Girlfriend Games

I thought I post something. It has been getting quiet around here for some time but it’s mainly since I’m getting into a very exciting phase of Illucinated.

But I would talk about something else which is “women”. Now for a male geek game designer like me, having a girlfriend that is not so much into games is just pure gold. You might think that sharing hobbies in a relationship is nice but you get even more advantages from not doing so. You get the perfect test audience. Even Myamoto discovered it. It’s the girlfriend/wife test. If you have an idea and your girlfriend/wife doesn’t get it, it’s probably too geeky and you are just too blind too see. On the other hand, if she understands and likes it, chances are that it’s an idea with a universal appeal.

So I’m always very interested in what kind of games my girlfriend plays (if she does) and what exactly she likes about them. I already wrote that old article about her sudden fascination with Brain Age. Here is an update on what happened during the 3 years since then.

Brain Age 2
Well, actually she hasn’t been keeping up her Brain Training for too long. It worked alright until we went for a vacation and discontinued our training. After that we weren’t able to get on board again somehow. She got into Sudoku for a while and it worked very well. But she was easily discouraged when puzzles got too hard and she never had the drive to do more at a time.

Then we she tried Brain Age 2 which totally turned things around because of one thing: Dr. Mario. There is a stylus-based version of Dr. Mario in Brain Age 2 and she TOTALLY got hooked on it. I mean COMPLETELY. I was away that day and she was so overwhelmed that she had to tell me about it in a SMS. She was very excited and was playing for very long periods of time with a distinct “one more round”-effect experienced players know all too well. Interestingly, the factors responsible are very obscure to me. It has to do with seemingly superficial things like the stylus controls, the character design of the viruses and the music. So for example, when I proposed to get the old Doctor Mario or the WiiWare version of the remake, she wasn’t interested in that. We still haven’t bought the game but I foresee that a purchase is due.

Mario Kart Wii
We have been playing Mario Kart Wii for some time. Which usually means that she was playing and I was watching and helping her. It worked quite well. The game is actually perfect for her. Racing is something that works well for her. The ability to hurt other drivers is also something that clicks (she has a slightly sadistic preference). She uses the wheel, she can’t deal with the stick at all. Also she uses the automatic drift. The biggest challenge in the game for her is to stay on the road. Wario’s Goldmine is sheer impossible because she is constantly falling off the track (big fun spoiler). Interesting detail: in some levels she has problems to see where she is supposed to go. It seems to be a visual thing. Might write an in-depth article. Anyway, so I think we got to the end of 100cc but then the fun kinda faded away. The next races were often really demanding and didn’t offer anything new. I also made her try on-line and even she was skeptical first, she was surprised how much fun it was afterwards.
The funny thing is how much she got used to the wheel. She tried other racing games (Burnout Paradise) but it was evident how the reflex of tilting the controller stuck with her. I know we all tend to do that but the Wheel enhanced that – she can’t help but try to control the car by tilting the controller. It struck me how she learned playing games in a totally different way.

I thought the king of casual games would do well with her. She tried the demo and it looked like she liked it. So I bought it. She played up until the middle of the adventure mode and lost interest. She often lost the levels because of bad luck or because she wasn’t able to anticipate how the ball ricochets. It seemed too arbitrary for her. Arbitrary is only nice if you win.

Puzzle Quest
That’s the most recent acquisition and I was surprised that she got hooked big time again. Not quite as much as with Dr. Mario but still big time. She saw a demo on the Xbox and she really liked it but struggled with the controls. She just doesn’t have the fine-motoric skills for manipulating the analogue stick. She constantly made unintentional mistakes which even could cost her a match. She asked for a DS Version. So I hunted one down which took almost a month. We started playing it independently and so far we are roughly on the same level so we’ve spent a similar amount of time on it! Even better: unlike Brain Age it is a game I’m really into as well. She enjoys the “Instant Action” button while I like to explore the “Quest Mode” features. The interesting thing is that I also showed her Bejeweled and she didn’t like it as much as Puzzle Quest. The reason is because in Puzzle Quest, you are fighting against an opponent. This is a very important thing for her. Causal doesn’t mean you don’t like violence and combat!

