An Investigation Of Digital Games Features That Appeal To Young Females And Males

Osunde, Joseph; Windall, Gill; Bacon, Liz and Mackinnon, Lachlan (2015). An Investigation Of Digital Games Features That Appeal To Young Females And Males. In: European conference on games based learning (ECGBL), 8-9 Oct 2015, Norway.


This research is part of an attempt to address the well-known problem of female underrepresentation in computer science education and industry. This problem starts between ages 11 to 14 and gets progressively worse in what is often referred to as the “shrinking pipeline effect”. There has been considerable research into the causes of the shrinking pipeline and attempts to halt or reverse it. In spite of this, the causes remain unclear and there is evidence that the problem may be worsening.
Digital games are increasingly used in education because of their ability to engage and motivate young learners. Unfortunately, digital games used in the teaching of IT and computer science have been found to appeal less to females than males. This is in spite of the fact that digital games intended for entertainment, as opposed to education, are now very popular with girls. There has been some research into this issue, however more is needed, especially into what game features do and do not appeal to girls at the age that the pipeline starts to shrink.
The study reported here aims to identify what characteristics of digital entertainment games appeal to young females and males. The results can be used to guide educators, researchers and game developers and provide criteria for evaluating the suitability of digital educational games for use with specific age groups and genders.
We used open card sort with participants aged 11 to 14 to explore their attitude to a range of digital entertainment games. Open card sort allows participants to categorise items in ways that are meaningful to them. There were 32 participants (24 females and 8 males) from four schools in south-east England. They were shown video clips of ten popular games. The participants were then given ten cards, each representing one of the games and asked to sort them into categories based on shared characteristics. This process elicited 131 features (95 from the females and 36 from the males). The data was analysed to identify the features that were a) most significant and b) most appealing to the participants.
The findings indicate that there are some gender differences in which game features are perceived as most significant. Some features, such as game action, are significant to the males whereas others, such as game levels, are significant to the females. Interestingly, some features that both genders find significant have different degrees of appeal for example “fun” and “violence”.
We are currently using the findings in an experiment with 480 young people. Two digital educational games have been created: one includes features found to appeal to young females and the other includes the opposite or neutral features. The results of this experiment will be used to validate the findings of the initial investigation and form the basis for a framework to facilitate the inclusion of characteristics that appeal to specific groups in educational games and other software.

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