Thursday, February 7, 2008

Harry Potter is Gender Neutral

I recently got a great deal on the latest Harry Potter game for the Wii: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. I suppose you could call me a medium Harry Potter fan: I read the first four books before they were available to my friends after my mom brought them home from England, and have made a point to catch each movie as it comes out. Having just watched Order of the Phoenix, I was anxious to get into this game and see what it had to offer.

As I delve into the early stages of play, I want to give you my impressions of the game from the perspective of a female backseat gamer, and tell you how I think EA has implemented much of the advice provided in the book I discussed here.

Right from the moment that I read the user manual (yup! I actually did!), I knew that this game would provide a really good alternate reward system and thus appeal to a wider market. Besides the usual game progression, there is a special room called the Room of Rewards. You can earn discovery points as you make your way through the enormous world that is Hogwarts by flicking your wand here, playing games there, repairing statues in between. Basically, it seems that anything you can interact with in the scenery that is not directly related to the game will give you these points. The more points you have, the more surprises you can unlock. I have yet to return to the room after collecting the first set of points needed for a reward, but I can tell you that the drive to search for these things is making the game immensely more enjoyable for me.

One aspect of gender neutral design that I didn't mention much in the post referred to earlier is one that should be pretty obvious: girls don't want to play games that feature either: a) hyper-sexualized women characters with no dimension, or b) story lines that focus solely on the "damsel in distress" concept. Neither of these concepts is present in Harry Potter. In fact, as many know, Hermione is integral to Harry's success and as much a hero as any of the others. While it seems natural that the player has no choice in avatar and must play as Harry, the lack of a female choice is perhaps made up by Hermione's presence and help.

So far, the game has also done a really good job of mirroring the movie, keeping the important emotional and social aspects in the final storyline. As we have seen before, this provides the kind of stimulus that females react to more so than visual stimuli. At the beginning of the story, many a student at Hogwarts is none too impressed by Harry's supposed lie about Voldemort returning, for example, and taunt and tease him as he passes by in the hallways. I imagine that things will also become sticky between the trio of friends (Harry, Ron, and Hemione) as happens in the movie. Resolving tensions like these gets girls more involved in the story and therefore the game itself, giving them a reason to come back for more.

It is interesting to note that providing this storytelling aspect does not in any way detract from the way boys prefer to play games. For example, I'm sure there will be many a fight scene with awesome visuals and opportunities for direct conflict. If you play in easy mode, as I am, these duals will likely not be the epitome of accomplishment, but if you play in the more difficult modes, the satisfaction of beating the hardest enemies may be the only reward you need to come back for more. It goes to show that you don't have to neglect the male market to appeal to women: you can have your cake and eat it too!

These are but a few thoughts on the game as I just begin the journey. I am thrilled that I have finally found a game that I am able to play by myself and that I actually feel compelled to finish! I guess game designers really are starting to understand this whole "gender neutral" thing.


Anita said...

haha This is great! I have the PC version of the game. I found the graphics were awesome! But the storyline of the game itself, and the difficulty level of the tasks could have been better. Then again, I'm really picky and am a hardcore Harry Potter fan :P
I'm pretty sure the Wii version is awesome though! I've been wanting to see it in action!

Gail said...

Yeah, I can see a hard-core fan feeling the story is more sparse than the movie (and definitely the book), but it's definitely still fun.

Do you mean the difficulty level is too easy or too hard? I picked the easy setting and it's ok for me so far - I'm really bad at games!

As for the Wii, I wouldn't be surprised if the graphics were better on PC, but the Wii-mote makes it so much fun. Sometimes I'm not sure I can get certain spells to work for some reason, but it hasn't been a big problem yet.

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