I recently showed her some of the features of “Quest Mode” and she slowly dips into it. But it’s mainly because the “Instant Action” enemies are starting to get too difficult to fight without any equipment at all. She is also interested in some of the game variations associated with some of the Quest Mode features – like the minigame for capturing monsters. It’s the same match-3 but the rules are slightly different. You can’t get that on “Instant Action”. She always skips the dialogue though. Can’t blame her.

Street Fighter IV
Not really a game she plays on her own but still: She is sometimes interested in the characters of Street Fighter IV. She tends to ask me questions about why they look like they do or comments on weird things like Chun-Li thighs. I made her play the Arcade Mode twice and I was very surprised that it worked very well. Sure – she was button-mashing big time. Once she got through the entire game almost just by spamming High Kick. Still, she deliberately gets a throw in once in a while and even managed a Hadouken or two. There is something simple and (again) violent about the game that works well for her. Sometimes you just want to beat the crap of somebody.

So what do we learn from it? Well it’s a big deal for me since I’m creating a model of her mind in my mind. I’m trying to see games through her eyes. So far what I understand is that superficial things like visuals and audio are SUPER-important. If a game has music that she doesn’t like or visuals which she find unpleasant (like most of the games do), she won’t even consider playing. The interesting thing is that it is not so much the quality of but more the general look & feel. If it looks dirty and gritty, she won’t even look at it even it is a masterpiece. It’s also not even a matter of taste. She doesn’t judge. She doesn’t analyze. She just has this strong emotional reaction to certain visual or auditive stimuli.

Controls are also very important. The DS is so perfect because it IS the most natural input scheme out there so far. Even the Wii doesn’t quite compete. Gaming pads only work if she can somehow break it down to simple gestures like spamming in Street Fighter. Maneuvering in 2 dimensions on a d-pad in real-time doesn’t work. Analogue sticks are a completely out of the question. She is too slow and too imprecise with them.

She doesn’t like loosing because she will think that she just doesn’t have the skills … either that or she will declare the game unfair. And (surprisingly) she likes violence. Not too much but she likes it if she can somehow cause misfortune to in-game characters. But then again, she needs motivation – the characters she hurts must be mean to her in return. Looking ugly (again, visuals!) is also a motivation. Hurting innocent or cute things is not something she would do.

I’ll will defiantly keep on playing with her. I always learn a lot. Do you have similar experiences with you significant other?

Krystian Majewski

Krystian Majewski was born in Warsaw and studied design at Köln International School of Design. Before, he was working on a mid-size console project for NEON Studios in Frankfurt. He helped establish a Master course in Game Design and Research at the Cologne Game Lab. Today he teaches Game Design at various institutions and develops independent games.

16 responses to “Girlfriend Games”

  1. Simon Ferrari

    I can basically get my girlfriend to play anything indie that can be downloaded on a Mac. This is an interesting dichotomy: adapted to Mac = accessible; stuck on PC = inaccessible.

    She really enjoys Castle Crashers, but hates Alien Hominid. She only owns one game for her DS, Tetris; I got her to play Elite Beat Agents, but she hates The World Ends With You. We tried playing some shmups together on XBL, and she kinda got the hang of Geometry Wars 2. But the original is a “no go,” and Ikaruga is a “never in hell.”

  2. Krystian Majewski

    Mac / PC: HA! That’s a nice one. Since I’m using a PC I don’t really have an idea about the compatibility situation. What kind of Indie games are availible on Mac exactly?

    To be honest, I’m not playing too much Indie games myself because I go one step further on that logic: I have to download it = inaccessible; I can play it in Browser = let’s take a look real quick.

    Castle Crashers is intriguing! Actually, my GF saw Alien Hominid (which we should play co-op, or Gears for that matter) and liked the graphics very much. I believe she somewhat enjoyed the over-the-top violence. Both, CC and AH wouldn’t work for her. Navigating through a space AND shooting/fighting at the same time is just too much for her d-pad skills.

