games, like video games, are more apparent in terms of who their audience is. There are several video games I’ve tried to play but wound up putting down because the boob physics were so in-your-face I couldn’t get past them to enjoy the story or the action. *coughs* Bloodrayne *coughs* Other games, like the Final Fantasy franchise, appeal to me because I enjoy a good story. The emphasis on the relationship between the characters, coupled with the fanastical world building, really helps me get into a character. And, like I mentioned in my post about a character I most identify with, some of the games have strong, female characters.

Needless to say, this is why role-playing games are (and will always be) more friendly toward women. Your imagination is what drives the story at the table, so if your group is friendly toward women? Your game will probably be friendly toward women. Not only that, but game mechanics have improved so much, that the chances are excellent you’ll find a game you like. For a first game, I’d recommend picking up a tie-in product, just because it’s sometimes easier to dive into a role if you know the setting. I’d also recommend going to conventions, but that’s a whole ‘nother topic.

When it comes down to brass tacks, though, in order to be open-minded about anything, at any time, you have to look past the stereotypes. Those preconceived notions exist because that’s how humans categorize information. Getting past stupid assumptions takes time and energy that often makes people feel uncomfortable, because we often gravitate toward what we’re interested in and what others have encouraged us to be interested in. Take someone out of their comfort zone, and there’s always the possibility of change. For many people? Change is more frightening than death.

I’ll give you an example. I was intimidated by Magic: the Gathering. Frightened. To. Death. One? I’m a pretty competitive person when it comes to gaming and play to win. (Can we say min/maxer?) When I’m just learning, though, I hate being beaten to death with terms I don’t understand and precocious attitudes because I don’t feel like I’m part of the club. That didn’t happen with Magic, though. A few years ago, I was writing an article for [redacted] and managed to get quotes from the women at WOTC who talked about how many female champions there were. Wizards of the Coast has been nothing but nice and supportive to us at, so when the opportunity came up to learn how to play Magic the Gathering at a convention? I took it. And… I beat the judge. And… I was invited to play in a weekly game. Right now, their open game sessions conflict with my schedule, but once my evenings are balanced I’m definitely going to play more often than I do.

I feel it is absolutely pointless to blame a company or a marketing team for “being wrong” about the demographic that they’re targeting. Businesses have data, they have experience, and they have financial numbers to support what they’re doing. The ONLY way games will change, is if our buying habits ALSO change AND we get more diverse game designers on staff.

So, if you’re sick of so-called “girl games,” then don’t buy them for yourself or as a gift! Try something new. Play demos. Go to conventions. If you’re unhappy with how a company designed a game, then contact them. Write letters. Talk to the designers. Find companies you want to support and which ones you won’t. You’d be surprised what is waiting for you out there: there’s a whole community of us that would LOVE to talk to you!

If you’re seriously interested in the hobby, getting involved is as simple as walking to your local game store. Or, if you’re anything like me — start freelancing and get on those design teams. ‘Cause I gotta tell you, there’s nothing more satisfying than being on the ground floor of a brand new game.

Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Leave ’em or weep!

The Games I’ve Been Playing

An avid gamer, I play a range of games usually for two reasons 1) have fun and 2) pick apart their design. While most of my design skills are focused on the hobby games industry at the moment, I still try to play a variety of games.

Sumoku by Blue Orange GamesBecause I wanted to branch out of the games I normally play, I picked up Sumoku by Blue Orange Games. Dubbed “pure adding fun,” it’s more like maddening math hells — but in a good way. Sumoku has a high production value, and by that I mean the pieces are molded well and the plastic isn’t painted, so it won’t flake off at some point. The mechanics are really simple and takes about ten seconds to learn. Basically, you roll a die to get your target number. Then you pull out a number of tiles according to how many players you have. (Yes, you can play solo, which is a nice feature.) After you have that done, you set up the tiles in a crossword puzzle-like arrangement, where each row is a multiple of your target number. The only thing is, you can’t repeat colors in the same row, which is where it can get pretty challenging.

