In 1997, a software company named Purple Moon launched its debut game, Rockett’s New School. The game, as well as the company’s other Rockett games, focused on “relationships, secrets, identity negotiation, and interpersonal skills” (Taylor). Brenda Laurel, the founder of Purple Moon, defended the games focus on stereotypical female interests, but due to a drop in sales the company would shut down two years later and merge with Mattel. In 1998, Mattel released its fourth Barbie PC game, Detective Barbie in The Mystery of the Carnival Caper (MCC), adhering to the common philosophy of creating non-violent, non-competitive games for girls. That same year, a new game company called Her Interactive released its debut game, Nancy Drew: Secrets Can Kill (SCK), another non-violent PC game for girls that, unlike the Rockett or Barbie series, “didn’t rely on gender stereotypes” (Jong). In this blog, I will examine how Her Interactive moved beyond pink games to create a new kind of game for girls, and how more games like the Nancy Drew series could attract more of these potential gamers.
In MCC, the player controls Barbie as she searches the carnival for the missing Ken using a magnifying glass that highlights clues and footprints through the lens. Each clue—which is usually a ticket stub with an obvious marking, like a ghost for the haunted house or a horse for the carousel— leads to a different area in the carnival where the player will find either another clue or a useful object, like a key or a crowbar. If the clues are too difficult to solve, a computer manned by Barbie’s sidekick, Becky, will hint at where to go. The clues eventually lead Barbie to a shadowy figure, who must be successfully chased through several carnival rides before (s)he can be unmasked. MCC’s success lead to a second detective game, which was released three years later.
As in MCC, the player controls Nancy Drew in SCK as she investigates a school murder using a special magnifying glass to search for clues. Unlike MCC, the player is required to complete several puzzles—like deciphering the coded hints on the school’s bulletin boards, solving a sliding puzzle for access to a faculty computer account, or fixing an overheating boiler before it kills Nancy—question suspects, riffle through said suspects’ belongings to learn more about them, and use objects granted throughout the game to sneak into off-limits areas in order to progress through the game. Each conversation offers several dialogue options, with each choice eventually leading back to the topic at hand. Suspects become increasingly hostile as the player learns more about their secrets, and some will refuse to talk unless presented with proof of their crime, which range from a young woman competing anonymously in a men’s judo tournament to a young man being blackmailed into becoming a drug runner.
Nancy has a journal that records important clues for the player—unless she is playing as a Senior or Master Detective—but the game also requires the player to pay attention during her investigations. The teacher’s lounge, for instance, has a clue to the boiler room’s password. Nancy’s magnifying glass will indicate that the player should look at the whiteboard in the lounge, but until the player finds the book on Morse code hidden in the room and deciphers the password, the clue will mean nothing, as Nancy will rarely solve clues for the player’s convenience.
When Her Interactive first tried to get SCK published, distributers turned down the product on the basis that girls and women were not a viable market for PC games. Now the original demographic has increased from ages 10-15 to ages 10-80 to include the many adult women who play the games (Gaiser) and is no longer restricted to girls and women. As of 2006, “10-15% of our audience is male and if the name of the series weren’t Nancy Drew, we [at Her Interactive] believe we would have many more boys and men playing our games” (Jacobs). Her Interactive’s goal has always been “to design, develop, and market intelligent interactive games for girls” with the belief “that there should be as many types of games as there are types of girls.” (Jong) Brenda Laurel claims to have attempted to do the same, but critics of the Rockett series claim that Brenda created games for only one type of girl—specifically, girls who did not or were not interested in playing PC games—and ignored the rest (TayotaPeterson). Rather than confining themselves to games that interest only one kind of gamer, Her Interactive produces games that “rely on the intrigue of a good mystery, and a smart, gutsy heroine” (Jong). “’These aren’t girly games,’ Gaiser says firmly. ‘They are intelligent entertainment.’ And maybe that’s all that girls–and some boys–really want” (“Daily Beast”).
Gaiser, Megan. Personal Interview.
Jong, Philip. “Her Interactive.” Adventure Classic Gaming. Interview by Philip Jong. 12 June 2000. Web. <http://www.adventureclassicgaming.com/index.php/site/interviews/156/>.
LatoyaPeterson, . ” Beyond Rockett and Purple Moon: Gender, Gaming, and Stereotypes. Jezebel. N.p., 29 Dec 2009. Web. 26 Nov. 2011. <http://jezebel.com/5435844/beyond-rockett-and-purple-moon–gender-gaming-and-stereotypes>.
Jacobs, Jay S. “The Case of the Pioneering Game Company.” PopEntertainment.com. Interview by Jay J. Jacobs. PopEntertainment.com, 3 Dec 2006. Web. <http://www.popentertainment.com/gaiser.htm>.
Taylor, TL. Play between worlds: Exploring online game culture. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2006.
“The Practical Futurist: Girls Just Want To Have Games.” Daily Beast. 3 Sep 2002: n. page. Web. 26 Nov. 2011. <http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2002/09/03/the practical-futurist-girls-just-want-to-have-games.html>.