    What exactly makes Geometry Wars 2 more suitable for her than the original one?

    And yes, Ikaruga is almost too hardcore for me.

    And while we are speaking for shooters – here is a great example for the audio/visual sensitivity I was speaking of: my GF completely rejected REZ because she hated the music.

  3. Krystian Majewski

    Oh yes my GF also enjoys Tetris from time to time. She popped to get her fix it in when she had to give her Brain Age 2. She prefers Dr. Mario over Tetris though. She says it’s because the blocks are viruses. There is more meaning behind the game. Also, the viruses look like they are nasty which apparently summons up a great deal of motivation for her to play it. That’s also one of the reasons why the new version is better than the old one: the viruses are bigger so you can see their mean faces more clearly. I’m quite flabbergasted. Here I was thinking game mechanics were important.

  4. Simon Ferrari

    On a Mac you can basically get Rohrer’s games, Facade, The Graveyard and The Path, Dwarf Fortress (she doesn’t touch that one), and all Flash games of course! Most non-browser indie games are PC only.

    Geo Wars 2 has a bunch of different play modes, and to be honest it’s quite a bit easier. You have reflectors that you can fly through to destroy your pursuers, and you get multipliers that persist throughout the game to boost your extra ships and bombs. Geo Wars 1 only has the one regular play mode and a pretty brutal learning curve. You can learn a lot of different strategies from playing all the different modes in Geo Wars 2 (plus it has co-op, so you can play together).

    My girlfriend loves Rez, but hates TWEWY and Space Giraffe for the audacity of their soundtracks :)

    The Doctor Mario versus Tetris thing is explained pretty well be Raph Koster, where he goes into the narrative content you could place over the tiles in Tetris to make them a completely different game. Mechanics are superior for people who are game literate, but inexperienced gamers definitely need that narrative hook.

  5. GunBlade

    I just read this interesting article yesterday:
    Could be interesting to those who want to introduce their girl to video games, although, personally, I think he is wrong about many points…

  6. Krystian Majewski

    Thanks for the link. Yeah I do disagree in a lot of points. One thing that strikes me is how there are no Nintendo games mentioned in the article. Bioshock? Dead Space? For your girlfriend? Seriously?! I would claim that if you want to bring a person into gaming, Xbox360 games are generally a bad idea. Even if Microsoft thinks otherwise.

    Another thing to watch out is over-generalization. I wrote of experiences with my significant half. I don’t claim that it would work for others. I would be insulted if some article would suggest to my girlfriend to buy me Madden because it is a “Dude Game”. Women are people. There are different kinds of people.

  7. axcho

    Now that is fascinating! Thanks so much for posting it. :) My brain will be bubbling over this intriguing new information for days to come.

    “superficial things like visuals and audio are SUPER-important. If a game has music that she doesn’t like or visuals which she find unpleasant (like most of the games do), she won’t even consider playing.”

    Good reminder. Kind of goes with your post about the importance of animation? Sometimes I am amazed by the number and diversity of design decisions that must be done right to end up with a fun and accessible game. :p

    “You might think that sharing hobbies in a relationship is nice but you get even more advantages from not doing so.”

    Interesting point. I think I feel better knowing this. :)

  8. Oceans Dream

    My girlfriend is a bigger gamer than I am, I play against her in fighting games but she’s cheap so I can never win. Other than that, she plays other games on hard mode while I default to the easiest setting.

    We generally like very different games though. I get bored of visual novels quickly, but she likes them. In fact I haven’t been playing games much at all. I almost feel like she could apply this article to me instead.

    I like making games but I don’t generally like playing games that are longer than 5 hours. I get bored quickly. I read “60+ hours of gameplay!” on a box and I immediately put the game back and find a different one.

  9. Yu-Chung Chen

    kinda missed the RSS feed of this one.

    My girlfriend got into gaming because of me. First she only tried my stuff, also we sometimes talk about classic titles she have nostalgic memories of, from the Famicom days. Now she occasionally does purchases on her own, getting games I don’t play.

