The first gamers. How Sega made video games accessible to both genders (Topic)

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The first gamers. How Sega made video games accessible to both genders


In the 90s, an initiative group appeared in the American branch of Sega, which introduced girls to gaming. The material of the Polygon portal is devoted to this story. We decided to translate it for you.

When Michelin Christine Risley joined Sega of America in 1993, she was concerned that there were few women in the gaming and animation environment. “I worked for a long time in Los Angeles and Hollywood,” Risley says, recalling my work in the animation department at Marvel — especially when I was working on children's television, I noticed how few actresses and female characters were.

The female roles that she saw were practically always secondary, insignificant. And the game world she was about to enter was even worse. There were characters like Miss Pacman, a princess in trouble, or a friend to be rescued.

She accepted Sega's offer to become the head of the Entertainment & Consumer Products and was ready to somehow influence the trends that dominated the market. After Michelin took on the job, she asked senior management for permission to go on a two-week program at Stanford to study women and gender.


“Actually,” says Risley, “the world is not divided into 2% women and 98% men. Alas, the growing popularity of games has created a gap between the sexes. ”

At that time, Sega decided to expand its audience with the new Genesis console. They were going to go beyond an audience of boys aged 9-14 and appeal to an audience of teenagers and adult men. Risley knew that girls could be included here, but it was difficult to prove to her bosses that women are a very profitable audience.


“To prove it to them, it was necessary to literally turn women into money and put it on their table. But if we don't reach that audience now, someone else will do it, ”she says.

Female target audience

Tom Kalinske was the CEO of Sega of America at the time. He, too, saw great potential for a female audience.

He spent his entire past career at Mattel working on Barbie. When he left the company, the mood reigned there "it's over with Barbie." And now, when he has been working in the gaming industry for a long time, Barbie began to bring in billions of dollars, and all because at one point the company executives were told that success lies in making the doll allow girls to be who they want.


Kalinske accepted Risley's offer and they began to invest in advertising. Sega began to play commercials where female gamers appeared. It was important to convey to teenage girls and girls that they can, like boys, play games without restrictions.

At the same time, the company gathered an initiative team from the employees of the American branch of Sega, and created a working group Sega Girls Task Force, which will expand the female audience by any means.

Girlish Marketing

Sega gritted their teeth and directed the group to develop a commercial for girls that would spark female interest in the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise.


“I remember that I almost got into a fight with one of the top managers while I was proving to him that girls were as interested in Sonic as they were for boys. To which he replied: “All girls are interested in is a bicycle with a banana-shaped seat that they want to ride” - Risley recalls - to which I replied: “No, girls do not ride banana bicycles.”


She had to show, in every detail, that women can be gamers. And that this is not a joke, and not a man's fantasy. The patriarchy that reigned in the industry all this time had to be overthrown by a change of thinking. Since this gave rise to erroneous judgments about what a game for women is.

Gender Differences

Created by Sega's Girls Task Force, all kinds of research have been conducted to better understand how girls play. Risley says they used to think, "We'll just give the girls the same as the boys, and that's enough." It turned out that this does not work.

Research has shown that women prefer to play strong, resourceful, and intelligent female characters. They also play differently than men. They have a more developed auditory nerve, so they react to sounds faster, and they also like playing with a lot of point objects. Also, women prefer teamwork rather than competition in games.

“Do you think girls like to play shooters more? No, they need to focus on the puzzle in the game, as women are used to using the brain, ”says Michelin Risley.

Armed with this data, the company used some of its publishing funds to produce games with a female flavor - Crystal's Pony Tale, Baby Boom, and The Berenstain Bears' Camping Adventure.


This is not to say that the games were of the highest grade, since for Sega a small female audience was still not a priority as a problem. For example, Berenstain Bears and Crystal's Pony Tale ended up on the Sega Club label for kids - colorful puzzles aimed at younger audiences with little impact on the industry.


Although the Sega Girls department was created, which actively promoted this topic both in development and in marketing, the whole process was very slow.

The first teeth are painful

The team has always faced skepticism. And although there were such leaders as Tom Kalinske, this did not help the case.

“The biggest skepticism came from the Sega headquarters in Japan, where the idea of female-oriented products just seemed confusing. They gave the go-ahead, but it was one of those crazy American deals from the category: “Okay, do it, but we don't believe that you will succeed,” Kalinske recalls.

Thankfully, the Sonic Team developers have been proactive and eagerly embracing ideas that will help more people enjoy the game, says Pamela Kelly, marketing manager for Sega of America from 1992 to 1995. However, not all development partners were the same.


Kelly recalls:

“I remember working with Disney and Virgin on Aladdin, a game based on the cartoon of the same name. The developer then said: "We will make the most difficult game in the world!" I said then, hey, do you even watch who goes to this cartoon? Parents with their children. Children are unlikely to want to play something that is too tough for them. You should target your audience, not yourself. ”

So, breaking through the prejudices that girls don't play games, that the developer knows better what to give to the female audience to make them happy, and just old ideas about the industry, the efforts of Sega Girls have borne fruit. So, studies have shown that from 93 to 95 percent of girls who play Sega Genesis has grown from 3% to 20%.


In 1995, Risley left the company. She believes that the Sega Girls "opened the gateway" and got the girls interested in games, and were able to create projects that would be of interest to them. So, the mid-nineties is considered the heyday of games aimed at a female audience. As an example, Barbie Fashion Designer was the first game aimed purely at girls and millions of sales.

Risley recalls receiving letters of thanks from girls who were delighted to see female characters. “They felt like they belonged to this culture and could play,” says Risley.

Kalinske, confirms this thought: “Yes, over the years I have heard about many people who, thanks to our efforts, fell in love with games in principle, and are very happy about that.”

The Topic of Article: The first gamers. How Sega made video games accessible to both genders.
Author: Jake Pinkman