I really like Sumoku because I don’t normally play with numbers that often and it gives me a chance to use different brain cells. Plus, it’s portable and all the pieces fit back into the bag. W00t!

For my Nintendo DS, I’ve been playing Super Hero Squad, but have gotten stuck on a boss battle which is maddening, maddening I tell you. The mechanics are pretty slick because you have to balance your teammate’s powers with playing the characters you enjoy. I laugh every time I play it – the one-liners are great! For traditional video games, I’m playing through Final Fantasy XIII once again as time allows. This game is really good if you don’t have the time to play through a continuous storyline. I royally screwed up the mini-game last time and for me to go back and play through all the difficult battles would have required hundreds of hours. Takes less time to start over and since I’ve already beaten the game, I know what happens. Just in time for the sequel. Heh, heh.

Esoterrorists Cover ArtFor hobby games, on the other hand, we’ve been playing short adventures and running them in three-or-four session rotations. Over the past couple of months, we played an adventure for Esoterrorists, which was written and designed by Robin Laws. One of the big selling points for me, is the character creation process. (EASY!) We were investigating grisly murders and a bizarre summoning. After that, our team voted to switch over to Savage Worlds. (I ALMOST misstyped that as Savage Words.) Each week we’ve been focusing on a different style of play and I’ve found the initiative system turns combat into a much, more epic event — regardless of whether or not we’re playing pulp or not. Next week we’re going to break out the Savage Worlds Adventure Deck and I’m curious to see how those gaming enhancements will work out.

Once Origins Game Fair is over and done with, we’ll start playtesting an adventure I’m working on for Trail of Cthulhu, which was designed by Ken Hite. I’ve also got a list of games to play and help review for, some of which are higher on the priority list than others. Not to mention, it’s looking like I’ll be playing Magic: the Gathering here shortly, too.

The nice thing about gaming, is that there’s always something new to play and it’s a great way to do something with other people that doesn’t require eating or drinking. Less filling and good for my head. Win, win!

[Game Design Concept] Politically-Based Card Game

You’ve heard me talk about how life inspires me to write short stories like Lady Yellowbird and the Flight of the Sad Panda, but I haven’t discussed how things around me also inspire me to design, write or play games.

The recent events here in Madison have made me wonder if political tactics and issues can be resolved by playing a game of cards. So how do I envision this working? Well, there’s a few different ways I’d explore in game design to see if it was possible. Since political ideology often runs the gamut of extremely simple to extraordinarily complex, I could see a problem where the politics is over-simplified. In short, you’d have to decide up front whether or not the game would be educational or not.

Educational games can be a ton of fun, but let’s say for the sake of playing devil’s advocate you didn’t want to instruct people about the differences between political parties. In that case, the game mechanic I’d use would have an element of customization. So instead of just having a pre-generated political party, you could customize your own according to what you were trying to do.

Enter the point of the game.

For a politically-based card game, I could see that the main focal point of the game would be to either a) win an election or b) pass a huge agenda (or smaller series thereof). Gameplay would consist of smaller tasks to achieve this goal. The opponent configuration could be player vs. player, team vs. team (requiring more cards) or players vs. general public.

Items you’d want to pass might range in difficulty from national healthcare to something smaller like government research on a disease. Each agenda would have the list of requirements on the card. In order to get national healthcare you need to have X, Y and Z. Maybe that X, Y and Z requires negotiating for certain advocates in order to get it to pass. Maybe to pass it for a vote you roll dice and add the number of advocates. Maybe in order to win an election you need to pass through the relevant phases and “win” by accumulating votes.

In this way, games are born. While this is a really rough idea and isn’t sophisticated by any stretch of the imagination, it’s a start. After brainstorming, I’d work with different prototypes of cards to come up with a simple game. My requirements would be: 1) Everything has to be printed on the cards. This reduces cost to create and doesn’t require additional instructional inserts or pieces. 2) The game isn’t inflammatory. Would have to be accurate, nonpartisan (e.g. not skewed unfavorably one way or the other) and family-friendly. 3) The goal would have to be clear.