    She can get serious/obsessive about certain games, like Tetris DS and Ouendan (Japanese Elite Beat Agents). Basically any rhythm-based game is potentially a hi-score fest for her. Rhythm Heaven of course, too. Likes Mario Kart Wii but NOT Mario Kart DS. I’m guessing the comfort when playing is a major point here.

    Games with straightforward mechanics are a must. She often says to my games “I would get lost (spatially) there” (Zelda, GTA, expansive worlds are scary), “games you play are so complicated” (Braid, Street Fighter, re: the move commands), “that’s too many buttons” (Street Fighter series). I remember her expressing dislike for pads. Wiimote works its magic as intended.

    Brutal games are dismissed. Ninja Gaiden, Resident Evil and the like are barely referred to by their names, but as “perverted killing games” or something to that effect (using appropriate Chinese expressions).

    Layton was liked for the puzzles but has too much texts for her taste. Same reason why she didn’t get into Phoenix Wright, despite enjoying the trademark charaters.

    Traditional Mario is liked too, going only from left to right. Mario 64 doesn’t seem to attract her at all, but she enjoyed Galaxy a lot (maybe thanks to the visuals?), gathering more than 70 stars (IIRC), was ahead of me (!) for a while and only stopped playing because the comet levels towards the end were insultingly difficult (and because I got all 120 before her).

    There you can see how well Nintendo manages to make the perspective twisting gameplay accessible even to the spatially challenged.

    Interesting note about Zookeeper and the importance of superficiality: She doesn’t like Bejeweled at all, and Puzzle Quest’s additional layer of gameplay complexity was a total torn-off, despite the same basic gameplay. On a side note, when I show her some WIP stuff of mine or other visual designs I do, the most enthusiastic reaction I can get is “THAT’S SO CUTE!!”. Intellectual designs are appreciated but don’t excite her that much unless it’s really practical at the same time. I guess we are not only videogame-geeks but also design geeks.

    Lately, she’s into a silly dog breeding game on Facebook. Where you hatch dog eggs. Yeah that’s right. Dog eggs. The game uses RPG mechanics to hook the player, but otherwise it’s extremely dull from my POV. Waiting time are deliberately integrated (for the eggs to hatch) so you’d play short sessions but check back often. She even sets time alarms to check back asap.

  10. Yu-Chung Chen

    re: Xbox 360
    So far the only thing that attracted her on the console was Feeding Frenzy, leading to a purchase. None of the other things I have or tried out sparked the slightest interest.

    She has no motivation whatsoever to pickup the Xbox pad, but checking out Wii stuff seems natural for her. Also other friends that come over prefer Wii.

    It’s amazing to see Nintendo’s concept working out.


    Jesse Schell’s The Art of Game Design has a short section on gender preferences, roughly only of course:
    Male: Mastery, Competition, Destruction, Spatial Puzzles, Trial and Error.
    Female: Emotion, Real World, Nurturing, Dialog and Verbal Puzzles, Learning by Example.

    I can relate to many of his points.

  11. JT

    I saw your link to this article from the Experience Points blog. This was a nice article for trying to get into the mind of a person who isn’t really heavy into games, but will play them once and awhile. It’s like getting a map to the mind of the casual gamer. I often have a hard time understanding the casual gamer because I’ve grown up playing videogames my whole life and I think I like them for different reasons than a person that just plays them every now and again. It’s a similar thing for me with music. I don’t care for pop music much because I was raised on “musician’s music” and tend to like stuff that is more complex, difficult to perform, abstract, or somehow unique. I like to try to understand the casual gamer and the casual music listener perspectives to have some common ground to talk about the things I love.

  12. Krystian Majewski

    @Oceans Dream – ha! So basically you are the “girlfriend” on this one. That’s cool, I’m looking forward to a post on a different blog when a female game designer will talk about how she is trying to get her boyfriend into games. ^_^

    I totally agree to your opinion on the length of games. Since when is longer better? If we are talking about hours, even sex can get boring.