So, with those requirements, I’d definitely re-think the end goal and lean more toward “winning an election” than “winning an agenda.” Instead of money, you get votes.

This idea isn’t perfect, but it doesn’t have to be. Many of the kinks would be worked out during rounds and rounds of playtesting or even moreso when (if) I ever worked out a prototype. In many ways, that’s where I feel the true power of game design comes into play. For once you’re at the table, rules can be adapted, tested and fit within the parameters of who’s playing. Theories and concepts are great and all, but until I see them in a game, they’re not a reality. Much like this concept.

Announcing Scenes of the Embrace and Our Design Notes

Scenes of the Embrace | White Wolf Publishing | Vampire the RequiemHi everyone, I am pleased to announce that Scenes of the Embrace was just released from White Wolf Publishing for only $2.99. This was a stand-alone project that I had worked on with developer Eddy Webb, who was the developer.

To celebrate the release, Eddy and I compiled a few of our design notes for Scenes of the Embrace and released them, along with a preview, at I really enjoyed writing these notes, because this particular collaboration didn’t start out smooth. When you work online, writing a new project, that does happen more often than you might think. The product turned out great, though, and I’m really happy that Eddy loved the results.

Included with Scenes of the Embrace are fourteen, stand-alone scenes that a Storyteller can use. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the terminology for Vampire: the Requiem, this product has a narrow focus on the moment when a vampire transforms a mortal into a new vampire. As Eddy had mentioned, although the word “toolkit” seems to be a buzzword now-a-days, that’s really what this product was designed for. There’s a lot of fodder in here for Storytellers that also ties back to a sire’s covenant, too.

If you’re interested in Scenes of the Embrace, you can purchase it as an e-book. To read more about this new supplement for Vampire: The Requiem, take an Inside Look at Scenes of the Embrace at

Hack/Slash Card Game and my Role as a Developer

Cassie Hack from HACK/SLASH by Tim SeeleyHi everyone,

I am excited to announce that I am one of the developers of a card game based on the horror comic HACK/SLASH by Tim Seeley!

Produced by Eden Studios, the game was designed by Matt Papa and the development team includes M. Alexander Jurkat, James Lowder, who is also the current editor for the HACK/SLASH comics series, and yours truly!

Currently, the comic is published through Image Comics. You can read a really good interview with Tim Seeley conducted by about the move from DDP to Image.

Both the HACK/SLASH card game and the RPG will be published through Eden Studios, who published the BUFFY: the VAMPIRE SLAYER, ARMY OF DARKNESS and ANGEL RPGs.

Here’s a quote from the press release:

HACK/SLASH creator Tim Seeley will take an active role in the development of the games. “I grew up reading comics and playing RPGs,” Seeley explains, “so I’m thrilled that a company as great as Eden Studios is giving people a chance to play around in the world of HACK/SLASH. And it’s fantastic to see Cassie and Vlad on a roster alongside such stellar horror licenses as Buffy and Army of Darkness!”

A prototype version of the HACK/SLASH card game will be available for demo play at the Eden Studios booth (#209), at the upcoming Gen Con Game Fair, August 5th through 8th, at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis. — SOURCE: Eden Studios To Bring Fan Favorite Comic HACK/SLASH To The Gaming World

I am absolutely thrilled to be a part of this for many reasons on so many different levels. As a fan of HACK/SLASH and horror, well, everything, I can tell you that this card game really targets the mood and theme of the comic. Matt Papa did an exceptional job as the primary designer and the collaboration that we’ve done on this game has made it even better.

Don’t take my word for it, though, because you know I’m going to rave about it. So, if you’re going to GenCon: Indy, stop by the Eden Studios booth and play the game for yourself. Or… as Cassie would say… “Suck it.”

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