    Kind of goes with your post about the importance of animation? In a way… but even more immediate. Like for example if the game world looks dirty and gritty, it doesn’t matter how things are animated. It’s just considered by her as an ugly place she doesn’t want to stay in. For me that’s quite the braintwist but I come to understand her perspective.

    Sometimes I am amazed by the number and diversity of design decisions that must be done right to end up with a fun and accessible game.Yeah, it’s a wonder games are being made at all. As you know, it’s even more daunting when you are actually in the midst of doing it ^_^

    @ Yu-Chung Chen
    As for the affinity cuteness I say with certainty that it’s the particular preference of YOUR girlfriend. Still, it’s a valid perspective and there is a HUGE audience that thinks the same. But I wouldn’t call us design geeks because of that.

    Have you tried World of Goo? You know – it’s cooperative and very cute. And also I almost forgot: the first game my GF actually played trough was Pikmin. I think nowadays with the Wii version out it’s also a great choice.

    As for text reading: that was the most amazing thing. She reads a lot so I showed her Hotel Dusk and Phoenix Wright. She enjoyed it but complained that it was too slow and too boring. Different game with same complaint: Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles. When she plays, she enjoys instant action. I mean RIGHT NOW GODDAMN! That’s why Street Fighter works.

    Funny thing happed when I let my GF play Resident Evil 4. First of all, the game was spooky and very scary for her. But she was doing well up until the village. Then a bunch of zombies approaches and one of them stabbed her with a trident in the face. At this point she completely freaked out started shooting and screaming. Emptied her entire amunition, devastated all opponents, quit the game and wishes never to return again. She sometimes even recalls that specific even when she was stabbed in the eye… even if that attack was just a generic animation from the game. It left such an intense impression in her.

    So what strikes me is that my GF is actually in a way much more into the games as I am. She actually takes the things that happen there much more personally then I do. She totally buys into it and takes some events for face value, especially visual clues. But this actually makes her reject a lot of games because she can’t distance herself from them emotionally. So actually seeing the mean faces of viruses of Doctor Mario contributes to the addictive quality of the game for her more than the actual mechanics. At least that’s what she claims. That was an eye-opener for me because I thought the graphics were only important at the early stages and later the mechanics would take over. It seems like that’s not always the case.

    As for the Wii. Yeah, for my GF it’s better than a pad console but the DS is the system of choice. She wouldn’t idle in front of any console anyway and she actually commented negatively about the Wii controls when we were talking about getting the Dr. Mario Clone on the Wii. For example, she sometimes struggles with “finding” the screen with the pointer. Just shows that there is still some mapping involved. On the DS it’s really touching the things you interact with. That’s a big deal!

  13. Krystian Majewski

    @JT Interesting analogy! I must imagine it must be even tougher with understanding the appeal of pop music looking “from the inside”. Games are at least visual so you can point at things and discuss them. I’m currently working on the music of my game and I have the hardest time even to verbally localize a specific sound or part I want to discuss…let alone describe what I want to change about it.

  14. Cucky Lunt

    Despite years of trying to get my girlfriend into gaming only very rarely does something spike her fancy. As mentioned above Tetris for the DS seems to be like catnip for chicks. I bought her Viva Pinata and she played it for a decent while but don’t think ever really got into it. I also tried Portal because I thought the humour would drag her in, but sadly she had too much trouble “thinking with portals”. The only games that she really gets into are the Guitar Hero games which she now plays non-stop, which brings me to the down side of having a partner who games, she hogs the console and I find it hard to game a game in. . .

  15. Christophe

    “ the characters she hurts must be mean to her in return. Looking ugly (again, visuals!) is also a motivation. ”

    well that was depressing.

    1. Krystian Majewski

      Huh? Why depressing?


The Game Design Scrapbook is a second blog of group of three game designers from Germany. On our first blog, Game Design Reviews we describe some games we played and point out various interesting details. Unfortunately, we found out that we also need some place to collect quick and dirty ideas that pop into our minds. Hence, welcome to Game Design Scrapbook. You will encounter wild, random rantings. Many of then incoherent. Some of them maybe even in German. If you don't like it, you might enjoy Game Design Reviews more.


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